Sunday, January 23, 2011
Shrek Forever After -- boredom and blessings
Director: Mike Mitchell, 2010. (PG)
When Dreamworks brought out Shrek in 2001, it was fresh and funny, poking fun at various fairy tales and other kids' stories. The idea of a friendly ogre, an ugly princess and a talking donkey combined to make it a favorite of both kids and parents alike. Now, after two sequels, almost a decade later this final chapter in the franchise came out about as fresh as Christmas leftovers on New Year's Day.
All the main characters with the star voices are back: Shrek (Mike Myers), Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), Donkey (Eddie Murphy), Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), King (John Cleese) and Queen (Julie Andrews). But it feels like they are going through the motions for a paycheck. Gone is the wonder; missing is the chemistry. Shrek Forever After is a tired and bored film aimed at the children, filled with routine animation, a derivative plot; it is simply not that funny. The tag line declares, "it ain't ogre till it's ogre" but baby, this one is most certainly ogre.
The movie picks up with Ogre living happily ever after in his swamp with Fiona and his three little ogre-kids. Life is good. He sees donkey and his dragon family regularly. But regularity leads to routine, and routine leads to boredom. The locals love him, and even the tourists come unafraid to take photos of this once-fierce ogre. What has his world come to?
Enter Rumplestiltskin (Walt Dohrn), a scheming villain who wants the kingdom but has been thwarted at every attempt to con it out of the King. When things reach boiling point for Ogre and he yells that all he wants are "the good old days" before he was married, Rumplestiltskin is waiting with an offer he can't refuse.
The first theme we can resonate with is that of boredom. How many of us reach mid-life and verbalize Ogre's comment, "I'm not a real ogre anymore"? When the adventure and excitement of youth evolve into the responsibility and routine of child raising life can appear dull and drab. We may pine for "the good old days" but that is to live in the past. We look back and remember the good times, forgetting all the pain and stress that went along with our youth. Would we really sacrifice all we have achieved, throw away all our relationships carefully fostered, for a return to our youth?
God has designed this life to be a one-way street. We traverse it from present (which becomes our past) to the future, one day at a time. We cannot go back; we cannot skip ahead to the future. We must face each new day, looking for grace enough to carry us through 24 hours. His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23). We must win the day, the one we are in, rather than fondly reminiscing over our yesterdays. There is literally no time like the present, and we must soak in today no matter our circumstance. We will never have this day over.
But Rumplestiltskin's offer scratches Shrek's itch at an opportune time. He has a magic deal: to give Shrek one day over, back in the good old days when he still scared people, in return for one of Shrek's days. And when Shrek finds himself in Far Far Away, reliving his youth, he gets more than he bargained for. Rumplestiltskin has tricked him into being in an alternate version of that land, one where he himself is king surrounded by witches. Ogre has no friends and his time is running out.
It's A Wonderful Life. In that film George Bailey's troubles got him down so deep he was suicidal. He was not bored, wanting to relive his youth. He despaired of life, thinking others would be better off if he had never lived. When Clarence the good angel gave George his wish, George found himself not in Bedford Falls but in Pottersville. He saw clearly the impact his life had had on those around him, Rumplestiltskin is not good, but gives Ogre the chance to see what Far Far Away would have been like if he had not rescued Fiona: a dark place indeed.
The main message of Shrek Forever After emerges loud and clear: count your blessings; life is not as bad or as boring as you think. Ham-fisted though the presentation may be here, this is a truism. We should indeed count our blessings. When our eyes fall to the floor in depression, we must remember to actively look up, first to the vertical then to the horizontal. We look above to our maker, God who has given us life. Whatever our lot, he wants us to enjoy a living relationship with him through Jesus (Jn.10:10; 17:3). Then we must look around us, to see our families, those who love us. Few are there who have no one at all to love them. Familial love will warm our hearts, if we let it. All the earlier passion and adventure and romance can be beautifully echoed in a quiet loving relationship of a man and wife even in the midst of toddlers and teens.
The little ditty has it right: "Count your blessings name them one by one. Count your blessings see what God has done." If Ogre had done this at the start, he would have avoided the drama and we would have been spared this movie. If we do it when we face depression or boredom, we can avoid the pain we would bring on ourselves and our families. Not to mention the added glory we give to God when we recognize his blessings!