Shrek drek and the ironic bestiary

11 Jun

We have to start somewhere so we might as well start with that gangly beast called Shrek—first a kid’s book, then a movie, then a franchise.

Simone loves Shrek. She lurfs it. She can smell it from a mile away. She digs Shrek out of my dvds, no matter how well Beth or I hide it. She shoves it in my face and makes her little grunting sound of approval. She points at the tv. Resistance is futile. The movie must go on. After non-stop viewings for months, I’m becoming an expert. Here’s the quick low-down:

The first one is good. Eddie Murphy is fantastic, Disney is satirized, John Lithgow is pitch perfect, and the romance is handled well. There’s some chop sockey and a few songs. Some scatological humor and fart jokes. There’s a manic energy to it, like the old Warner Brothers’ cartoons, and a subversive streak. Disney is rounding up all of the old fairy tales and moving them somewhere else. It’s also got some meanness in it; watch the Small World rip-off to see what I mean.

The second is great, funny and cool as hell. Every other line contains a double meaning. The performances are witty and the whole thing is done as both satire and serious, classy and tacky, which is very difficult to do. This time the target is Hollywood and it watches like the action comedy of your dreams. The cast is great: John Cleese and Julie Andrews each share a handful of lines. Puns and anarchy abound.

And then the train lies off the rails. The third film is lackluster and a bit sad. J-Timbs plays Arthur in a half-baked storyline where the good people of Camelot are all in high school. The jokes run too long, and are often cribbed from second-hand Zucker brother movies. The movie’s moral seems to be that conniving shitheads deserve to be humiliated. The satire is gone. The John Cleese death bed scene is unbearable. I kept thinking, “John Cleese has been reduced to this?” The movie even looks clumsy.

The fourth recovers the ball but lacks the punchy zing of the first two. It takes a fractured fairy tale approach, framing the story from the point of view of Rumpelstiltskin. Using the never been born trope, the fourth film re-imagines the Shrek universe without Shrek in it. It’s enjoyable, but square. The resounding message comes straight out of It’s a Wonderful Life: be grateful for what you have, family is the most important thing, and don’t wish for a different life.

In short, one is good; two is great; three is dreadful; four is pretty good.

And Simone, at 19 months, loves them all. She can’t tell the difference between them. They’re all Shrek. They’re all wonder and happiness and dancing in circles in front of the couch.

Which brings us to problem number 1: how do you inculcate discerning taste in your child? (I was hoping she would sort of roll her eyes and hold her nose during the third, but she seems to enjoy it all the same. I was hoping she would whisper to me, “Daddy, what is this drivel we’re watching? Pop in Monte Hellman, please.”)

I don’t have an answer. She seems to like Pinnochio and Snow White, but The Incredibles—along with Wall-E, it’s probably the best Pixar film, which is saying a lot—doesn’t interest her. I’ll get to the values, hidden messages and so on of these movies in a later post, but I don’t understand how she can prefer the glacial pace of Snow White to the riptide of The Incredibles. Any one have a theory please let me know.

Five minutes from the end of Wall-E, Simone got off the couch, clicked the tv off, and went into her room to play with her multi-colored blocks. I was holding in the tears. Crying isn’t cool, I suppose, so despite her Shrek-centric tastes, she’s got one up on her old man.


One Response to “Shrek drek and the ironic bestiary”

  1. Sean Kilpatrick June 24, 2011 at 1:48 am #

    The most common response from people learning Fiona’s name is: “Oh – like in Shrek.”

    (I really hesitate to say, “no, like in Burn Notice.” 😉 (and Fiona Apple, of course)

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