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I have to admit, this is most difficult movie review I’ve written for WND – in part, because “Shrek Forever After” cuts right to the heart of struggles I face as a dad.
There’s no question the latest and reportedly last movie in the “Shrek” franchise is intended to be “family-friendly,” but as the film haunted me this weekend, I wondered, Does this family message really build up dads for the sacrifices they make, or does it set them up for failure by pitching a phony message on fulfillment?
I’m not sure I know the answer. Let me explain.
In “Shrek Forever After,” the title ogre has settled down with his wife, Fiona, and their three children. At first, he laughs at the joys of new fatherhood.
But every morning, the kids wake him up early. Every morning, he changes diapers. Every afternoon, he fixes things the kids break. And every day begins to look like every other day, as the free-roaming adventures of a bachelor ogre are replaced by the monotonous routine of a family man.
One day Shrek looks in the mirror and compares the image he sees to one of the “Ogre Wanted” posters of his good ol’ days. Shrek realizes he no longer recognizes himself. The wildness that made him a man has been tamed and been replaced by a … a … a hen-pecked bore.
The movie’s plot then allows Shrek to make a deal with the devil (or, rather, Rumpelstiltskin) to trade in one day of family life for just 24 hours of reliving the “freedom” of his wilder youth.
In the end, of course, Shrek must battle Rumpelstiltskin to get his family back and resolves that he was a fool to long for earlier days, since he “already has everything” in the love of his family and friends.
Happy ending, family-affirming message, Shrek’s a good daddy and, therefore, all is right and good in the land of Far, Far Away, right?
Were this column only about how family- or faith-friendly films are, we could probably end the review here and give “Shrek Forever After” a thumbs-up. The film, after all, rescues the franchise from Episodes 2 and 3 and recaptures some of the fun and magic of the original “Shrek,” while also toning down the crass humor.
But this column is about movie worldviews. And there is a check in my spirit that warns me, there’s something wrong with this picture.
The film presents a stereotypical trade-off: Shrek can either have family or adventure, not both. And when family proves a one-way street to being permanently sissified, Shrek jumps at the chance to reboost his testosterone levels. For one day, he gets to trade in the minivan for the Ferrari.
It’s a tempting offer I imagine holds appeal to many middle-aged men. And many dads, our society demonstrates, take the devil up on the deal: trading in the doldrums of diaper duty for the sports car, the fling with the secretary or the ambitious, all-consuming career goal. Some just settle for the vicarious victories of Sunday football or junior’s pinewood derby.
Regardless of how the mid-life crisis manifests, the idea that a man “already has everything” when he has a wife, kids and friends seems to ring a bit hollow in practical application. Guys, it seems, just don’t buy it.
“Shrek Forever After” resolves by answering “yes.”
Never mind the fact that the ogre was more vibrant, more alive and more himself during the interlude, when he was battling witches to woo back the love of his wife (who didn’t know him in Rumplestiltskin’s magical, alternate-reality deal). Never mind that nothing has really changed from when Shrek was bored with life before to his life after breaking out of Rumple’s one-day deal.
Shrek has “perspective” now, he has love and that’s all he ever really needed.
Because that sounds more like a woman’s happy ending than a man’s. It sounds good and it sounds “family friendly,” but as a guy … it also sounds false.
What happens to Shrek 10 years from now when the diapers are done but he’s driving his triplets to ogre-ball practice after a day of work, only to have to fix the outhouse again before collapsing into a bed, too tired to be much of a man there either?
Are we to believe that simply because Shrek now has the perspective that his wife and kids are wonderful that he’ll never again long for the days of slaying dragons and rescuing the princess? Is Hollywood’s proposition – that a man must be content to put away adventure in order to be a dad – really teaching our boys what it takes to stick with their marriages or giving them a flimsy defense against man’s innate desire to roar?
Hollywood might as well tell a man to emasculate himself, because that’s exactly what this message does – it says a man must be a woman in order to be a father.
From all of this, I discern one thing I know for certain: The stereotypical trade-off – that Shrek can either have family or adventure, not both – is baloney. That perspective is more likely to sabotage a man in his mid-life crisis than rescue him.
There does remain, however, hope. What if a dad can have both family and adventure?
I see two ways out of the trap. One way is for Dad to invite those he loves into his adventure, a scenario easier to see, perhaps, with a pioneer farmer, a missionary or a family-business entrepreneur, a dad who engages with his wife and children in daring pursuits.
The other is for Dad to see family itself as the grand adventure, a battle for the hearts and spirits of his wife and children, a multi-generational devotion to the cause of Christ against a real enemy in Satan, locked in a war with eternal ramifications.
Which is the right perspective emotionally, psychologically, relationally and, most importantly, biblically? I’m curious what you readers might advise.
Regardless, show me a Shrek that doesn’t surrender his masculinity to become a father, a man living the role of Dad with a battle axe in his hand and his wife and kids by his side. Now that would be a “family-friendly” message I could get behind.
- Be warned, the film does toss in a pair of quick perversions, perhaps in the attempt to desensitize or “normalize” them: the first, when an androgynous at best, but likely homosexual witch makes a pass at the king; the second when a cross-dressing waiter serves Shrek’s family at a birthday party. These are brief and easily missed, but unsettling nonetheless in a children’s film.
- And speaking of witches, “Shrek Forever After” is filled with them, riding broomsticks, tossing around jack-o-lanterns and skulls. Magic potions, spells, contracts with a wicked magician and other occult themes make frequent appearances. Though portrayed as staple fairy-tale creatures and not portrayed as satanic powers, their presence does give the film a darker tone.
- The film contains no profanity, even dodging the typical donkey-as-“ass” cracks commonplace in the earlier “Shrek” movies. There are likewise no uses of “God” or “Jesus” in the film.
- Sexuality consists of little more than the note above, a few kisses and Fiona wearing some cleavage-revealing outfits.
- There is a fair amount of fighting and flying and explosions and the like, but no blood or gore. Shrek and a warrior Fiona engage in hand-to-hand combat, presenting an unnerving scene of a woman being struck.
- The film contains several instances of alcohol consumption, which the film presents as desirable.