If there is one film that could easily define a generation, it is most definitely Shrek.
First released in 2001, featuring a “big, stupid, ugly ogre,” Shrek parodies common tropes in Disney films and crafts a more realistic view on traditional fairy-tales that was uncommon for the film industry at the time. In terms of characterizing movies, Shrek is like the grouchy old grandpa that for some reason draws kids to him despite residing on the cusp of being way too inappropriate for them. And, aside from the memes, the titular character acted as one of the most influential positive role models for many people: confident, self-knowledgeable, witty with strong boundaries, and refused to accept restricting social norms.
I recently watched it again the morning of Thanksgiving. My friends sleepily sat in silence at the table for breakfast while admiring the TV almost longingly as the big, green ogre and his loud sidekick Donkey captivated us once again as if we were children. It is a feeling that we sometimes forget is easily accessible to us. Being fresh adults ourselves, that childhood is still somewhere nearby.
I remember being much too young to appreciate the movie’s jokes but was still fascinated by the catchy music, interesting animation, and vaguely familiar storyline. As a much older person now, I can notice the choppy animation, as even my own video games have surpassed it in quality, but the music and jokes make every watch worthwhile. After almost 20 years of watching, I can proudly recite any line with the appropriate tone, accent, and enunciation. It makes me wonder if Mike Myers knew that he would unlock some insane part of myself and my friends’ brains that would make us shout “Donkeh!” to each other in a fit of hysteria.
Now, I wish I could say watching Shrek on Thanksgiving morning is some sort of tradition I engage in over time to make this film seem more significant, but the variability of my life so far has made the concept of holiday tradition a rather difficult topic for me to relate to. My family, being entirely immigrants, did not really have any certain family traditions outside of religion or culture as others do that makes holidays seem fun and worthwhile. My friends would tell me about some annual pie-smashing-in-the-face contest or a wholesome annual themed Christmas party, and I can firmly say my relationship to Shrek is nothing like that. But I did begin to develop traditions for myself and my friends.
I used to care way more about tradition when I was younger because I thought that in order for something to feel significant, it had to be done the right way. And trust me, there was always a right way. I happen to recall a small hunger strike I made against my parents because I genuinely believed that they made salad wrong. If not done right, the salad was not significant enough to be worth eating. And while my mom looks back and laughs now, I still prefer to make the salads myself because I know exactly how to make them right. For Thanksgiving, I made a mix of spinach, cabbage, lettuce, and microgreens with shaved carrots, chopped cucumber, an abundance of fresh herbs, and an avocado dressing.
The right way to enjoy Shrek, to me at least, meant that every year, around a time where people are prepared to be sentimental, we could sit on the couch with undivided attention and become immersed in the storyline, enjoying the presence of the people around us. But, when I watched Shrek, I never did that. I never enjoyed it the “right way” until this past Thanksgiving.
Shrek himself had his own personal traditions without a family to share larger holiday traditions with. Part of his whole battle is the attempt to bring back the comfort of his personal traditions by finding Princess Fiona for Lord Farquaad and ridding himself of all the fairy-tale creatures in his swamp. But, of course, as most stories go, the real treasures he discovers are the friends he makes along the way.
Just like Shrek, I also made my own friends. COVID made it hard for us to meet up and continue the small traditions I had with each unique person. When I saw them again for Thanksgiving, everyone grew a bit taller, gained more prominent features, and had new mannerisms than when I first met them as kids. There were new jokes and new interests, some that did not necessarily match mine.
The truth is, I was sad. Sitting around the table, everyone eating, I realized that college, work, and life have changed us so much. Yet, here we are years later holding on to the parts of us that are still just kids messing around by sharing memories and enjoying one another’s company. In some respects, everyone changed so much that they are entirely different people. We were in a room full of strangers eating turkey meatballs (because we do not like actual turkey and that is a tradition we have started during COVID). But, I know for a fact that, had I shouted “Donkeh!” at any random point during the night, it would have been followed by complete recognition and an array of voices yelling it right back.
I said before that I do not have a specific personal tradition surrounding Shrek. This used to make me upset because the film is in fact so significant in my life and is involved in many special moments I hold dear with my friends. But since Shrek is not a tradition, when I choose to watch it, it is not merely done out of obligation but out of a pure love and joy that I hold for the film. Just as my appreciation and understanding of the film changes as I grow older, so do my relationships with others.
Watching Shrek again in the morning, there was a sort of comfort that filled up the room just like the smell of breakfast. I can accept that we are adults now with adult lives and adult traditions. And while we are not exactly going to stay up late swapping stories like we used to, in the morning there sure will be waffles.
Featured Graphic by Liz Schwab/ Heights Editor