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"The film's inspirational message is that it is wrong to judge solely by appearances, because doing so frequently leads to false judgments."

 

Raymond Teague is the author of Reel Spirit: A Guide to Movies That
Inspire, Explore and Empower
, from Unity House. 

He is an award-winning
journalist, an editor of spiritual publications, a popular New Thought
speaker, and a lifelong movie buff. 

His book is available by clicking the "Buy the Book" link above or by clicking here.

  Raymond Teague, 
"Reel Spirit" Movie Reviews

Shrek
(2001, 87 minutes, PG)

You can't judge an ogre by his cover -- in other words, by his appearance, behavior, or reputation. You can't judge a princess by those criteria, either.

Ogres, princesses, and other fairy tale creatures are more than they seem to be in this delightful and wonderfully inventive computer-animated film.

One of the feature's producers, Aron Warner, said the goal of the production was "to tell a great story that's funny and charming and has a good message." Pacific Data Images, the film's animation studio, works magic with noted children's author William Steig's story about a big, green ogre named Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) who is forced out of his quiet forest to rescue a princess.

The film's inspirational message is that it is wrong to judge solely by appearances, because doing so frequently leads to false judgments, prejudices, and discriminations. It is, of course, a theme explored in many fairy tales and movies, from that "tale as old as time," Beauty and the Beast, to Chocolat.

In Shrek, the message comes through several characters. First, there's the title character himself. Shrek is, after all, an ogre, and is what might be called appearance-challenged in a word, ugly. As an ogre, he has the reputation of acting like an ogre and being unpleasant and frightening. You might not think that an ogre has conventional feelings, including fears and insecurities.

Getting to know Shrek, however, reveals that he is indeed a creature of onion-like layers. "There's a lot more to ogres than people think," Shrek says. He has a big heart to match his body, as well as a sensitive, kind nature; and he is lonely and hurt because of being falsely judged and discriminated against.

"The world seems to have a problem with me," he says sadly. "They judge me before they even know me. That's why I'm better off alone." In an attempt to shield himself from people's preconceived notions of him and to protect himself from the resulting hurt, Shrek builds an emotional wall around himself to keep others out. His friend Donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy) observes, "I think this whole wall thing is a way to keep something out," and Shrek agrees.

Shrek also develops a protective persona -- what Donkey calls Shrek's "I don't care what nobody thinks of me thing" -- that he shows to the world. However, Shrek does care what people think of him, and is, for example, deeply bothered that he is considered to be a "freak."

Second, Princess Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz) has some lessons to teach us about the dangers of judging by appearances and making assumptions about people. She appears to be the stereotypical beautiful, bossy, vain princess, only interested in finding "true love" that she equates strictly with meeting and kissing her handsome Prince Charming.

There's more to this princess than meets the eye, however, and she has occasion to teach Shrek that even those discriminated against can get caught up in falsely judging others by their appearances. Shrek doesn't think he cares for the princess because she is beautiful (he would prefer someone who looks more like an ogre).

"Maybe you shouldn't judge people before you get to know them," the princess tells Shrek. Touche!

Then there is Donkey. If judged solely by appearances, he may look like an ordinary donkey. If judged by his constant talking, he might seem like a mental light weight. But look again. Out of the mouth of this donkey comes some truly insightful observations.

For instance, Donkey cautions Shrek not to get too wrapped up in his layers theory (and thus miss the obvious) and gives him a gentle reminder about friends and forgiveness. "That's what friends do -- they forgive each other," he says.

The film also teaches that, while there is wisdom in knowing not always to judge strictly by appearances and outward behavior, sometimes the appearances and behavior are indicative of a person's true character. For example, Lord Farquaad's small body perfectly suggests his lack of admirable character, and his large head suggests his enormous ego. The important thing is to give the person the benefit of a doubt and to size up a person's total personality traits. Appearances sometimes can be valid indicators, but also, as Shrek reminds us, "Sometimes things are more than they appear."

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