Shrek might just be Dreamworks’ greatest cinematic achievement

Last week an Auckland cinema hosted a six-hour Shrek marathon. In a show of classic Kiwi stoicism, Josie Adams found that what didn’t kill her made her stronger.

At the end of the first Shrek film, our hero turns to his loyal friend and noble steed, Donkey. “Donkey, can you ever forgive me?” From the back of a cinema on Saturday afternoon, a voice yelled back at him: “You have to forgive yourself first, babe!”

Fifteen minutes later I was in the foyer of Auckland’s Academy cinema, sipping on a Shrexy Elixir and wondering if I, too, could forgive myself. I was in the middle of Academy’s Shrek trilogy marathon and had already cried twice.

With each minute I basked in the glow of the Dreamworks ogre I felt my body chemistry change a little more. Once a symbol of punishment — animators who bungled their work on Prince of Egypt were sent to the basement to work on the movie, a punishment known at the time as being “Shrekked”  — Shrek and Donkey are now considered Mike Myers’ and Eddie Murphy’s greatest roles.

As soon as the first bars of Smashmouth’s ‘All Star’ began I sobbed and threw fistfuls of popcorn in the air. God, I love Shrek. Shrek is the tale of an angry ogre who wants just wants people to stay out of his swamp, but instead finds true love and friendship. Looking around the audience, made up of solo attendees in leather jackets, it was relatable content.

There’s a scene near the beginning that’s much more disturbing as an adult; the one where all the fairytale creatures are being sold into slavery. Baby Bear’s cage is “too small,” Geppetto sells his puppet son for ten shillings, and we meet Donkey, a talking donkey who will never receive a name throughout this entire series. I’d dragged along a friend, who gasped several times during this scene. Unlike me, she hadn’t watched Shrek every year single year since 2001, and had totally forgotten about the slave/refugee subplot.

You know what happens next: Shrek and Donkey team up to rescue Princess Fiona and get the fairytale refugees out of the swamp. Our villain, Lord Farquaad (pronounced “fuckwad”) is notable for being an early test of Mark Zuckerberg’s robot form. Shrek was released in 2001, three years before Zuckerberg launched his nerd-friendly version of MySpace, yet the Facebook logo is everywhere in his realm. Farquaad also hacks a magic mirror to find him a girlfriend, which is exactly why Zuckerberg invented Facebook. 

When it ended with Shrek and Fiona getting married to Smashmouth’s cover of ‘I’m A Believer’, I wept. It was Shrektacular. The crowd clapped, whooped, and ordered more rounds of elixir. “Shrek is love,” a man at the front yelled. We responded to the call in unison: “Shrek is life!” 

My friend was at the top of Academy’s stairs, sending out a series of messages: “Sorry,” she texted her nearest and dearest, “I can’t deal with this right now. I have to watch Shrek 2.” Damn right, she did.

Shrek 2 is the best movie in the franchise, and I was amped to the goddamn gills for it. It’s about Shrek meeting Fiona’s parents — Julie Andrews and a racist frog — and getting their approval. Shrek and Donkey must team up with Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) and thwart the evil fairy godmother and her hot son, Prince Charming, who plan on committing bigamy. Shrek’s animators create cute enough fairytale creatures, but the humans of Far Far Away are rendered right on the border of the uncanny valley and VR porn. Prince Charming makes me flustered and nauseated at the same time.

I went to the bathroom during one of Shrek’s many emotional scenes, because I don’t care much about him. Every single character in this universe is compelling, but Jennifer Saunders’ fairy godmother is the only part of it worth pissing yourself for. I came back into the dark, crowded room to see a newly-human Shrek staring me in the face. He looked like Billy from Stranger Things and as I stood in the aisle, stunned by his jawline, a guy yelled “daddy!”

Disoriented by Daddy Shrek, I sat down in the wrong row, next to an older woman there on her own. She stared at me until I left and found my assigned seat. She wasn’t there to make friends. She was there to gaze into the dual abysses of a CGI ogre’s eyes.

I, too, was lost in Shrekstasy. The movie ended and I sat in my seat replaying Puss in Boots’ ‘Livin’ la Vida Loca’ in my head until Shrek the Third began. Those who’d popped out for a Shrexy Elixir were coming back with less conventional goblets; a half-pint glass, a small round cup, a martini glass. The recipe is: raspberry and lemon kombucha, a shot of vodka, and a splash of blue curacao.

Prince Charming is back as the alpha villain in Shrek the Third, where he teams up with pirates, witches, and ents to avenge his mother’s death and put on an incredible play. Shrek doesn’t know about this until the second half of the film, because he spends the first half pulling Justin Timberlake out of high school and camping with a pantsless wizard.

Shrek the Third is an emotional journey. Fiona is pregnant, and Shrek has nightmares about fatherhood – his own father tried to eat him, so he doesn’t have a great role model. He finds a practice son in young Arthur (Justin Timberlake) who is, in turn, missing a father figure.

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Carrying on the parental theme, we learn that Donkey has no idea how babies are made, despite the existence of his six children. In an aside, Rapunzel calls Prince Charming “daddy,” which is significant because this film was released in 2007, before being daddy was popular.

Shrek the Third packs in enough side characters and character development for two movies, which is why I was happy to finish the marathon there instead of heading home and getting out Shrek the Halls.

The credits roll to ‘Thank You’ by Big Brovaz, a song that also featured heavily in Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed three years earlier. One point to the Scooby Gang, but three points to me: I had passed each Shrek test (Shrekst) and grown only stronger, more faithful. I turned to my friend, who didn’t feel the same. “Can you ever forgive me?”


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