Old Movie Review: Shrek (2001)

Misery doesn’t love company because things aren’t always what they seem. Deus ex dragon.

Side note: this particular review structure is borrowed from The Cereal Show, a podcast made by some friends of mine you should definitely check out.

“Misery doesn’t love company because things aren’t always what they seem. Deus ex dragon.”

(my tagline)


Shrek is an angry, aggressively anti-social ogre who loves the isolation and general filth of his swamp. Once it is overrun with evicted fairytale creatures Shrek becomes the reluctant hero that embarks on a journey to rescue a princess so his quiet isolation can be restored. Along the way, he is accompanied by the innocent child-like Donkey and together they recover the princess in a daring near-death rescue from the bitterness of a constantly jilted female dragon. Albeit in a completely unorthodox and unchivalrous manner.

Both Shrek and Fiona confide in Donkey the misery of prejudice and try to get him to understand that things aren’t always what they seem. As Fiona sheds the helpless princess veil, she and Shrek gradually fall in love realizing there is more to the other than what meets the eye. A misunderstanding threatens to set them apart forever. Fiona and Shrek abandon each other feeling heartbroken but Donkey convinces Shrek to tell Fiona how he feels.

As time is running out Dragon conveniently comes to the rescue providing the critical shortcut to make it to castle Duloc before the wedding and also saves the heroes from Lord Farquad. Shrek and Fiona share “true love’s first kiss” and discover the most beautiful person is the one you are on the inside.

My rating

Prepare yourself. My rating is a 6 out of 10. I don’t think this movie is bad, but it isn’t good either. I’d whistle, click, and recommend we watch Fantastic Mr. Fox instead.

My Review

This is a story about someone being misunderstood and hated for what they look like and someone accepting them for what they are and falling in love with them. This is the story of a dragon and a donkey. So let me talk about the dragon first, who I suppose is just named Dragon like the donkey is named Donkey.

Dragon is arguably the most complex character in the movie. She is the meta-movie. She is always the bridesmaid, never the bride, because no one can see past her exterior like Shrek. Dragon is angry not just because everyone comes to slay her, but also that she isn’t the object of anyone’s desire and affection and simply an obstacle on the path to Fiona. Dragon keeps Fiona locked in the tower because she is jealous of the attention Fiona receives. Dragon only wanted to be loved just like Fiona desperately wants to be loved.

All it took was a single compliment about her white teeth and fresh breath to turn the murderous beast into a doting sugar mama. I’ll refer you to the enormous pile of gold and gemstones she was keeping Donkey in for that reference in case you missed it. The dragon plays both sides of this prejudice coin in a more complex way than Shrek, Donkey, or Fiona did. Later when she is reunited with Donkey (the only one who has ever noticed her for who she was inside) her character is brought to closure and she transforms into someone happy and fulfilled.

Looking at the story with Shrek as the hero, Dragon is also a little too convenient in the plot twice in a row. Without Dragon, they do not make it to Duloc in time for the wedding, and without Dragon Shrek and Fiona are both inexplicably overpowered by knights and cannot share the spell-breaking kiss. Without Dragon being there, Shrek loses out on everything and his story ends unresolved. Because Dragon is the real hero of the story.

For the supposed main character, Shrek’s arc is okay, as is Fiona’s. They both do grow a little. One is trapped by real prejudice, the other is trapped by imagined prejudice. With child-like Donkey things are exactly as they seem: no layers, no parfait. Which makes him play pretty flat. Flat or not though, he is the driving force for the plot. He introduces the expulsion of fairytale creatures. He reveals the cantankerous nature of Shrek. He distracts the dragon allowing Shrek to grab Fiona. He reveals the Dragon as the real hero of the movie. And he resolves the dragon’s arc.

Perhaps I was expecting too much for a movie made from a children’s book, but with this cast of comedic voice actors, maybe I didn’t expect enough. The soundtrack hasn’t aged well, the Mike Meyers jokes are now tired and somewhat inappropriate for a kids movie. Even some of the gags, like the matrix-style slow-motion camera sweep, are starting to lose context.

On paper, this movie sounds like it should be more than good. It has a stellar cast. All the plot points and story elements covered. It has everything a story should have. In reality, though, it just isn’t that entertaining to watch anymore. Which is why I gave the movie a 6. It’s not bad, it’s just not good either. Maybe if I watched this movie with my Napolean Dynamite Nacho Libre crew then I’d rate it higher. But as is I would shoot it down if this was suggested as the movie to watch.

Listen to the whole episode here

Check the timestamps for the reactions to my review.

Seth, if you’re reading this … that little gift in the mail … it was me 🙂

Cover photo by Pavel Gromadchuk on Unsplash

Author: Phillip

Phillip is a dad of three boys and married to a beautiful dedicated woman. An aspiring artist and science fiction author. He has been an IT professional for the past 20+ years. He is currently working on a full-length sci-fi novel, but he also makes small drawings/watercolors for his school-age son's lunchbox and occasionally pretends to be a comedian. He also still struggles with putting two spaces at the end of sentences.

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