Shrek is a comical animated fairytale based variously on literary archetypes and Disney-esque tropes. However, this fairy tale theme has been subverted using numerous presentational devices throughout the film, in many different ways. I am going to explain thoroughly how this is revised and shown in the film. At the opening of the film, the audience is led to believe that this is different than a traditional fairy tale. It starts off with an old distinguished story book, opening to reveal a traditional style fairy tale.
The historic style of font, picturesque illustrations, and general gentle setting, lead to the preconception that it is another archetypal tale. With the traditional story book phrases, such as “Once upon a time” and conventional storylines such as “The princess was locked in the highest room of the tallest tower, awaiting true love and true loves first kiss”. Near the end of the short fairy tale, a large green hand rips the last page out of the book.
Comically implying he used the page as toilet paper, based on the mise – en – scene and editing of Shrek emerging from an outhouse after tearing out the page and the sound of diegetic flushing.
This kind of behaviour would not be shown in an archetypal fairy tale, leading the audience to see this is not the type of story they were expecting. The main character, Shrek, is an ogre. This is a clear subversion of a fairy story, as the main character, or hero, tends to be a handsome prince.
It is also a subversion of his character as traditionally ogres are brutal, cruel and most importantly, of evil temperament. However also in the beginning Shrek is seen behaving in a human fashion. His habitat is quite homely and domesticated and is even shown performing a human cleansing ritual involving brushing his teeth and even having breakfast.
This immediately alerts the audience or at least makes them suspicious, that Shrek must surely be a positive character as he is acting like an approachable human being and not a man eating ogre. However, a little later in the film, Shrek is seen confronting a gang of villagers who are trying to ambush him at his home. Suddenly his character seems a lot more sinister, as he uses traditional archetypal ogre threats, (such as “I’ll grind your bones to make my bread”). But instead of carrying out his threats, he simply tells them to “run away”. Then terrifyingly roars in the faces of the villagers.
This is shown by a close up of Shrek’s open mouth with food encrusted teeth. This adds to the traditional image of a disgusting ogre, unlike the humanised character we saw in the first scene. The two different sides of him revealed here show that he is a conflicted character. Torn between acting like a traditional ogre and a human character, these parallel images are reflected throughout most of the film. The presentational devices used in this chapter of the film help show this subversion as traditionally an ogre would not show any human characteristics at all and would not doubt the content of his own nature.
During his travels, Shrek is introduced to Donkey. They meet when Donkey is pursued by a gang of soldiers and Shrek scares them away. Donkey is grateful and begins to chat to Shrek in a friendly manner. Shrek clearly struggles with the idea that someone does not judge him as a traditional ogre but as a human. Shrek’s character is more aggressive towards Donkey as he evidently doesn’t know how to deal with the situation. This again shows Shrek’s conflicted character and how he finds it difficult to cope with not being judged on first impressions. Later on, Shrek and Donkey go on a quest issued by Lord Farquaad to rescue the Princess Fiona.
When found, the princess appears to be another archetype; the beautiful damsel in distress, waiting to be rescued. However all is not as it seems, as later she is seen performing unladylike actions, such as burping and violently attacking a gang of men who mistakenly attempt to rescue her. The princess’s role in a traditional animated fairy tale is to be a weak, beautiful, innocent, damsel in distress. This completely shows the misogynist viewpoint of male/ female roles in fairy tales. Lord Farquaad has all the aspects of a heroic character with his large castle and kingdom, riches and the fact that he wants a princess as his bride.
However, his first impression and the actions he is seen doing persuade the audience otherwise. When we first meet lord farquaad, the presentational skills and devices used create a sinister, negative impression of him straightaway. A low angle shot is used to make him appear large and intimidating while he strides down a corridor. The dim background lighting and harsh marching music also add to the daunting effect of the scene. Even his first actions seem chilling, as he is precisely putting on his gloves showing that he “means business”. After this scene, he is shown torturing another character, the Gingerbread Man, for information.
He even threatens the Magic Mirror to make him into a king. After hearing the mirrors solution to marry a princess, he then hires someone else to recue her for him. These are not things an archetypal hero would do at all, in fact, he shows more of the characteristics of a villain; again subverting the stereotypical tale. When Shrek and Donkey visit Duloc, more presentational devices are used in favour of Lord Farquaad. When Shrek and Donkey are discussing with Lord Farquaad the nature of the quest, Lord Farquaad is on a balcony far above them.
A low angle shot is used to make him more impressive and show his higher status from the other characters. This was also cut to another shot of a close up behind lord Farquaad, creating a mise – en- scene and making him seem bigger and therefore more important in comparison with Shrek. These presentational devices accurately help show the difference in status between characters, establishing their direct contrast to one another. In conclusion, the presentational devices used in Shrek help subvert the archetypal fairy tale through many aspects.
Firstly, the use of low angle shots helps to establish status and contrast between characters and even with the characters themselves. For example, a close up of a characters face helps to display their emotions to more accurately. The themed background music used also helps to create a certain atmosphere or setting for a particular character, helping the audience perceive a character easily. Overall, the use of presentational devices in the film Shrek, assist in subverting the generic conventions of traditional fairy tales in a humorous and easy viewing way for the audience.