A traditional fairy tale usually starts with “Once upon a time….” and mostly consists of a brave, handsome prince on a quest to rescue a beautiful stereotypical princess. That princess is mainly in some sort of predicament involving some hideous beast, a giant, an ogre or a dragon, and the tale always seems to have the same ending, the common phrase “…. and they lived happily ever after.” As children we are given this view by storybooks and our parents telling us made up fairy tales.
For some young children with that view of a typical fairy tale, Shrek must have come as a big shock to the system. Their traditional view of the brave, handsome prince, for example Prince Charming from Cinderella, is shattered by the image of the terrible, unnecessary actions of Lord Farquaad. Earlier on in the picture the audience knows that Shrek is not going to be like any other traditional fairy tale with the first scene in Shrek’s swamp. Shrek is supposed to be a nasty, vile, stereotypical monster yet why are the audience smiling and laughing at him? His lovable Scottish accent and comical actions portray him as being friendly and not a dangerous, violent creature.
When the film opens we are lulled into a false sense of security by the soft, magical music. This has a calming effect on the audience, who relax into their chairs to enjoy the movie. The soft voice and low lighting also add to the effect. The old style book and typical writing style and pictures give the impression of a typical fairy tale. It comes as a shock when a loud ripping sound is heard and the soft music cuts off to be replaced by loud, new age, pop/rock music.
The so-called hideous ogre, Shrek bursts onto the scene in a comical sequence that certainly does not help his reputation as a violent, man-eating beast. In fact it does just the opposite. His funny, well-known voice and the unintimidating greens and browns let the audience know that Shrek is not the terrible villain but possibly the lovable hero with a difference. Such an opening suggests that Shrek is not going to be a traditional fairy tale but a fairy tale with a difference.
Although in other scenes Shrek tries to be scary the presentational devices used tell the audience that he is not. For example, when the men with torches and pitchforks arrive to get rid of Shrek, he threatens to make a soup from their freshly peeled skin, shave their livers and squeeze the jelly from their eyes. This suggests that Shrek truly is a traditional fairy tale ogre but the joke, ” Actually, its quite good on toast” gives us the impression that Shrek is joking and would never do those things he mentioned earlier. He then roars at the men but the close up of his mouth with the saliva flying out is funny and not very intimidating.
This scene suggests that Shrek does not like company but not that he is a violent terrible beast. Also when Shrek meets Donkey, Donkey is not afraid of Shrek and tells him he is ‘really really’ not bothered that he is an ogre and that he likes and respects him. Although Shrek tells Donkey that he is supposed to be scared of him Donkey still wants to go with Shrek and stay with him. Donkey irritates Shrek throughout the film but this probably wouldn’t be a very good idea if Shrek were a stereotypical ogre because he would probably do some really nasty thing to him and end up eating him, but because this is not a traditional fairy tale he doesn’t.
When Shrek is at home eating the low lighting and sad music suggests that he is lonely but when the fairy tale creatures show up the atmosphere changes. Shrek becomes very angry with them but does not resort to violence like a normal ogre would. He tells the fairy tale creatures not to get comfortable and threatens to go and see Lord Farquaad to rid them of his swamp. All the creatures then cheer as if Shrek is a hero off on a heroic adventure and that he could be the bold, ‘good guy’ character from other fairy tales not the evil, heartless ‘bad guy’ he should traditionally be.
When Shrek does go to Duloc the viewers see his sensitive side when he tries to talk reasonably with the person dressed up as Lord Farquaad. The character automatically thinks that Shrek is going to do something horrid and nasty to him because of his stereotypical view of an ogre. In other scenes Shrek lets us know that he is always being judged before people even meet him and the audience feels sorry for him. In Duloc Shrek is attacked by knights and his offer to settle it ‘over a pint’ shows us he is not willing to fight until necessary. When he is fighting the music is triumphant and the lighting is spectacular. The crowd cheering shows us that Shrek is not bad at all but an odd, different hero. Shrek seems to be enjoying himself and loves the attention from the crowd. This proves his character is deeper that most people first suspect.
He talks about this to Donkey on the way to rescue princess Fiona. He tells Donkey that ogres have layers and that they are judged too easily. Donkey asks ogre why he didn’t pull any of the usual, traditional ‘ogre stuff’ on Lord Farquaad and the rest of the village and throttle them, make bread from their grinded bones ‘the whole ogre trick’. Shrek explains that there is a lot more to ogres that people think. This gives away a lot about his character and finalizes the audience’s suspicions that Shrek is not your average ogre from the fairy tales of the past. The fact that Shrek is off on a heroic quest to rescue a beautiful princess locked in the highest room of the tallest tower in a castle guarded by a fire breathing dragon proves that Shrek is like a traditional fairy tale but also the fact that the hero of the film is the usual, terrible beast that attempts to eat or kill the princess or the hero proves that this is a fairy tale with a difference.