Imagine a time when Shrek was pure.
Ok, yeah, Shrek the movie was never one hundred percent pure, but think back to the years before you first encountered the words “Shrek is Love.” That’s a happier place, now isn’t it?
Honestly, Shrek isn’t even all that great. Funny. Special. Good. Not necessarily great. After sixteen years it ran into the issue all pop culture-referencing films face: becoming outdated. What we have left remains solid—an upending of classic fairy-tale tropes and sly jabs at Disney staples, but not transcending. It can’t be timeless because it made itself a product of the times.
Still, if you enjoyed the film, may I direct you to its lesser-known picture book counterpart: Shrek!
Shrek! is a charming picture book obscured by its own adaptation. Probably because the book is a simple reverse fairy tale, hero’s journey, marry-the-princess story starring an ogre. Guest appearances by a witch, a dragon, and, yes, a donkey.
Where the movie takes the idea of a subverted fairy tale and expands it into riffing off pop culture fairy tales and creating a few supplementary character clichés to overturn (knight in shining armor, damsel in distress, merry band of thieves), the book plays it straight and simple.
A witch tells Shrek he will meet a talking donkey who, when the magic words “apple strudel,” are spoken, will take him to the princess in the castle. As it turns out the princess is also a nasty horrible ogre—no curse, she’s just an ogre—and they get married and spend the rest of their lives terrorizing everyone around them.
And that’s it. It’s got some fun rhyming couplets and is a fantastic book to read aloud (“Pheasant, peasant? What a pleasant present!”)
It’s remarkable that with all of its additions, the film kept the basic spirit of the book intact, yet still manages to be its own story. And remain as a sparkling example of early 2000s pop culture.
And that’s really all there is to say. If you liked Shrek, check out Shrek!
Artwork ©William Steig
Cover image property of Dreamworks Animation.