Everyone has their go-to comfort movie — one that takes you into a fantasy world for a quick break from reality and just makes you feel good. I have a few, but I know I can always rely on “Shrek” to do the trick. I crave the lively soundtrack, colorful animation and parody-based premise. “Shrek” is one hour and 30 minutes of pure enjoyment and deserves to be celebrated years after its release, even if the franchise fell off in quality after the first sequel.
Today, there are thousands of “Shrek” memes floating around the internet. Like most popular social media trends, the birth of “Shrek”-related memes seems random, and the lifespan of the trend seems unusual. I still see the occasional green face lurking in my timeline, and I’ll be honest: I don’t want it to stop.
There’s an irony in this never-ending world of “Shrek” memes, but there’s also a level of sincerity. While there are definitely some people who half-jokingly obsess over the film to meme it, there’s no arguing that the film was a genuine success. “Shrek” won Best Animated Feature and Best Adapted Screenplay in 2002, and “Shrek 2” became the highest-grossing film of 2004. Yet in 2021, the franchise — rather than being remembered for its genuine achievements — serves as one widely accepted inside joke of the online realm.
Shrek’s transition from movie-hero to meme-star makes sense: He’s ugly, amusing to look at and has a funny-sounding name that just sticks. Those factors — combined with the popularity of the franchise — make it easy for users to create an endless supply of “Shrek”-related memes. As long as a joke continues to resonate with its audience, it won’t die; I just can’t see people forgetting about Shrek.
But the longevity of the “Shrek” franchise can’t only be attributed to a funny-looking character with a silly-sounding name. There are other aspects of the film that Gen Z can’t seem to let go of, one being the flawless soundtrack. While other animated films at the time were mostly created by Disney or Pixar and typically included original scores, “Shrek” stepped outside of the box, including songs like “All Star” by Smash Mouth and “Hallelujah” by John Cale. And we can’t ever forget about Donkey (Eddie Murphy, “Coming to America”) and Puss in Boots’s (Antonio Banderas, “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard”) stellar performance of “Livin’ la Vida Loca” in “Shrek 2.”
People in their 20s refer to these songs as if they originated from the film, and that says something about the soundtrack’s success. I’ve definitely referred to “Hallelujah” as the sad song that plays in the first movie, and I still picture Shrek showering in mud and brushing his teeth with caterpillar guts whenever I hear “All Star.” And I don’t ever want to picture anything else.
Although most of the online fan base is ironically in love with all things Shrek, that love stems from something greater. “Shrek” took the Disney fairytale and twisted it, making fun of worn-out tropes and cookie-cutter storylines. It was refreshing to see a different take on the classic fairytale, and that’s why the film was able to appeal to such a wide audience. Kids and teens found it funny, and parents appreciated the originality.
However, like most successful series, the “Shrek” franchise went too far, declining in ratings after the first sequel. The films that follow may be responsible for the way the franchise has aged — especially with spin-offs “Puss in Boots” and “Shrek Forever After” being the more recent releases — but I don’t think a couple of unsuccessful additions to the series should cancel out the original’s achievements.
More than 20 years later, “Shrek” is still around, even if it’s partially due to an ongoing online joke. The franchise took the idea too far, and maybe we have as well — there are definitely some creepy “Shrek”-related fanfics and fan-art out there. I guess some may say that the internet’s obsession with “Shrek” is like an onion, with many, many layers. Personally, I don’t think we’ll ever quite understand.
Daily Arts Writer Laura Millar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.