Compare and Contrast: Elsa and Cinderella

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Cinderella gets a really bad rap nowadays. I think a lot of it is due to how she’s marketed, where there’s more of a focus on her being pretty and feminine over any actual personality or talent she has. When people, particularly feminists, bring up everything wrong with Disney, she is usually the character they refer to.

When people bring up a Disney princess who they think is ‘feminist’, for the longest time they turned to Elsa from Frozen (and I’m guessing they still do, since Moana hasn’t nearly gotten the amount of praise Elsa has).

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I think it’s getting to the point where Elsa might be ousting Cinderella’s place as the most iconic Disney Princess. To a lot of people, Elsa is the modern woman, whereas Cinderella is the outdated doormat.

After looking at more analyses of Cinderella’s character, I can’t help but want to compare/contrast the two. In some ways, Elsa feels like a reboot of Cinderella, down to the similar palette and glitter. But, for me at least, it doesn’t work out too well.

So, with all that said, let’s take a look.

THE CHARACTER AND COSTUME DESIGN

Take a closer look at the above designs. You can tell that Cinderella is a young woman, but also physically mature. She has a face and body appropriate for a woman in her late teens or early twenties. She may be skinny, sure, but for the most part she’s realistically proportioned (her eyes don’t take up half of her face).

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And this is Elsa:

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Does this look like someone who’s 21 to you? Let alone a character who’s supposed to have the title of Queen? The body is about right, but the huge eyes and large, rounded face make her look really babyish.

Why does this matter? Well, at each point in their movies, Cinderella and Elsa get to wear their iconic dresses that represent their freedoms.

When Cinderella puts on her dress, she looks well and truly like a princess: stunning, serene, elegant, mature, respectable. Her outfit flatters her shape without being too sexualized, which is appropriate, since Cinderella is not very sexual. When she wears this outfit, it shows that Cinderella now looks and feels beautiful and important. It’s also appropriate for the occasion: she’s going to a royal ball where she’ll meet her true love. She has the appearance of a mature woman who is finally going to have a good time.

Now take a look at Elsa’s ice dress. Does that really look like the dress a youthful looking 21 year old who has been depressed all her life, is not sexual, and never really indicated that she liked the queenly life would wear if she wanted to be totally free and live in the mountains? That outfit looks more like something an older woman would wear at a very formal event, given how narrow and impractical it is. I get you want to show that Elsa is now a Snow Queen instead of an Arendelle Queen, but wouldn’t loose, flowing robes and bare feet make more sense? Show that she’s now comfortable and free? It’s pretty obvious the dress was designed more for audience appeal than to show Elsa’s character development.

HOW THEY BOTH HANDLE ABUSE AND ISOLATION

Both characters suffer from this. Cinderella’s parents died at an early age, and she was forced to live under the control of her Evil Stepmother, and only had animals for help and companionship. Elsa was raised to be scared of her powers (and herself) by her parents. They’re both pretty much cut off from the outside world. This is where most feminists would claim that Elsa is more feminist because while Elsa seeks to change her situation, Cinderella “waits around for a man to save her” (their words, not mine). But…that’s not accurate.

See, Cinderella is cut off because she’s a young, unmarried woman with no real status and no money. If she tried to run away…where do you think she’s going to go? Beg on the streets? Work as a maid somewhere else? Sure, Elsa runs away, but she ends up going all the way to the mountains, with no food or resources (and the movie shows that if someone wants to go after her, they can and will). For all the praise Elsa gets for being Strong and Independent, she spends most of the movie scared and crying. Which…yeah, is a valid reaction after being isolated for so long, but the problem is that she really makes no means to save herself or try to be a better person. She freezes her sister’s heart and makes no attempt to help her or ask if she’s okay, doesn’t even try to unfreeze the kingdom, and ends up deferring to her sister (who pushed her to run away in the first place).

Like, I wouldn’t mind if people were saying that Elsa proves it’s okay for people to need help, but people are saying Elsa is oh so badass and powerful and strong but she’s really not.

Oh, but you say, how is Cinderella any better?

Well, the thing about Cinderella is that even though she’s abused and alone, she does her best to not let it get to her. She may be sassy and sarcastic, but she’s never mean and doesn’t hurt people or animals, not even those that may wrong her. She is soft, kind hearted and optimistic, knowing that she will be free from her abusive situation (NOT that a man will come save her) if her patience and goodness pays off. She ultimately gets rewarded this with a trip to the ball. She has her moments of weakness, but at the end, she is able to save herself: she works together with her animal friends to escape the locked room and proves she is the girl the Prince danced with by showing the other glass slipper. She PERSEVERES despite all odds. Whereas Elsa melts down at the slightest form of adversity.

