Before his recent years of internet memeification, Shrek was a property near and dear to my childhood. The films came out when I was young enough to partake in some of the childish humor but also old enough to understand its cheeky depiction of fairy tales. It was easy to track Shrek’s development from loner ogre to happy family man, with his story seemingly coming to an end with his “Happily Ever After” at the end of Shrek Forever After. However, as THR reported last week, Shrek still has at least one chapter more in his story, and it will hit theaters in 2019.
Now, given that the film has no announced synopsis or direction yet, indulge me for a moment and allow me to pitch a story that I feel would be a good step forward in the Shrek story that stays true to the basic approach of the series.
If you go back to the earliest Shrek film, released in 2001, it’s not hard to notice that the film is significantly shaped by intertextuailty. Everything from the smallest of cameos to the character arc of the film’s main protagonist, everything is approached from the assumption that the audience knows, on a fundamental level, the characteristics of this certain archetype. This character is ugly, therefore he is bad. This is the damsel in distress. The filmmakers take these recognizable archetypes, and formulate a question, a question that is at the heart of every Shrek film, what if [this character archetype] was ______, instead of [what they’re usually depicted as]?
You can apply that question to any one of the four characters depicted on its theatrical poster. For Shrek, it’s what if an ogre was the knight in shining armor, instead of the freakish villain? The answer to that question is basically the film’s plot. Shrek starts off as a loner living in his swamp, seen as the scary monster, but he is given the chance to be the knight in shining armor who rescues the princess, and over the course of that film, we see the layers peeled back to reveal his potential for heroism and love. That’s the simple course of the film, but the film has some twists along the way. Those twists come from applying the same question to the supporting characters and villain. Fiona isn’t the damsel in distress. Instead, she’s a karate master who’s also an ogre. The good-looking and perfectionist Lord Farquaad is the villain, and it’s actually his perfectionist desires that make him cruel to the citizens.
With all that, and a talking Donkey sidekick, Shrek is a pretty intelligent subversion of fairy tales in general, not to mention just being a fun animation. Shrek 2 and Shrek the Third keep the same approach in continuing Shrek’s story. In Shrek 2, the usually-benevolent Fairy Godmother and Prince Charming (those actually are their only names in the movie) are the power-hungry villains, and Puss in Boots, the newest member of Shrek’s crew, is Zorro who uses his cuteness as a trap for his enemies. Shrek the Third’s main uses of the approach is when King Arthur is depicted as a not-quite-out-of-puberty teenager named Artie, and when all the Princesses are locked up and use their respective skills to bust out and help save the Kingdom. Finally, Shrek Forever After simply becomes a “what if?” film about Shrek’s mid-life crisis.
Shrek in the Woods (Alternative titles: 5hrek, Shrek: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Getting back to pitching my idea for the fifth film, I suggest we focus on the Shrek and Fiona’s triplets (introduced in Shrek the Third), with Shrek as a supporting character. Shrek Forever After pretty much did all it could to show Shrek as something entirely different from the ogre we were introduced to in the swamp back in 2001. It succeeded at ending his character’s story, as it was indeed designed to be the “final chapter”. As such, Shrek’s character should be depicted and examined as a father to his triplets.
My idea for the sequel would be to take Shrek and his triplets out of Far, Far Away or The Swamp on a bonding trip. The triplets would be teenagers at this point in the story, who don’t get along with each other, who are mischievous, and who don’t respect the Ogre way of life. We find Shrek, who already voiced his concerns about being a good father in Shrek the Third (even citing how his father tried to eat him), at the point in his parenthood where he would question if he actually has been a good father. Shrek alone takes his children on a trip that will repair their relationships with one another. No Donkey, Fiona, or Puss, because I don’t think they’ll be needed in this story. (Note to executives: I will only fight you on the no Puss in Boots thing.) Anyways, it’s a point A to point B, with Woods in between, road trip movie. However, the family is separated by one of two villains (who we’ll get to in a moment). The triplets enter the restricted part of the woods, and Shrek is separated into his own path. Their only hope of reuniting is to make it to their original planned destination (which is a linear path, anyway).
Shrek somehow is reunited with his father in this story of mine, and he helps him reach his destination. Shrek’s storyline in this reveals to the audience his past, as his encounter with his dad teaches him how to be a good parent. I think that development will serve as a proper ending to his story, while still spiritually passing the torch to his children. Speaking of, for the triplet’s side of the story, the same approach used for the first three movies could be taken with them. Taking cues from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Little Red Riding Hood, and Peter Pan, my question that serves as the core for the story is “what if finding yourself and maturing while being lost in a strange, unfamiliar land was a unifying experience, instead of a separated, isolated experience?” Thus, the triplet’s main arc is about becoming mature and learning they can find strength in each other.
The villains of the piece would be Gepetto (of Pinocchio) and the Huntsman (of Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White). The Huntsman would be the physical threat to them. In my mind, if the Huntsman lived in Shrek’s world, his hero complex would make him so irritated that Shrek keeps saving the day, that he ends up trying to ruin Shrek’s life. Gepetto being the one… pulling the strings behind Shrek’s separation from his children. Gepetto is the main adversary of the triplets, because I find something creepy about a guy who makes himself a boy toy and asks to bring it to life. These two main villains eventually capture Shrek and his dad, and the triplets save them together, proving to Shrek his children are kind of like him and he raised them well.
Think of it as Finding Nemo meets Alice in Wonderland. The triplets and Shrek would encounter notable fairy tale characters along the way, such as Hansel & Gretel, Mad Hatter, Goldilocks and her Bears, Snow White and her Dwarves, etc. There’s a lot of woodland fairy tales to subvert or parody.
Now, I ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but I think that’s a pretty satisfactory Shrek sequel.
Featured Image: Paramount Pictures