Here's a question for all of you reading this blog today. When you hear the word 'hero', how would you define it?
I imagine that for some of you, a hero is a type of sandwich with lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, and lunch meat.
For the rest of you, I have my suspicions that the word 'hero' means something different.
I'm sure if I were to take a poll on who people consider to be a real hero to them, there's probably going to be a lot of possibilities. Perhaps your definition of a hero could describe a police officer. Some of you might consider a celebrity to be a hero. Military men and women, firefighters, athletes...even our own parents. Everybody has their own opinions as to what makes someone a hero.
Certainly each of those examples I've listed have a lot of qualities that one could deem heroic. Bravery. Fearlessness. Strength. Intelligence. Wisdom.
Today's blog entry happens to be about one of these heroes, although at first glance, you might deem him anything but. On the surface, he doesn't appear to have a very heroic look about him. He's big, fat, dresses in rags, and brushes his teeth with slug guts. Not exactly the sort of description that one might associate with heroism, wouldn't you say?
But this is the story of how he proved everyone wrong, and how he learned something about himself along the way.
This is the story of Shrek.
As most of you know, Shrek is an ogre that first appeared in the DreamWorks film 'Shrek', released on May 18, 2001. Over the next eleven years, the Shrek franchise has grown, including three sequels, two television specials, and a spin-off movie, 'Puss In Boots'. And to think that the movie started off as a fairy tale picture book by William Steig!
The film managed to make almost five hundred million dollars at the box office and through DVD sales, and is widely regarded to be the film that put DreamWorks on the same playing field as its main competitor, Pixar, in terms of computer animation. Part of the film's charm was the fact that it appealed to both children and adults. Children were entertained by Shrek and the adventures he shared with Donkey in hopes of rescuing Princess Fiona from the evil Lord Farquaad, while there were subtle adult-oriented jokes mixed in to keep the parents laughing just as much as their children. The soundtrack of the movie was fantastic as well, incorporating songs from Joan Jett, The Proclaimers, Smash Mouth, and Jason Wade. Add an all-star voice cast including Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and John Lithgow, and you have a box office recipe for success.
Shrek is probably one of my all-time favourite animated movies. The fact that the movie came out on my 20th birthday might have a smidgen bit to do with it, I must admit. But Shrek is a rather interesting character in his own right, and I really wanted to use a Monday Matinee day to do a character spotlight on Shrek, because I really wanted to peel back the layers of his complex personality to figure out why he is the way he is.
When we're first introduced to Shrek, we see him scaring a whole bunch of townspeople into hiding. On the surface, he seems to get a great kick out of making everyone run away whenever he comes close. It's almost as if he wanted to be alone. Nobody would blame him, of course. Shrek was an ogre. For the people in the kingdom of 'Far Far Away', and all the little towns in between, ogres were bad creatures. They were ugly. They were disgusting. They were frightening. Certainly, no human being would ever be caught dead or alive around someone as vile as a nasty ogre.
And that's how Shrek wanted things. At least, in the beginning.
Each day, Shrek would scare the human population just a little bit more, and once he got bored with it, would retreat back to his home in the middle of a desolate swamp (complete with 'BEWARE OF OGRE' signage outside), and sit down to a nice, relaxing, candlelit dinner of slugs and other...delectable swamp goodies. It was a quiet, potentially lonely life for Shrek, but it was all that he had known.
But elsewhere, outside the kingdom of Duloc, an evil lord who goes by the name of Lord Farquaad was kicking out every fairy tale creature that was unfortunate enough to live nearby, banishing them to the swamp lands outside of the castle. He kicked out the Three Little Pigs, he tossed Pinocchio aside, kept Gingy prisoner by snapping off cookie limbs one by one, and sent a little grey donkey named 'Donkey' to be sold. However, Donkey manages to escape, and he inadvertently leads the outcast fairy tale creatures to Shrek's front door.
And Shrek is NOT happy about this at all.
