At home in his swamp, a flatulent ogre named Shrek defends his life of solitude—though deep down it’s probably not his first choice. “People judge me before they know me. That’s why I’m better off alone,” he says. Indeed, he’s an intimidating presence with a chip on his shoulder, automatically assumed to be evil and cruel. Not that he doesn’t play it to the hilt at times. Shrek exploits that misconception to protect his privacy (when confronted by torch-bearing, pitchfork wielding villagers, he describes the gruesome fates awaiting those who disturb him). When the evil Lord Farquaad banishes hundreds of fairy tale characters (Pinocchio, the three little pigs, Snow White, the three blind mice, etc.) to his swamp, Shrek will do anything to restore peace and quiet. So he cuts a deal. In exchange for solitude. Shrek promises to rescue the beautiful Princess Fiona from a castle tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon (Farquaad selfishly wants to marry Fiona solely for her royal standing so that he can become king). Accompanying Shrek on this adventure is a wise-cracking, jive-talking Donkey, an annoyingly loyal beast of burden who keeps the ogre on his toes … and keeps the audience laughing.
positive elements: Themes of inner beauty, forgiveness, loyalty, friendship and romantic love are central to this comic adventure. We also learn that words can cut deeply. By film’s end, in an unusual plot twist, viewers appreciate the concept that genuine beauty runs deeper than outward appearance. A discussion about not holding grudges concludes with an excellent motto: “That’s what friends do, they forgive each other.”
spiritual content: The magic spells of fairy tale land pop onto the screen from time to time, as do witches. Pivotal to the story is a witch’s curse that must be reversed.
sexual content: Adults and teens will pick up several subtle lines about physical relationships and penis size. There’s a comment that Snow White wasn’t “easy” even though she lived with seven little men.
violent content: Most of the violence is slapstick and cartoonish. Shrek and Donkey take on Lord Farquaad’s henchmen with cleverly choreographed action parodying WWF wrestling moves. Younger viewers may be frightened by the fire-breathing dragon’s attempts at toasting Shrek and company. A talking gingerbread man has his legs removed and is cast in the garbage by evil Farquaad (at the end, he reappears alive and on crutches). While singing to a bluebird, Fiona massacres a high note causing her little winged friend to explode (she then fries the bird’s eggs for breakfast). Fiona’s feisty martial arts moves (with a mid-air freeze straight from The Matrix) take out Robin Hood’s merry men. Fiona must remove a stray arrow from Shrek’s backside. A sword is put to Fiona neck. At a wedding, soldiers attack Shrek, Lord Farquaad is devoured by a dragon, and Snow White and Cinderella violently compete for the bride’s bouquet.
crude or profane language: For some families this will be the troll lurking underneath the bridge. There are about 10 instances of crude slang or mild profanity. With a striking resemblance to Disneyland’s It’s a Small World exhibit, a cast of toys performs a song that leads up to the phrase, “wipe your [pause]” (though the toys actually break the rhyme structure by singing “face,” the real rhyme is assumed to be “a–,” demonstrated by the toys bending over and turning their posteriors toward the audience).
drug and alcohol content: In separate scenes, both Shrek and Farquaad drink what appear to be martinis. The princess is said to like Pina Coladas.
other negative elements: The film’s strong message that inner beauty really counts gets undermined a bit when Farquaad is unfairly maligned for being short. He’s got a lot of faults, but his modest stature isn’t one of them. Scatological humor abounds with a special emphasis on flatulence (which folklore actually does connect with ogres). Fiona matches Shrek belch for belch. Donkey urinates on a campfire. Shrek removes a long hunk of wax from his ear and uses it as a candle. It’s obvious that Fiona has bought into the conventions of fairy tale romanticism hook, line and sinker. Her skewed perspective on love and marriage undermines agape love and spiritual discernment in relationships.
conclusion: Former Disney animation guru Jeffrey Katzenberg denies that he’s taking potshots at the characters and theme park once responsible for his paycheck. Yeah. Right. The result is occasionally hilarious. But at other times, mature viewers may feel a bit guilty chuckling at the expense of symbols of childhood innocence. For example, is it funny or pathetic to see Geppetto voluntarily handing Pinocchio over to authorities for a handful of coins? Okay, a little bit of both, but there’s definitely a cynical edge. The injection of pop/rock tunes (The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer,” Smash Mouth’s “All Star,” Rupert Holmes’ “Escape,” etc.) adds to the film’s fun-loving irreverence. The technical wizardry of this 90-minute computer-animated comedy invites comparison to the quality and realism of Toy Story or A Bug’s Life. It’s impressive to look at, from the textures of clothing to the way computer-generated characters trample computer-generated grass as they walk through it. Unfortunately, Shrek takes a very un-Pixar approach to family entertainment by resorting to crudities, bathroom humor and profanity that will give pause to families, particularly those with younger children. Still, the film does a lot to redeem itself in the final minutes with a terrific message about inner beauty.