“ Shrek ” not worth going crazy


Tuesday morning the whole internet was talking about Shrek. Well, okay, maybe not all of the internet, but at least a little corner that uses Twitter. The Guardian published a twenty-year retrospective on the critics’ hit Cannes animated film Scott Tobias, who declared Shrek “A terrible movie.” It infuriated many fans of the darling movie, each jumping on Tobias’ hold like a clicky, absurd, false avant-garde bait rant.

Which is not really fair. Tobias makes some really interesting points about how ShrekThe massive success of (and that of its sequels and spinoffs) paved the way for many other boring animated films that “cram celebrities into recording booths, feed them board polished liners, and put these lines in the mouth of sassy CGI. animals or human inhabitants of the strange valley. Shrek didn’t invent the tradition of adult animated film humor, but it certainly solidified it as a go-to style, perhaps right after the melancholy whimsy of Pixar and its imitators. (In truth, it is much easier to synthesize Shreknudge-nudge gags than Pixar’s carefully managed sentiment, so more movies try first.)

I read it all without passion. Not because it’s hard to get involved in another movie on Twitter, but, of course, each one hits less and less over time. But because – shamefully? Proudly? Inertia? – I did not see Shrek. I saw a lot of it, because it was staple for a long time, and because my college cable TV channel ran the film on rotation for an entire semester. But I had never seen him from start to finish, instead osmosis Shrek find out through the ubiquitous memes and jargons on the millennial-dominated internet. When the movie came out I was just about to graduate from high school and couldn’t be bothered to watch a silly kids movie, even though all the reviews were saying that Shrek was smart and subversive and totally confused Disney in an irreverent way. (The villain lives in a theme park and looks like Michael eisner!)

A diligent observer and responsible for the Twitter phenomena, I decided to postpone the rest of my work and watch Shrek today. I was curious to join up with Tobias or the strong supporters of the film. My suspicion was the first; Shrek-The devious iconoclasm style attempts are usually more arduous than satisfying, and I don’t like jokes about people, or ogres, brushing their teeth with mud or farting. (I like fart jokes, but not when people notice the smell. The noise is funny, in my opinion unnecessary.)

Anyway! Watching the movie, I immediately saw what Tobias was arguing with. Shrek is a crude film, both in handling and aesthetics. It is not really ShrekComputer animation blame has come so far since the film’s release 20 years ago, but even then there were films using similar technologies whose images have stood the test of time better. (You know what almost always ages well? Hand-drawn animation!) Shrek is garish, perhaps by design. It is unpleasant to watch and to listen, with Mike Meyers do his abrasive Scottish burr and Eddie murphy mugging for the back of the house as Shrek’s loyal companion / boredom, donkey.

The humor is stale and tense, its messages about stereotypes and lookism creaky and perhaps too heavily placed on the shoulders of the only female character, Cameron DiazIt’s Fiona. (Who’s a pretty woman by day, an ugly ogre by night – until the end, when she becomes an ogre.) All of the film’s fiery kisses with beloved fairy-tale characters may have appealed to one. a certain spirit of detachment and ironic rule of the early 2000s – break. But – as Tobias convincingly argues – he now plays casually and almost nihilistically. Shrek seems to be part of the culture wave that took hold of the serious until she was barely alive, and then rebuilt in the noxious, corporate way of brand fandom and new cuteness opposed to speech. The movie feels a bit mean that way.

Mostly, however, my reaction to Shrek was as impartial as he was before he saw it. The film is so deeply rooted in the cultural heritage that it has become fixed and impermeable. The fans who loved him then and love him now will never be convinced otherwise; people who have always been skeptical hardly gain further skepticism at this point. A lot of those fans might have been at the right age of formation when the movie came out, so their brains grew around it. Mine has done the same for a myriad of movies and TV shows that now look skinny, or riddled with trouble, or have become glaring emblems of a bad era in popular culture.

Shrek wins such visceral reactions because he is such an accurate marker of his time; he both responded to the customs of the time and contributed to their creation. Which means that attacking it is, in some senses, attacking much bigger things – like memory, like lived experience, like youth itself. That doesn’t exclude the film from criticism, certainly; anything loved from which a contemporary sick person may come is not immune from criticism simply because it is old and revered. But perhaps it is better in this particular case – or at least more productive – to attack and unpack the diseased current rather than boldly relitigate something so ossified and established and above all benign. Shrek. (We are not talking about Blown away by the wind here.)

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