Shrek Might Be 20, But Its Soundtrack, Comedy And Heart Remain Timeless
If you were to ever hold me at gunpoint and demand to know my thoughts on the best soundtrack of all time, I probably wouldn’t plump for Pulp Fiction or The Graduate.
I know hand-on-heart that there’s only one movie soundtrack out there that has a banger for every occasion, whether you’re out on a reluctant quest to rescue a princess or crashing her eventual wedding to a ruthless lord.
I’m talking of course about Shrek (2001), a film that still gets as many naughty laughs from the grown-ups as it did upon its release 20 years ago.
Shrek is a rare example of a fairytale where the main characters aren’t conventionally beautiful, centred around a couple whose idea of romance is inflating snakes like grotesque balloons and sharing cobweb candyfloss. And it’s – bear with me – all the more relatable for it.
A wise ogre once said that ‘ogres are like onions – they have layers’, and isn’t that just true for so many of us? Haven’t we all presented a front to the world out of necessity while containing a multitude of smelly, stinging, awkward, softer layers beneath?
Now, I may not have enough earwax for a makeshift candle, but I do get being single for so long that the idea of living in your very own isolated swamp – or indeed snack-filled bedroom – without anyone to answer to feels kind of appealing.
I get basking in your own grumpiness in a way that starts to feel comfortable, so that any change whatsoever feels unnerving. Indeed, the older and less tolerant of noisy neighbours I get, the more I understand Shrek’s fury at the chaotic fairytale creatures suddenly encroaching on his privacy.
I also get feeling so self-conscious about the way you look that you’re reluctant to show people your ‘true’ self, warts and all. Keen to keep up the pretence that you wake up in the morning smelling of Marc Jacobs, sparkling-fresh smile at the ready.
Unlike Fiona, I’m not a cursed ogre, but I am an ordinary, flawed and not particularly princessy-looking person who needs to get to know someone first before letting them see me without a full face of make-up and a head of ‘natural’ curls.
While various other children’s movies depict romance as a glittering, flatulence-free state of being, Shrek doesn’t shy away from the real, deep-rooted insecurities that shoot out like dragonfire at the beginning of a new relationship.
That’s why it genuinely hits so hard when Shrek and Fiona end up misunderstanding each other due to their respective vulnerabilities. It’s why we can absolutely shed an empathetic tear at the sight of Shrek dining alone again while Rufus Wainwright’s haunting cover of Hallelujah plays out.
I’m in no way ashamed to admit that this was the first time I’d heard Hallelujah, a discovery that ultimately led me down a musical path to Leonard Cohen’s heartrending original, and his wider body of work.
It’s a song I still love with every ounce of my being. Although it’s been used – and indeed overused – for many an emotional TV drama scene since, I honestly still mostly associate it with downbeat Shrek, alone again after daring to reveal his more romantic layer.
This was also the first time I’d heard The Proclaimers’ I’m On My Way, Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation and – of course – Smash Mouth’s I’m A Believer. Every track is inspired, a compilation of stone cold favourites that will remain on my Spotify playlist until donkeys fly.
It’s therefore fitting that the action culminates in the best movie karaoke scene of all time. From Monsieur Hood’s take on the Y-M-C-A to Donkey’s excitable ‘I BELIEVE!’ this honeymoon send-off is an absolute joy, and a telling hint that Shrek is now happy to entertain at his swamp on occasion.
Music aside, Shrek has the consistent feel of being made by very funny, pop culture-savvy people who are having an absolute blast behind the scenes, with every joke landing as stealthily as Puss in Boots. And it wasn’t afraid to be a bit cheeky with it.
After all, what other kids’ film at the time would have dared suggest that the villain of the piece was ‘compensating for something’ with his enormous, phallic castle, or that ‘despite living with seven other men’ Snow White is ‘not easy’?
The humour also came through in the many careful details that helped build this knowing and very funny world. From the references spanning from Disneyworld to Babe to Jurassic Park, to how Shrek finishes his martini with an eyeball rather than an olive.
Unlike many other lesser, lazier movies aimed at a young audience, nothing feels rushed or half-hearted about Shrek. This is a film that unwaveringly respects its audience’s intelligence as well as their penchant for toilet humour, that wants to go above and beyond to surprise and intrigue them.
Indeed, 20 years on, we’re still picking up on details we missed the first time around because we were too busy giggling at Donkey and Dragon’s slightly alarming flirtations, or fretting over the fate of tortured gingerbread man, Gingy.
For example, most recently, fans were left clutching their eyes in horror after learning animators had included an X-rated, erm, bump in the bed while Lord Farquaad gazes upon the ‘perfect’ Princess Fiona.
It’s no wonder Shrek continues to hold such a firm and affectionate place in our collective subconscious, sparking endless memes and fan theories. And it’s testimony to its enduring appeal that 20 years on, adult fans are still keen to chat all things Shrek.
Holly, a 27-year-old Shrek enthusiast from Manchester, told UNILAD:
Shrek was ingrained into our pop culture from the day it came out. Slapstick humour, an eager donkey and timeless characters make it watchable for just children, surely? However, the adult-based humour taints it and has kept it relevant for all of this time!
I bloody love it and it’s the one film I feel all of our generation and younger can quote. Genuinely a cheer-up film to whack on and know it will make you smile!
Lucy, an avid Shrek fan from Leeds, told UNILAD:
It was actually my first memory of going to the cinema – I definitely went prior to the film coming out, but Shrek absolutely sticks in my memory.
My friends throw me Shrek-themed birthday parties where we sit and watch all four Shrek films and play drinking games to them, and one year we went to Shrek’s Adventure World in London, where I got the most perfect mug for my cups of tea.
It’s clear that Shrek is still hitting the right note 20 years on, with its cracking soundtrack, endlessly witty one-liners and beating green heart.
No doubt this timeless animation classic will continue to endure for some time to come; an endlessly meme-able creation and a story no one would ever dream of wiping their arse on.
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