For those who still need convincing, please watch this excellent and informative video by ScreenPrism below:

CONCLUSION

At the risk of gaining the ire at other feminists, I would much rather have little girls look up to Cinderella than to Elsa. Cinderella is better designed, is a kinder person, and shows girls that they can make it through even the worst situations and that they’re not totally helpless. While Elsa, on the surface, looks like she’s meant to correct Cinderella’s supposed wrongs by being more active, she ends up being less strong because she gives up easily, ends up putting all her support on her sister, and ends up (intentionally or not) hurting others without properly making up for it.

While I admit that I’m not a HUGE fan of Cinderella, she really is so much better than people give her credit for. She’s not perfect, of course, but for people to dismiss her as a weak doormat while turning around to praise Elsa even though she can also be weak is unfair.

Is there a Disney Princess that is perfectly feminist? No, of course not. But just because Cinderella has a Prince Charming and no fighting skills doesn’t make her any lesser than someone who gets a lot of hype mostly for being single.

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The World of Anime Directors

At the risk of sounding controversial, I must say this: I think that motion picture anime is significantly better than most television anime. I say this because the latter often relies too much on filler and fanservice. A lot of the most popular anime shows don’t hold up over time (it becomes very obvious that they were made only for specific audiences; I may have loved InuYasha and Sailor Moon as a teenager but now I can only see the flaws). Not to say all anime shows are bad (Hunter x Hunter 2011 is fantastic and the original Death Note anime is considered a masterpiece), but I feel like a lot of anime’s negative reputation comes from the abundance of low quality anime churned out at a higher pace than the shows with actual effort and meaning.

Film anime, on the other hand, is able to put more effort into the production and writing, creating some real works of art that have an almost timeless feel to them. So let’s take a look at some of them today.

First off is arguably the most famous anime director outside of Japan, Hayao Miyazaki.

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Often called the Walt Disney of Japan (though I think maybe calling him the Steven Spielberg of Japan is more appropriate), Miyazaki is famous for creating many classics, most notably the Academy Award winning Spirited Away. His works range from family friendly slice of life films (My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Ponyo) to tightly-plotted action films with lots of themes and lore (Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke). Growing up now,  I think I enjoy the latter more, but that doesn’t mean the former are still good, even great, in their own right. His films have their own distinct style: cute, simplistic looking characters against gorgeously detailed settings. Most of his films take place in European inspired fantasy lands (allowing him a chance to show off his love of stylized aircraft) or ancient and contemporary Japan. I recently re-watched some of his films and was blown away by them again, and was able to notice his themes more. In most of his films, he makes one thing perfectly clear: War is Not Good. He is highly critical of the military, depicting them as overly violent and corrupt in a lot of his works. In Princess Mononoke, there’s a big battle between the boar gods and the humans that is not shown, save for a brief moment to depict the actual horror (rather than the thrill or action). Some of his earlier works have more black and white view of the world, while his later works start to show more nuance and grey morality for both the protagonists and antagonists. Another thing he makes very clear is the importance of preserving the environment, as in a lot of his films he takes a moment to reflect on the beauty and value of nature. A lot of his films deal with heavy themes; Princess Mononoke, which I have recently bestowed the honor of being the best animated film of all time, explores industrialism vs environmentalism, peace in times of conflict, greed vs survival, dying Indigenous groups, social structures, and so much more. But he usually ends his movies on a positive, optimistic note.

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Isao Takahata, the other major director of Studio Ghibli, takes a slightly more pessimistic approach. Whereas Miyazaki puts a lot of emphasis on the wonders of the world, Takahata tends to look more at the struggles. In a lot of his films, characters have to make serious sacrifices at the end of their movies. All his films are strictly rooted in Japan, and they have varying art styles. I think in some respects, Takahata might actually be a better director than Miyazaki; while Miyazaki definitely makes you feel things, Takahata actually got me to bawl my eyes out not once, but TWICE, with The Tale of Princess Kaguya. These two have made Studio Ghibli a master class of animation companies. While Disney is certainly the most prolific animation company, Studio Ghibli is arguably the greatest.

Not to say they’re the only anime legends out there.

