I have a teenage son, so in my ongoing acts of desperation to get him to like me, I watched Shrek with him last night. In order to redeem the time spent on it, I am going to write a blog post assessing the movie.
Before I do, you must know not to take this post seriously. I have only watched Shrek once now, and nobody can effectively review anything that he knows as poorly as I know Shrek. There may be layers of irony and insight hidden in the movie beneath what I write about in what follows. So take my humble comments below with a grain of salt.
Humble comment number one: This movie should never be watched by anyone under any circumstances.
I’ll give three reasons because they come to mind the fastest. First, it’s a horrible movie for little children to watch because it corrupts their impression of every fairy tale ever ruined by Disney. This movie is guaranteed to undercut a child’s moral development because it robs him of the metaphors developed over the centuries that help children understand and interpret a horribly complicated world.
It does so, of course, because prior to the 20th century everybody everywhere was guilty of the one intolerable vice. They were intolerant. So we have to teach children to tolerate everything. Old fairy tales taught children to be afraid of giants (i.e. adults they didn’t know), and witches (i.e. people who accepted no natural limits on what they allowed themselves to know and do), and yes, I have to say it, ogres (i.e. what they will grow up to become if they go around expressing themselves without restrain).
Now we are taught to tolerate ogres because, after all, they can’t help that they’re ugly, and besides, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?
Now look, Shrek does a sweet job of teaching people that they shouldn’t jump to conclusions about other people. And that’s a good lesson for an older child.
The trouble is, little children absolutely should draw hasty conclusions about other people. Strangers who offer them candy should be run from, no questions asked. Giants should be feared and fought against. Foxes who mislead and trouble-making boys who turn into donkeys should be avoided.
Little children NEED to learn intolerance of strangers as a survival mechanism.
But if the fairy godmother says the child should associate with someone, then the child should do so. And that, to those who just hastily and intolerantly read racism into the preceding, is the solution to that problem. Little children do a very fine job, I find, of playing with people they are told to play with. They trust authority.
Shrek, which speaks of moral matters as though it has authority, whereas in fact it has none, is harmful for little children. It’s a pied piper.
Second, it is a horrible movie for little children to watch because of the donkey. The humor practiced by this ass is exactly the sort little children should never hear. And it is the kind of humor that every children’s movie of the last 15 years or so that I can think of has used. Even that sweet masterpiece, The Lion King.
It’s the, “Hey, look at me! I’m here! I’m so funny, look at me, I’m here!! Notice me!” kind of humor that makes indulged children so painful to be around. To a healthy soul, the dissonance this humor creates is so great that it overcomes the laughter.
If I hated a child and wanted to make his life particularly painful, I would sit him in front of 1990’s and 2000’s children’s movies. Then I would send him to school and teach him writing. In writing class I would say, “Express yourself.” I would make sure that he thinks the purpose of all the arts is for him to express himself. Then I would offer him the utterly mystifying counsel, as early as possible, that he can use the arts to find out who he is.
If I were a demon, that is how I would raise children.
And that brings up middle school and high school children. The tone and humor of the movie is adolescent, although it is relatively restrained – unless I missed a lot.
So if an adolescent has learned all these fairy tales and knows their substance, he could watch the movie with some insight.
I’m just not sure why an adolescent would want to watch such a childish movie. If he does like it, and if he is attached to it, I’d try to figure out why. If it’s just a matter of sentimental nostalgia for a childhood favorite, that’s fine. This sort of thing is the punishment we parents have to endure for letting our children win the nag fights when they were little.
But if it’s any more than that, the child might need counseling.
Of course, if you go to a counselor, he’ll tell you to let him watch more movies like this so he can get in touch with his feelings and learn tolerance.
And if you liked Shrek, you might be inclined to believe him.
So I leave you with the words of Tiny Tim merged with the Gingerbread Man (which was a really funny, creative element in the story and could have carried a much healthier story all by itself), “God bless us, every one. “