Try as he might, Shrek can't seem to get anybody to leave. Everyone is in a tricky spot. Shrek valued his privacy and the fairy tale creatures just wanted their home back. So Shrek decides that he will just have to go to Lord Farquaad's castle to ask him to take back the fairy tale creatures so he can have his swamp back, which everyone is really excited for. After all, if Shrek succeeded, he would become their hero...a title that Shrek had never once considered for himself. But Shrek wasn't going to set out on the journey alone. He needed a sidekick. Donkey ended up being chosen to tag along, not knowing the adventure that the two of them would face along the way.
At the same time, Lord Farquaad learned from the Magic Mirror that in order for him to be a true king of the kingdom of Duloc, he needed to marry a princess, and given all the choices that he had been presented, the princess that chose was Princess Fiona. The problem was that Fiona was being held prisoner in a tower by a fire-breathing dragon, and word was that any knight who tried to rescue her never got out alive. And, Farquaad, all four feet of him, was a bit too cowardly to take on the task himself. He needed someone else to do the dirty work for him, and he thought that by holding a tournament where the last knight standing would win the chance to rescue the princess, it would be a keen way for him to get what he wanted without working for it. Such a charmer, that Farquaad.
I'm sure you know what happens. Shrek arrives at that very moment to yell at Farquaad, and he gets caught up in the middle of the tournament. Shrek's power and force easily makes mince meat out of the other knights in the battle, and Shrek ends up being selected to go rescue Fiona with the promise that Farquaad would help Shrek get rid of the fairy tale creatures in exchange.
And with that, Shrek and Donkey set off on their very first whirlwind adventure, where along the way to the tower where Fiona is held, Donkey tries to get Shrek to talk about himself. In the process, this interesting conversation comes up.
Ogres are like onions, eh? They have layers, eh? Remember this for future reference.
So Shrek and Donkey arrive at the castle, which is surrounded by lava, and one very rickety bridge to cross it. They manage to make it across just fine, and Shrek sets off to locate Fiona, but Donkey is held up when he is confronted by the dragon. The big pink dragon. The big pink FEMALE dragon who finds Donkey to be the dreamiest person she has ever laid eyes on. While Donkey is aghast at this suggestion, it does give Shrek ample time to make it up to Fiona's room to rescue her.
But don't believe for a second that it was love at first sight. Fiona had her heart set on being rescued by a loving, sensitive, romantic, handsome prince...which Shrek was not. Though, Shrek's indifference to her was quite funny to watch, I have to admit. And, naturally, Shrek had to rescue Donkey and when he did, the dragon got extremely upset. After all, who did Shrek think he was, trying to come in between her and her man? Fortunately, Shrek, Fiona, and Donkey made it out of the tower without being flame-broiled. It seemed all was well, and while Fiona was surprised by Shrek's overall personality, she was thrilled to have been rescued at all, and wanted to reward her saviour with a kiss...
...until Shrek took off his mask, and revealed his green ogre skin in all its...um...glory. Poor Princess Fiona was crestfallen to find that her knight in shining armor was just a big green oafish ogre. She is disgusted by the idea of being rescued by Shrek, but when Shrek convinces her that he's acting by proxy for Lord Farquaad, Fiona decides that it might be worth it after all to go with Shrek...well, once Shrek picks her up and carries her down the path to Duloc like a sack of rice, anyways.
Something peculiar happens along the way though. The more time that Shrek and Fiona spend together, the more they start to like each other. They soon find that they both have a lot in common. They love eating unconventional foods, they enjoy turning snakes and frogs into balloon animals...they both even seem to share a love of kicking butt when the group is ambushed by 'Monsieur' Hood and his henchmen. This time, it's Fiona who showcases her kung fu moves, impressing Shrek and Donkey.
Sure, there was that strange quirk that Fiona had to stop for a rest every time the sun went down, but Shrek could overlook that. It was strange for him though, as he had spent most of his life being alone. He had never wanted to be near anybody before, and yet here he was developing feelings for Fiona, and sharing a friendship with Donkey. And he didn't know why.
