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Is Shrek’s cult status just an ironic internet joke or something more heartfelt?

ByThea Nawal

Mar 5, 2018

The internet is divided between those who would lay down their lives for Shrek, and those who are in denial about it. Shrek 2 received two Oscar nominations and became the highest-grossing animated film of all time in the U.S. — a title it held from its release in 2004 until 2016. While the internet has an uncanny ability to latch onto just about anything and churn out memes that are almost as thought-provoking as they are ridiculous, the ones surrounding Shrek are undoubtedly some of the most bizarre.

From the fact that Shrek fans call themselves ‘Brogers — a play on the term ‘Brony’ which refers to adult fans of My Little Pony — to the infamous “Shrek is Love, Shrek is Life” fan-animation video, to all of the creative oddities in between, the internet’s warped expansion of Shrek jokes into a green, swampy universe of their own is far too complex and passionate to be dismissed as merely ironic. It can rather be seen as the manifestation of a genuine appreciation for the films.

The soundtracks of both Shrek and Shrek 2 feature a variety of oldies and the kind of cheesy popular music that dominated airwaves at the turn of the millennium, including Smash Mouth’s peppy ‘All Star’, with simple, silly lyrics that were easily sung along to by children and enjoyed with a hint of nostalgia when those children became adults. The goofy lightheartedness of the soundtracks is highlighted when the characters interacted with the music, such as when Fairy Godmother performs Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Holding Out For a Hero’ whilst the giant gingerbread man Mongo simultaneously dies heroically in a froth of hot milk in Shrek 2, or when pop hits are integrated into the montages and musical numbers that begin and end both films.

Shrek’s reliance on topical gags and cultural references might lead some to say that it lacks wit, but it is arguably the cheesiness of its humor collated with the seriousness of the themes explored that gives it heart. The hidden F-bomb in Lord Farquaad’s name and jokes about him compensating for something with the size of his tower are examples of the comedy that was directed towards a more mature audience, while the movie is also rife with references to pop culture, Hollywood, and other films, the most memorable of which include nods to the TV show Cops and to Joan Rivers. The name ‘Shrek’ also sounds funny on the tongue, and when assigned to a grumpy green ogre with a goofy face it tinges everything he does with comedy.

Yet all of the cheap jokes are delivered against the backdrop of a heartfelt romance, one that repeatedly pokes fun at traditional fairy tales. Shrek can be considered an anti-hero, and is foiled by the villainous Prince Charming, while their roles might’ve been reversed in a conventional fairy tale. Fiona’s relinquishment of her human form to become an ogre, not once but twice, reveals the sincerity and depth of the love she shares with Shrek. It is their relationship, as well as the friendship Shrek builds with supporting characters like Donkey and Puss in Boots, that consolidates the devotion ‘Brogers’ have for Shrek. In all its mediocrity, Shrek has managed to establish a loyal fanbase because the entire franchise is full of heart but still feels like one big inside joke between both the creators and the viewers.

Image: Kat Cassidy

By Thea Nawal

Winner of the TV & Radio section's best writer award in March 2018.

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