Shrek and Harry Potter 

by Berit Kjos

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“…look at the pandering and cynicism that speckle some current movies aimed at lower ages, including 'The Mummy Returns,' 'A Knight's Tale' and 'Shrek.' Instead of offering tales of wonder that sweep kids into an unfamiliar world, these new movies pander to the kids' own world and familiar reference points; they're self-congratulatory.”  Hollywood's Ploy Story

In Dream Work's high tech fairy tale, a witch has cast a spell on Princess Fiona. Only a kiss from a "true love" can cancel the curse.  Imprisoned in a well-guarded tower, she awaits her hero.

Meanwhile, a foul-smelling ogre and a chatty donkey -- two lonely "freaks" in Lord Farquaad's hostile world  -- find each other. It looks like a mismatch. Shrek is a bitter recluse, the donkey a pesky motor-mouth. But nothing builds loyalty like a chivalrous quest to rescue a princess from a fire-breathing dragon. By the end of their journey, four lonely victims of societal neglect have become a triumphant team. 

On the road to that final bliss, Shrek's audiences face unneeded crudities, profanities and off-color jokes that seem more compatible with modern Disney films than with traditional fairy tales. Hollywood seems determined to spread the message that crude is cool and rude is right, while a receptive world continues to turn traditional values upside down.

"Shrek may exist in a fantasy world," writes movie critic Mick LaSalle, " but it's a product of an attitude grounded in our world. Though at its core it's more honest and warmhearted than most animated films, its surface is brittle, smart and occasionally caustic." [1]

This attitude shows up in the assertive, karate-kicking princess who puts Robin Hood and his Merry Men ("take from the rich and give to the poor”) in their place. It shows up in the donkey who sees signs of romance and says, "Wake up and smell the pheromones."  You hear it in the soundtrack when Joan Jett sings that she doesn't give a "d__" about her "bad reputation."   

This attitude defies political correctness and opens the door to some cruel humor. When the tactless ogre blows air into a frog, turning it into a high-flying balloon, Fiona quickly follows his act. Setting aside feminine gentleness, she grabs a snake and twists it into a balloon dog. The pretty princess seems game for any crude behavior modeled by her bad-mannered knight. She becomes more and more like him.

Yet, the story appeals to human compassion. It arouses empathy, not for traditional folk, but for the undisciplined, the vulgar, those who break the rules, who talk too much or too little.... 

Trained to choose their own values and feel the pain of the victimized masses, today's youth will find it easy to ignore other problems -- especially the images and suggestions that could cloud their understanding of God. Studies have shown that fantasy or imagined experiences leave lasting imprints in the mind. These "false memories" and the feelings that follow can change values far more effectively than actual reality.  The greater the book or movie, the more persuasive is the message. [2] 

Dream Works' superb animation prompts its audience to empathize with the emotions of its characters -- just as J. K. Rowling's writing skills draws her readers into imagined experiences at Hogwarts Schools for Witches and Wizardry.  But Ms Rowling has an advantage. Delete the occult lessons at Hogwarts and you are left with a school setting and interpersonal relationships with which today's students can readily identify. That's why Harry Potter fans around the world have learned to love wizardry and to experience (in their imagination) its scary thrills.

Shrek's fairy tale context doesn't evoke the same kind of identification. The arrogant Lord Farquaad's faith in the divining power of a magic mirror won't stir occult interests as effectively as Harry's teacher Moody's delight in Dark Arts. Fiona's duet with a bird that explodes may seem cool, but Harry's relationship to his owl has more personal appeal.     

The best part of the movie may be Shrek's genuine remorse when confronted with his unkind ways. "Can you forgive me?" he asks his troubled donkey friend.  

But don't confuse his remorse -- being sorry when found guilty -- with repentance. The latter is the gift of conviction by the Holy Spirit granted to those who are willing to acknowledge the nature of sin and, by God's grace, turn away from it and follow God. Such grace is excluded from Shrek and Harry's mythical worlds. 

The key to God's victory is not simply to be sorry for our sins and try to do better. It is to know Jesus Christ as He really is -- not through the filter of today's illusory entertainment. It is to receive His life, live by His strength and learn values from His Word -- not from Hollywood. Psalm 1:1-3 highlights our choice: 

"Blessed is the man who 

·    Walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,

·    Nor stands in the path of sinners,

·    Nor sits in the seat of the scornful [mockers];

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,

 And in His law he meditates day and night.

 He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,

 That brings forth its fruit in its season,

 Whose leaf also shall not wither;

 And whatever he does shall prosper." [3]


1.  Mick LaSalle, "Fractured Fairy Tale," San Francisco Chronicle, 18 May 2001.

2. See Harry Potter and Dungeons & Dragons, then click on The Transforming Power of the Imagination

3. "Prosper" has a higher meaning when seen from God's perspective. It doesn't rule out pain and poverty, loneliness or rejection -- the social ills highlighted in Shrek and by today's global management system. But God says to His people, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness." Those who follow Him know well that the world's most popular entertainment can't be compared to the peace and joy of God's spiritual riches -- an eternal treasure that today's masses can hardly even imagine.

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