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Shrek and traditional fairy tales

In traditional fairy tales, ogres are man-eating beasts. The prince usually rescues the princess; they marry and live happily ever after. How do the makers of “Shrek” use presentational devices to reverse this tradition, to reveal the ogre as good, and the prince as evil?

In traditional fairy tales, there is always a villain, a hero and a heroine. However, the makers of “Shrek” have not made the film traditional as the hero is an ogre and the villain is the prince. The traditional roles in this film are reversed.

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The beginning of the film leads the audience into believing it is a traditional fairy tale because it starts off with “once upon a time”, soft music and a narrator. There is a giant book with a start, middle and an end. The start is happy, the middle is evil, sad and the end is happy. So far the Audience believes they are watching a traditional fairy tale.

However, our expectations are abruptly shattered as the ogre rips a page out of the giant book and uses that page to use in the toilet thus showing a sign of disrespect towards the fairytale. Then, the music changes to rock music. The ogre is dirty and mean. Unlike traditional fairy tales, the film starts on a sad note.

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When we first meet Shrek he seems like a big ugly ogre; at the beginning of the film he frightens off the characters by saying he will ‘grind their bones for his bread” and “shave your liver and make jelly from your eyes”. The humans ran away scared. The fact that the humans want to kill him in the first place gives the audience the impression that he is a big mean ugly ogre. However, by the end of the conversation with the fairytale creatures, he becomes a hero because he is going to confront Lord Farquared and fight on their behalf.

Even in his role as a hero, Shrek fails to conform to conventions. The reason he is going to save the princess is to benefit himself, by getting the fairytale creatures out of his swamp. This is not the way a traditional hero would act. This is further emphasized when Shrek finally gets to the princess and disrespectfully refers to her as ‘the dragon’, shakes her to rouse her and roughly drags her out of the castle.

Even in getting to the princess, it is not Shreks’ valiant attempts and traditional swordsmanship that overcome the dragon, it is his companion, Donkey and his charms. The unconventional nature of the film’s hero is noted explicitly in the dialogue when the princess describes him as very ‘unorthodox’.

Unlike the prince in most fairy tales, Farquared is far from handsome and brave as a real prince would go and save the princess himself and not send an ogre to do the job. When we meet a fairytale prince him to be tall strong and handsome, Lord Farquared however is none of these things. He is small, weak and not what we call handsome. As soon as we see him and see how small he is it re-emphasizes that this film is a stark contrast to traditional fairy tales. Our ‘prince’, Lord Farquared is a childish bully who is only able to pick on the feeble gingerbread man by taunting him with “run, run, run as fast as you can…” and pulling the gingerbread man’s buttons off.

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The use of camera shots in this type of film is very important as it is another method of providing us with an impression of what the characters are like i.e. whether they are strong or weak. For example, when Shrek scares the storybook characters away at the beginning of the film, there is a close-up shot of his mouth leading us to believe that he is going to eat them. When we are looking at Shrek the camera is always positioned really low, giving the impression that Shrek is really big.

In the same way, when we look at Donkey the camera is high up, looking down on him giving the effect that he is really small. We can also take the example of the scene in Shreks’ home where the makers use soft and warm music in the background. The use of lighting further sets the scene as they have a lovely warm fire giving a welcoming feeling and inviting the audience into his home. This shatters our expectations of traditional ogres’ home.

The film ‘Shrek’ is a modern take on a fairytale which holds many contrasts to the traditional set-up where the handsome prince overcomes the evil ogre to rescue and marry the princess to live happily-ever-after. The makers of ‘Shrek’ use a range of presentational devices such as camera shots, music, lighting and the physical qualities and personality traits of the characters to reverse this tradition and reveal a good ogre who beats the evil prince to live happily ever after with the princess.

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Shrek and traditional fairy tales. (2021, Sep 25). Retrieved May 20, 2022, from