Satoshi Kon

The late Satoshi Kon only made four films, but they all have gotten lots of praise. His films are set in modern Japan and tend to deal with the psychological and the blending of fantasy and reality. Perfect Blue almost feels like a live action film, extremely grounded in reality and looks at the objectification of women by fans and by executives. Mima starts her career as a pop idol dressed in childlike attire meant to appeal to older men; when she tries to switch to a more serious career as a drama actor, she faces backlash by her former fans (including a dangerous stalker) and is disrespected by her higher ups (being forced into filming a rape scene and later having to take naked photographs). Mima’s agent feels ugly and worthless in her older age and tries to “replace” Mima (that’s about as much as I’ll spoil). Kon is known for a masterful editing style, with rapid cuts and transitions to fool the audience into thinking we’re witnessing one thing and reveal it’s something else altogether (you can learn more about it in the video “Satoshi Kon – Editing Space and Time”. Satoshi Kon’s films are character studies, exploring their psychological states, their dreams, and their fears. You can get a brief glimpse of his themes HERE.

To close the post off for now, let’s give a quick mention to Katsuhiro Otomo’s cult classic Akira.

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This film is basically the polar opposite of anything Miyazaki makes. It’s extremely violent, very male-dominated, almost Kubrickian in style, and has a colder, harsher point of view and animation style set in futuristic Japan. I couldn’t watch the whole thing (it was very hard to follow, some of the visuals crossed the line from gorgeous to grotesque, and had too much stuff going on at once for me) but I did find the climax meaningful. It’s basically about a friendship torn apart by power and corruption. Put-upon Tetsuo is bestowed with psychic powers and ends up deteriorating both physically and mentally, losing everyone in the process. It’s a cynical look at the dangers of playing god, and an exploration of post-WWII paranoia.

Directors like these prove that anime doesn’t have to be just harem or long winded manga adaptations. They can be artistically stunning, thoughtful, and unique, and still be a success. I know the anime industry has a lot of problems plaguing it (lack of audience appeal, overworked and underpaid workers, lack of affordability and accessibility of merchandise), but I think (hope) that its future lies in something like this. If television anime proves to be a bust, maybe film anime can be saved. Allow artists to take enough time to make their vision come to life and promote it. Let it pick up traction overseas. Make it available on all streaming services. Show the world that anime is capable of interesting and even amazing art.

(While you are here, please read the updated version of a previous post on how the anime and manga industry is in trouble).

“How Far I’ll Go”Analysis (Re: criticism)

Moana’s soundtrack is lauded as one of Disney’s absolute greatest, though there have been some people who disagree. Some people think Lin Manuel dropped the ball compared to his previous work.

While I do enjoy most of the songs for this movie (I can watch the “Shiny” sequence over and over again), I do have a few problems. Mainly, for Moana’s main songs, it ends up TELLING (rather than showing) her character.

Let’s look at “How Far I’ll Go”.

I’ve been staring at the edge of the water / long as I can remember / never really knowing why

So far, so good. It’s been established in the previous song that Moana has been attracted to the ocean but we’re not sure why.

I wish I could be the perfect daughter / but I come back to the water / no matter how hard I try 

Alright, stop right there. When did the movie establish she wanted to be the ‘perfect daughter’? At least when Mulan lamented on how she couldn’t be the ‘perfect daughter’, we knew WHY: she couldn’t fit into the cultural norm and bring her family honor. Sure, we see Moana get into a scuffle with her Dad, but there was nothing to establish before that she was desperate to make him proud/gain his approval.

She continues to sing about her desire to travel the sea and how she yearns for it. Which…we already knew. They’re nice lyrics, and Auli’i Cravalho sings them wonderfully, but it doesn’t really move the plot forward.

Then she gets to the next verse where she uses the word “island” FOUR. TIMES. That’s not good songwriting. It just sounds repetitive. She talks about how happy and content the islanders are with their role in the island (which was already established in the previous song) and how she wants to settle with her role (again, we already kind of settled that with the preceding song).

I can lead with pride / I can make us strong / I’ll be satisfied if I play along

Hold up. We saw that she is a competent leader, but nowhere did the movie show her leading with PRIDE. When we see her interacting with the villagers, she doesn’t look prideful. She looks rather nervous when she leads. Previous moments made it look like she did NOT really feel satisfied being the chief. And where did the movie say Moana could make her people ‘strong’?

But the voice inside sings a different song / What is wrong with me?

*sighs*

No, Moana, what IS wrong with you? You live in a village where everyone adores you, you have supportive parents, and you’re set for life as a chief, and you’re complaining that something’s wrong with you because you’d rather be a navigator?

Well no matter, because as soon as she said that she’s happy to rush back to the beach, sing about how the ocean calls her, and gets ready to set sail.

