Classical Children’s Movies: Shrek

I have a teenage son, so in my ongoing acts of desperation to get him to like me, I watched Shrek with him last night. In order to redeem the time spent on it, I am going to write a blog post assessing the movie.

Before I do, you must know not to take this post seriously. I have only watched Shrek once now, and nobody can effectively review anything that he knows as poorly as I know Shrek. There may be layers of irony and insight hidden in the movie beneath what I write about in what follows. So take my humble comments below with a grain of salt.

Humble comment number one: This movie should never be watched by anyone under any circumstances.

I’ll give three reasons because they come to mind the fastest. First, it’s a horrible movie for little children to watch because it corrupts their impression of every fairy tale ever ruined by Disney. This movie is guaranteed to undercut a child’s moral development because it robs him of the metaphors developed over the centuries that help children understand and interpret a horribly complicated world.

It does so, of course, because prior to the 20th century everybody everywhere was guilty of the one intolerable vice. They were intolerant. So we have to teach children to tolerate everything. Old fairy tales taught children to be afraid of giants (i.e. adults they didn’t know), and witches (i.e. people who accepted no natural limits on what they allowed themselves to know and do), and yes, I have to say it, ogres (i.e. what they will grow up to become if they go around expressing themselves without restrain).

Now we are taught to tolerate ogres because, after all, they can’t help that they’re ugly, and besides, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?

Now look, Shrek does a sweet job of teaching people that they shouldn’t jump to conclusions about other people. And that’s a good lesson for an older child.

The trouble is, little children absolutely should draw hasty conclusions about other people. Strangers who offer them candy should be run from, no questions asked. Giants should be feared and fought against. Foxes who mislead and trouble-making boys who turn into donkeys should be avoided.

Little children NEED to learn intolerance of strangers as a survival mechanism.

But if the fairy godmother says the child should associate with someone, then the child should do so. And that, to those who just hastily and intolerantly read racism into the preceding, is the solution to that problem. Little children do a very fine job, I find, of playing with people they are told to play with. They trust authority.

Shrek, which speaks of moral matters as though it has authority, whereas in fact it has none, is harmful for little children. It’s a pied piper.

Second, it is a horrible movie for little children to watch because of the donkey. The humor practiced by this ass is exactly the sort little children should never hear. And it is the kind of humor that every children’s movie of the last 15 years or so that I can think of has used. Even that sweet masterpiece, The Lion King.

It’s the, “Hey, look at me! I’m here! I’m so funny, look at me, I’m here!! Notice me!” kind of humor that makes indulged children so painful to be around. To a healthy soul, the dissonance this humor creates is so great that it overcomes the laughter.

If I hated a child and wanted to make his life particularly painful, I would sit him in front of 1990’s and 2000’s children’s movies. Then I would send him to school and teach him writing. In writing class I would say, “Express yourself.” I would make sure that he thinks the purpose of all the arts is for him to express himself. Then I would offer him the utterly mystifying counsel, as early as possible, that he can use the arts to find out who he is.

If I were a demon, that is how I would raise children.

And that brings up middle school and high school children. The tone and humor of the movie is adolescent, although it is relatively restrained – unless I missed a lot.

So if an adolescent has learned all these fairy tales and knows their substance, he could watch the movie with some insight.

I’m just not sure why an adolescent would want to watch such a childish movie. If he does like it, and if he is attached to it, I’d try to figure out why. If it’s just a matter of sentimental nostalgia for a childhood favorite, that’s fine. This sort of thing is the punishment we parents have to endure for letting our children win the nag fights when they were little.

But if it’s any more than that, the child might need counseling.

Of course, if you go to a counselor, he’ll tell you to let him watch more movies like this so he can get in touch with his feelings and learn tolerance.

And if you liked Shrek, you might be inclined to believe him.

So I leave you with the words of Tiny Tim merged with the Gingerbread Man (which was a really funny, creative element in the story and could have carried a much healthier story all by itself), “God bless us, every one. “

5 Responses

  1. I really appreciate this article, Andrew. I’ve had misgivings about Shrek and now I know why. Although, my kids have seen it several times. How do I undo the damage? Yikes!
    Thanks again for an insightful article!

    • It’s just a single memorable meal in a lifetime of meals. There’s no necessary damage if they spend most of their time on nobler soul-feeding things.

  2. Martin,

    Most of Disney’s movies trivialize, sentimentalize, and cutify the fairy tales. I don’t remember Snow White or Sleeping Beauty very well, but I know I don’t like the excessively, I would call it, Impressionist art work in the latter.

    Pinochio is probably Disney’s best movie, but the fall from the book is greater than it needed to be and the elimination of the scriptural references that, if my memory works, are in the book is unfortunate.

    I don’t mean to say that everything Disney did is evil; only that, on the whole, the influence of Disney has been terrible.

    Growing up I always liked Robin Hood because I had a crush on that hot fox, Maid Marian. Recently I watched it and realized it too holds to an ungrounded morality. I don’t like it, even though it’s adorable.

    So much of Disney is like that. So artistic, so interesting, but consistently disappointing when compared to the source. Too sweet.

    • I guess I wonder exactly what “trivialize, sentimentalize, and cutify the fairy tales” really means. Does it mean they have happy endings? So does the Odyssey. Does it mean they appeal to the emotions? So does the Gettysburg Address. Does it mean that, through the animation process, some characters are made to look more attractive then they would be in real life? Then all animated movies should be avoided.

      And Disney’s Robin Hood remains my favorite version. In what way is the morality “ungrounded”? The conflict is clearer, the resolution is more marked, and it is told more simply. I don’t see why any any of this is a bad thing.

  3. I agree with you wholeheartedly about this movie. The other aspect of this is that Shrek plays off of an assumed knowledge of fairy tales that many children today simply don’t possess. In many cases all they know about fairy tales are the satires of them. They don’t know the story of the Three Little Pigs; but they know the story of the Three Little Pigs from the Wolf’s Perspective. This is very tragic.

    But you talk about “every fairy tale ever ruined by Disney.” I know it is fashionable to bash on Disney, but I find their early animated movies to be well within the spirit of the traditional fairy tale. Tell me the problem with Snow White, or Sleeping Beauty or Pinocchio. I think even Beauty and The Beast was quite well done. And don’t miss Disney’s Tall Tale, a fundamentally agrarian movie that exalts home and family–and tradition. Not to mention that it is an apologetic for the poetic.

    I know many people who point out that Disney completely changed the ending of Han’s Christian Andersen’s “Little Mermaid,” but, quite frankly, its ending needed to be changed–as do many of the endings of Andersen’s pessimistic tales. They’re obviously not comedies, but they’re also not tragedies, since there is no satisfaction in the losses that punctuate their endings.

    If someone is going to perpetrate the pessimism of his unrequited love affairs (some with other men), I’d prefer it not be done in a fairy tale.

    Sorry, I’m being too hard on Andersen, but I would love to know your reasons for bashing on Disney–at least if you mean to include classic Disney films.

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