Behind the “Shrek” phenomenon



The promotional poster for "Shrek Retold"

“Shrek” is almost 18 years old. Usually, animated movies fade into the annals of time, becoming an odd trivia question or factoid. But not “Shrek.”

The “Shrek” franchise has lasted longer than any other franchise that came out in 2001. Sure, movies like “Monsters, Inc.” and “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius” are remembered fondly and have their fair share of memes, but they pale in comparison to the absolute obsession people have for “Shrek,” especially on the internet.

The rejuvenation of “Shrek” began in 2013 with the unsettling and not-safe-for-work (nsfw) video based off a 4chan post “Shrek is Love, Shrek is Life,” with 500K views. This created an explosion of smaller, yet still decent, “Shrek” memes.

This passion for “Shrek” cumulated in perhaps the greatest project created in Shrek’s honor: “Shrek Retold,” a two-hour scene-by-scene recreation of the original “Shrek.” This film was created by over 200 people in a collaborative effort to pay tribute to Shrek, Fiona, Donkey, and all of the iconic scenes that make “Shrek” the masterpiece it is.

3GI Industries organized both “Shrek Retold” and Shrekfest, a Shrek festival in Wisconsin. Grant Duffrin, the creator behind the studio, has a passion for “Shrek.”

“It’s coming from a genuine place. There’s nothing sarcastic about it. With ‘Shrek Retold,’ that was something on a wide scale that people could enjoy, and since we’ve done Shrekfest the past five years, people kind of know us as the Shrek guys. It was easy to get people on board in that regard,” Duffrin said.

Organizing “Shrek Retold” was one of the most difficult endeavors Duffrin has ever taken on, but it was definitely worth it, both for him and for “Shrek” fans everywhere.

“When it was all put together I was surprised to see how well everything flowed between scenes. I think there was just a natural flow. And the individual creators, they weren’t looking at other peoples’ pieces. Everyone just went at it but it was worth it when it was all put together,” Duffrin said.

Students at Jupiter High School show the same devotion for “Shrek” as seen online. In a poll of 270 Jupiter students, 88 percent said they loved “Shrek” while only 12 percent did not.

But this leaves an interesting question: why “Shrek?” Out of all the films released around that time for younger demographics, why is “Shrek” still so beloved by older people? To answer this question, we really have to figure out what “Shrek” is.

When Jeffrey Katzenberg was fired by the newly appointed CEO of Disney, Michael Eisner, after the death of Franks Wells in 1994, he founded DreamWorks Animation. It was inevitable that one of the works produced by DreamWorks was going to be a parody of fairy tales, the staple of Disney animation.

An “ugly” ogre is tasked to save a princess for Lord Farquaad in order to get his swamp back. Shrek has no intention of socializing with other people; he’s content with being alone. He has been an outcast from society as long as he can remember, and he has accepted this role.

Teenagers, those creating the most memes about “Shrek,” can relate to feeling isolated. That isolation, much like in “Shrek,” comes both from society, and from within.

“I think every day I relate to somebody different. One day I might feel like Donkey, like I’m looking for a friend, and then another day I might feel like Shrek. I might feel real grumpy, like I don’t want anybody to come over. And then other days I might feel like anybody else,” Duffrin said.

And Shrek’s sense of humor is also something that high schoolers can relate to. He’s sarcastic and sardonic, self-deprecating every step of the way. At first, he doesn’t love himself, and he uses humor to shield himself from those who see him as a monster.

But he makes his first friend. He falls in love. And, slowly, he learns that he is purposeful. And in the end, isn’t that all that what everyone wants?

It isn’t just the characters and plot that resonate with people, it’s also the soundtrack. While in traditional fairy tales you might find whimsical or classical scores, “Shrek” brings something new to the table. From “All Star” by Smash Mouth, to “Changes” by David Bowie and Butterfly Boucher, to “Accidentally in Love” by Counting Crows, to “Holding Out for a Hero” by Jennifer Saunders, the soundtrack never disappoints. This unusual pop-rock soundtrack is more inviting. It welcomes you to stay and join Shrek on his adventures.

“It’s good music. It’s a good collection of songs. We knew we were going to have a fun time getting covers of those songs. Everyone that did a cover knocked it out of the park. They had amazing material to work with,” Duffrin said.

We could write the phenomenon of “Shrek” off as an overplayed meme, but like an onion, if you look under the layers, but it means more to people.

“In all seriousness, it’s a good story of loving and bettering yourself despite what the world told you and not judging someone from appearances,” junior Alexandra Magallanes said.

We could be obsessed with Snow White or Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, but we’re not. We like Shrek. He shows us that everyone deserves love and acceptance, not just princesses. If you think about it, we are all the ogres in our own stories, afraid to leave our swamps and go out into the world. We fear rejection. But Shrek taught us that we don’t have to.

When asked whether he would ever make a “Shrek 2” Retold, Duffrin was hesitant.

“I don’t want to do that. It was so much work. We already did ‘Shrek’ one so what’s the point? If somebody else did it, that’d be awesome. And I want to make a video where I explain exactly how I organized the project and how I reached out to different collaborators and how I managed the project so that someone else may take the burden of doing ‘Shrek 2’ because I think there’s an audience for it. I think you can get people on board with it,” he said.

So, aspiring Shrek fans and creators, you’ve heard it here first. As long as you credit Duffrin as Executive Producer, “Shrek 2” Retold is all yours.