I love Shrek 2. It is one of my favourite movies of all time. Most people who have met me know this about me because I manage to work it into every conversation that lasts five minutes or longer.
Shrek 2 follows Shrek and Fiona, two ogres fresh from their honeymoon, as they visit Fiona’s still-human parents and negotiate a myriad of obstacles in their marriage. The film is classic Shrek: It has fairytale characters, family drama, sensational rescue scenes, and amidst all of that, a layer of social commentary. But, the beauty of Shrek 2 lies in the fact that the audience can take in as much or as little of that social commentary as they like.
Most digital media today is divided into two categories: Serious and obviously trying to address a current and pervasive societal ill, or completely and absurdly detached from anything serious at all. Teen dramas and reality television offer escape to worlds where systemic injustice does not exist and 16-year-olds do not have acne, while gritty documentaries, biopics, and political dramas try to shed light on the reality of current affairs. Not only is there no middle ground in the movies and shows being produced, but there is also no nuance in popular perception of these categories. Reality TV and teen dramas are trashy, while biopics and documentaries are high-brow and intellectual.
I thoroughly enjoy movies and shows that fall into the “trashy” category. They may not be intellectually stimulating or well-made, but they are entertaining. In my mind, if a show or movie succeeds in entertaining the audience, it holds value. Of course, this comes with the caveat that if it perpetuates or encourages bigotry or systemic inequity, it is no longer acceptable as a piece of entertainment. Despite my firm belief in the inherent value of the media I consume, I find myself feeling the need to justify my choices to watch low-brow content. I tell people that I like it as a joke or think the incredibly low-quality scripts and acting are actually funny. While these are not always outright lies, I do also just genuinely enjoy what I am watching, and that is fine.
Shrek 2 bridges the gap between cheap laughs and social commentary almost perfectly. Corruption at the highest level of politics, individual self-esteem issues, and police brutality are all present, but anyone watching could also ignore these points quite easily. How someone chooses to perceive and watch Shrek 2 is entirely up to the viewer and their own level of social awareness.
There is no right or wrong way to enjoy Shrek 2, though. If someone wants to watch it and unpack the discussion of toxic masculinity and men’s self-esteem issues, they can do that and find value in doing so. If someone just wants to watch a giant, sentient gingerbread man have hot milk dumped on him as he dissolves into a moat, that is equally valid. The pressure to explain or justify enjoying preferences to appear smarter or more ‘woke’ can be deeply ingrained, especially for young women. For decades, products and media marketed to women have been dismissed as frivolous and low-quality. Now, more than ever, it is important to let people enjoy things that make them happy. Shrek 2 does lend itself brilliantly to more in-depth analysis, but I should not have to explain that every time I tell someone that it is my favourite movie because my love of the dumb jokes is just as justifiable and rational a reason as any other for me to love it.