He had been so accustomed to being alone. He even tells Donkey in confidence that the minute they bring Fiona back to Duloc, he plans on building a ten foot wall around his home so that nobody else could get in. When Donkey asks why, Shrek tells him that he is tired of people judging him based on a stereotype instead of getting to know him. Because everybody had the idea that all ogres were mean and nasty, Shrek thought that everyone would think that about him. He feels that everyone would be better off if he isolated himself from everyone around him. Never mind the fact that Donkey (and all the other fairy tale creatures) never saw Shrek as the monster that everyone else claimed he was.
And neither did Fiona...for Fiona knew all too well what Shrek was going through. Especially at the midnight hour.
You see, anyone who has ever read a fairy tale story about a princess knows that there's something that is usually off about her in the beginning. In Cinderella, we know that she comes from a poor, abusive household. In Sleeping Beauty, our princess is in an everlasting coma from a spinning wheel accident.
And in Shrek, when the moon rises up, Princess Fiona becomes an ogress herself.
The curse only lasts from sunset to sunrise though, so she isn't an ogress for very long. But when Donkey happens to come across her secret one fateful night, Fiona explains to Donkey that when she was a child, a curse was placed on her. The curse caused her to change from human to ogress every evening. This was explained as the reason why Fiona spent most of her life trapped in the tower where Donkey's not-so-secret dragon admirer lived. There was only one way to break the curse...if she received a kiss from her one true love, the curse would end up broken, and she would take on 'love's true form'. Fiona just assumed that she would automatically become a human again...and not to give away the ending, let's just say that we all know what happens when we assume something...
...and this is a lesson that Shrek learns the hard way. Heartbreakingly so.
Right around the time Fiona shared her secret with Donkey, Shrek was looking deep inside himself, and he realized that he was starting to develop real feelings for Fiona. He had made the decision to tell Fiona how he felt. She didn't have to marry Farquaad after all. If he told Fiona how he felt, there was a possibility that she'd feel the same way. But when Shrek overheard Fiona talking to Donkey and misinterpreted a comment she said about herself being a big ugly beast, thinking that she was really saying that about him, Shrek is deeply hurt, and the next morning acts really cool towards Fiona and Donkey. By the time they arrive back at Duloc, Shrek was almost relieved to hand Fiona to Farquaad, thinking that he had been hurt enough.
Once he arrives back home, minus the fairy tale creatures, he realizes that he may have made a mistake letting Fiona go. He really misses her, and is beginning to understand that life simply wasn't as much fun without her around. He's feeling so miserable that he decides to take a walk, where he runs into a very angry Donkey, who wants to know why Shrek treated them both so badly. Shrek shoots back that he overheard them talking about him and how ugly he was, but Donkey explains that Fiona wasn't even talking about him. Shrek comes to the eventual conclusion that he overreacted, and that he owes Fiona an ogre-sized apology. But with Fiona set to marry Farquaad, can Donkey and Shrek get back to Duloc in time to stop the wedding to tell Fiona how he really feels about her? And will Fiona finally get the chance to tell Shrek her secret before she becomes Mrs. Fiona Farquaad?
I'm sure that you know what eventually happens, considering that the Shrek series has four parts to it. Just know that Donkey's love interest plays a huge part in the conclusion of the first film.
So now that we know the story of Shrek, what can we take from Shrek?
Well, we know that we shouldn't judge people before we get to know them first. Underneath Shrek's rough and tumble exterior, we found that he's a really decent guy inside. He really does care about people, even though he might not show it. And while he might be set in his stubborn ways most of the time, he is willing to listen to advice on how to make things better for himself.
We can also safely say that like Shrek's speech about onions, ogres do have a lot of layers. There's a lot of strength and vigor in Shrek, but there's also a lot of heartache and pain as well. You wouldn't have expected a big, hulking guy like Shrek to have such sensitive feelings. But yet, there they were.
Here's my confession for all of you out there reading this blog entry right now. I see myself in Shrek. If it wasn't for the fact that I have hair on my head and that my skin isn't even remotely close to being green in colour, I would say that I AM Shrek.
Shrek spent his whole life hiding away from people because he was sick and tired of people's prejudices about him. He wanted to hide away from the world because he didn't see himself as being able to contribute to it in a positive manner.
