Ever since Shrek came out 12 years ago (yeah, I can’t believe it’s been that long either!) it’s been a staple in the movies I routinely watch, and three subsequent sequels have been released. It’s a huge franchise, but what makes Shrek so successful? Part of it is attributable to the ideologies and messages it contains. As Louis Giannetti notes in Understanding Movies, “ Virtually every movie presents us with role models, ideal ways of behaving, negative traits, and an implied morality…every film has a slant” (Giannetti 403). Shrek is filled with these ideologies and meanings. Some of the meanings use ethos, pathos and logos to target children, whereas others target adults. For the purpose of this blog I’ll focus on the messages that target children, and potentially adults as well, but not adults alone. These specific meanings remain timeless and applicable to everyone.
Overall the movie is about learning to look beyond peoples’ outward appearances and seeing them for who they truly are. In order to convey this, the film presents us with Shrek, our main character. Obviously though, he is not your typical hero. For starters, Shrek’s a large, green, unattractive ogre. Typically “good looks and sex appeal are compelling traits, predisposing us in favor of a given character” (Giannetti 406), but the point of the movie challenges this ridiculous, illogical, automatic assumption. Instead of using Shrek’s appearance to gain our favor, the producers used humor and built his character (his ethos) because, as Andrea Lunsford states in Everything’s an Argument, “Character matters when we think about people” (Lunsford 43). The movie begins with Shrek going about his normal morning routine, and although things were a little different than how we typically do them, he still ate breakfast, bathed, ‘cleaned’ up, and even read while using the bathroom. Rather than feasting on children, as ogres are typically depicted, Shrek is just a normal, everyday ‘guy’ like you and me trying to go about his life. Because he is so relatable, and important connections between audiences and arguments are quickly established by ethos (Lunsford 44-45), we are immediately drawn to him. We relate to him, and thus will better understand his plight.
Consequently, once the producers sucked us in with ethos, they used emotions to further our connection to Shrek and the belief that you should look beyond peoples’ appearances. Because we’d already related ourselves with Shrek’s character, when people unfairly judged him because of his looks, the attacks became personal. Lord Farquaad immediately comes up with a “new plan” to gain a champion when Shrek walked into the arena; whoever killed Shrek first would be the champion. He didn’t even consider the fact that Shrek might be the best person to rescue Princess Fiona until Shrek stopped all of the attackers. Later, Princess Fiona became disappointed when she found out her rescuer was an ogre. She had been expecting prince charming and the fact that Shrek was an ogre made it “all wrong; [he wasn’t] supposed to be an ogre” (Shrek Film). As this occurs, we can’t help but feel disappointed, embarrassed, and ashamed for Shrek because he’s more than his looks; thus we are emotionally connecting to the story’s message.
Furthermore, the producers solidify the message through their usage of logos. Not only is this a logical message since a person’s character is obviously not dependent upon their looks, but they also use logical comparisons in the movie. At one point Donkey and Shrek have a conversation regarding how “things are more than they appear.” Shrek claims that there’s a lot more to ogres than people think, and he logically compares them to onions. Both have layers that you have to peel back in order to get to the inside. In order to make sure children understand their point, they have spelled out the message in what becomes a humorous way.
Unfortunately, Shrek also contains some potential problematic messages. Throughout the movie Shrek doesn’t use polite manners and is rude. He farts, belches, uses bad language, and treats donkey badly. In several different scenes he calls Donkey a “dense, irritating, miniature beast of burden,” a “useless, pathetic, annoying, talking donkey,” and a “stubborn jackass.” At other points, Donkey says “no one likes a kiss ass” and “Mother Fletcher he already said it.” All of these instances throughout the movie endorse this type of behavior to children. There aren’t any consequences for Shrek’s rudeness to Donkey, although he does apologize, or for their foul language. Moreover because the movie is a comedy, it associates these types of things with humor. Kids will then think they are supposed to act this way if they want to be funny. I even remember my 5 year old cousin acting in some of the same ways after the movie because it taught him that it was ok. Because of the potency of this problem message, Shrek only deserves 1.5-2 tickets. Shrek has a great message regarding beauty and how you should view others, but it condones bad behavior in such a way that kids will act the same.