Fairy tales turned upside down

Submitted by AWL on 15 August, 2004 - 9:53

Jenny Lindsey reviews 'Shrek 2', written and directed by Andrew Adamson

Call me a sucker, but I enjoyed this sequel. It takes the piss out of beautiful and it takes the piss out of cool. So, I'm predisposed to like it.
'Shrek' and 'Shrek 2' take old fairy tales and turn them on their head. The ogre wins against Prince Charming. The Fairy Godmother is a scheming, no-good witch (with the persona as well as the voice of Jennifer Saunders). Sleeping Beauty is not impressed with cool, smooth-talking men, oh, and she's a karate black belt. The Gingerbread Man doesn't run away, but comes back fighting. Puss-in-Boots is a hired hit man.

Fairy tales are moral stories, made up to teach children the lessons adults wanted to teach: don't wander out into the forest or you'll meet the bear family; beware of old women bearing apples, i. e. don't accept gifts from strangers; if you eat too many sweets, especially ones that don't belong to you, a witch will throw you in the oven and cook you for dinner.

There are gender specific lessons too. If you kiss a frog, you will get a prince, was one was strictly for the girls. The lesson: don't judge by appearances, you can find your perfect mate in all sorts of shapes and sizes. For the lads it was kill a dragon, get the girl/kingdom/happiness. That is, if you work hard you will do well.

And the primary lesson spelled out all the time was, 'If you're not back by midnight, the deal's off.' In other words, obey the rules.

The modern version of these old tales portrayed in films like 'Shrek' and 'Shrek 2' but not in the Disneyfied versions of the old fairy tale classics - is much more fun, less prejudiced and, what's more, for adult audiences as well as children.

The saucy references and cheeky one-liners appeal to the grown-ups while the slapstick has the kids rolling in their seats. Pinocchio's nose grows, enabling the good guys to free Shrek and donkey from the dungeon, but also because he is lying about wearing women's underwear!

The opening scenes are of Shrek and Fiona on their honeymoon. There is a lot of kissing ('eeeugh!!' shouted the only two nine-year-olds in the cinema) and sexual suggestions which those nine-year-olds just did not get.

The makers of 'Shrek' are not the only ones at this kind of piss-take of fairy tale stereotypes and all who promote them. Warner Brothers, in 'Loony Tunes Back in Action', have a go at Disney by portraying the managing director of Acme Corporation as an egotistical, dictator-like profiteer who employs children. Some dialogue from that:

'We can't have nine year olds working in sweat shops when three year olds work for so much less'.

'But Sir, they require naps'.

'Then put caffeine in their sippie cups'.

'Kids' films' like these are also giving their young viewers far more credit than they used to. They recognise that children have a sophisticated sense of humour and are smarter than we expect.

They also recognise that they have got to entertain the person with the purse who is going to take the children to the cinema. Taking your kids to the flicks is a far less painful experience today from the days of 'Bambi'. Shrek, the Scottish misanthrope, is a much more enjoyable character. Sickly sweet is no longer the order of the day, thank goodness.

However, I wouldn't want to watch too many of these kinds of cartoons (the Dreamworks catalogue includes 'Antz' and 'Chicken Run'). And I'm a bit sick of the branding of everything from Ribena to Cheerios with Shrek characters. With a 'Shrek 3' already in the pipeline, what's to say they won't be 'doing a Disney' with Shrek - taking the basic ingredients, mixing them up, and creating a new film for very little cost? Throw in a few extra jokes and, hey presto, the audience has been suckered again.

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