I'm almost ashamed to admit this now because I'm beginning to find my way back out of a shell that I spent the better part of a decade and a half constructing, but I know how Shrek felt.
When I was a kid, I was subject to being picked on and teased by my classmates. In elementary school, it was really bad some days, and I probably faked quite a bit of sick days (with my parents consent, of course) because I simply didn't want to go to school to be made to feel badly about myself by kids who didn't know any better. It wasn't as big a deal back then because in elementary school, we didn't have that much homework, and any work that we did do, I could easily get caught up in. And besides, this was elementary school, and we were all idiotic kids back then. It certainly didn't make what the kids did to me right, but I'm more in a position to forgive and forget.
High school on the other hand was different. I'm not going to sugarcoat things. What happened to me at high school was abuse. Plain and simple. And it wasn't one of those situations where I could just skip school to get away from it. For one, I lived right next door to the school, so anyone who happened to be around the school grounds smoking a cigarette could have ratted me out. For another, missing one day of high school meant a boatload of work. I know. I developed a really bad chest infection just before March Break in grade eleven, missed four days of school, and practically spent the whole week catching up.
So, I ended up enduring the abuse for five years (and yes, in Ontario, there was a grade 13). Abuse from teenagers who really should have grown up by that point but simply lacked the maturity to do so. It's not a fun experience to have to go to a place every weekday for five years where if people don't hate you, they just plain ignore you. It kind of gave me a bit of a major complex about myself that lasted for many, many years. It was like, if I'm not good enough for people to even speak to me in high school, let alone treating me with a shred of decency and respect, then why bother trying to be that way with anyone else on the street, or in town, or anything like that.
So, I did what Shrek did...minus the mud and slugs. I retreated to my room, cranked up the stereo as loud as I could, and just stayed there. If memory serves me, I think I even began to eat meals up in my bedroom during high school because I didn't care to go out anywhere. I felt that horribly about myself. I'm almost ashamed to admit that this behaviour even lasted years after high school even ended. But that's what it was like. People were judging me based on stories that they had heard about me without even having the balls to approach me to get the full story. I often wonder why I didn't just end up telling the whole lot of them an expression that involves the pairing of a certain four-letter expletive with the word off. I guess I was just in a state of mind where I just didn't care to impress people who didn't want to be impressed.
It's only now that I realized how much of a fool I was. Not because I took the abuse that I did (although looking back on it, I really shouldn't have). But because I allowed the small-minded opinions of a few rotten apples who in all likelihood I'll never see again in my lifetime to control how I lived my life. I locked myself in isolation for the better part of a decade because I was so worried that everyone in the world would see me the way that those classmates did. I ended up losing that part of my life because of my own insecurities about myself brought upon by some spiteful people, and I am disgusted that I was ever that weak.
But, that was in the past. I can't get those years back even if I wanted them. At least now I'm finding that I'm not nearly as horrible as I thought I was. I mean, at my current workplace, my colleagues seemingly like and respect me (as I do with them), so it became pretty obvious that not everyone in the world was as cold as the people I was unlucky enough to have to pass by in the hallways of a school. It's something that I learned a little late, but at least I still have some time left to make up for it.
I almost think that Shrek had it even worse than I did, as it appeared that Shrek was being judged right from birth. He had a whole lifetime of people thinking the worse of him, and it really messed him up. But, I think with Shrek, he allowed himself to peel back the layers of insecurity and despair to allow the friendships that he shared with Donkey and Fiona enter. It didn't take long for the onion inside of Shrek to transform into a beautiful blooming onion of warmth, complete with a side order of friendship for flavouring. He also became an unlikely hero in the eyes of the fairy tale creatures, as Shrek managed to bring them back home.
All he needed was to believe in himself...and once he did, he could accept Donkey and Fiona into his life without second-guessing himself or them. And by doing that, he finally managed to smash that wall he built around himself.
I'm at the point where I'm in progress with doing the same. I think I just need a bigger sledgehammer to really get the job done.