So you can see why the lyrics aren’t very strong. Instead of moving the story forward, it either rehashes what we already know, or TELLS us what makes Moana so special.

Which leads to my biggest problem. I don’t see what makes Moana so special.

Like…she literally has no flaws. She was chosen by the ocean to restore the heart of Te Fiti. She’s going to be the chief, no question, and is competent at it. Everyone loves her, and she loves them all. She is physically and athletically strong but still manages to look conventionally attractive. She is able to learn how to properly navigate and sail in almost no time at all. She snaps a demigod out of his funk. She outsmarts several monsters. She saves the day, not needing help. And in the end, she doesn’t have to choose between her role and her passion. The whole movie sets Moana up as someone special and powerful…yet I’m supposed to feel sorry for when there are contrived moments when Maui tells her “you think you’re something you’re not” and cheer for her when she almost immediately realizes “I AM MOANA”.

Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, and Tiana all had realistic flaws. Jasmine’s impulsive decision to leave the palace puts her in danger. Pocahontas keeping her rendezvous with John Smith a secret, rather than being upfront with her father, caused the death of one of her people and escalated tensions between the Powhatan and the colonialists. Mulan aggressively does not fit her culture’s gender roles (either as a man or as a woman). And Tiana’s drive to get her restaurant wears her down and interferes with her ability to socialize with others. They all have to learn from their mistakes and fix them, or grow and develop as characters, or cause SOME form of change. And ultimately, they all become lovable, sympathetic characters. But Moana is literally perfect. TOO perfect.

I legitimately could not sympathize with Moana after she sang her song. Not only did it remind me waaay too much of “Reflection”, but there was nothing that really warranted her to feel so sorry about herself. Why not make Moana an outcast? Why not have her villagers actively challenge and doubt her future role as chief? Why not have people find her love for the ocean as weird? Why not have Moana be weak (both physically and as a chief) and come back stronger when she returns? That way it would make her bond with her grandmother and Maui more poignant, and her desire to restore the heart more altruistic. But no, she just REALLY loves her people and sailing and can do anything.

Yeah, I’m frustrated. I don’t see Moana as a three-dimensional, compelling character. I see her more as a role model, someone people can admire, but not relate to. I’m disappointed because she was being built up as this great badass character but she’s really not.

But then again, I’m in the minority. I know a lot of people who love Moana, and I can’t fault them for that. But for me, I’m going to stick with Mulan, Pocahontas, Vanellope Von Schweetz, Belle, Jasmine, Tiana, and Honey and Gogo. These are characters I can connect to and relate to; I’ll leave Moana to those that relate and connect to her.

EDIT:

As a commentator pointed out, there actually is an important character flaw of Moana. In Polynesian culture, family comes first, and you’re supposed to honour your elders and carry on your tradition/be obedient. The problem is that, if you’re non Polynesian like me, this is a very important detail that you’re going to miss. The fact that she turns out to be right all along that sailing is part of her island’s culture and tradition also kind of shows that Moana can never really be wrong.

Overall, I would’ve made a few tweaks to this movie so that the audience can actually be informed of Polynesian values and traditions (not just what they wear, eat, and dance), change Maui’s role, and make Moana a more well developed character. But that’s just me. Feel free to think differently.

Compare and Contrast: DC Animated Sex Scenes

While we’re all fighting over how good or bad the live action DC Extended Universe are, I would like to take a moment to remind people that a DC animated movie series exists.

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These are direct-to-video, hand drawn animated films, usually based on popular comic storylines, and they tend to vary in quality. Some of them are really great, others…not so much. And I think right now two animated movies are very relevant: Batman: The Killing Joke (the newest offering) and Batman: Assault on Arkham (which is basically the ORIGINAL Suicide Squad movie).

Batman: Assault on Arkham is amazing. It’s just as good–if not better–than most Hollywood blockbusters out right now. It’s genuinely exciting and compelling, with a plot that’s layered but not too complicated, characters you actually like and feel sorry for, and it’s graphic without being overly gratuitous. Batman: The Killing Joke is…pretty bad. The main reason for this is because it chooses to have a long prologue dedicated to Barbara Gordon, which makes her out to be an insecure, sexually frustrated young woman who loses more than she wins, and does make her own choice to retire…only to get shot, paralyzed, and assaulted later.

But I think the main thing that illustrates what makes Arkham great and Killing Joke not is how they deal with the sex scenes regarding the main female characters, Barbara and Harley Quinn.

This is the sex scene between Batgirl and…Batman. You know, the man who is much older than her and is supposed to be a father figure. And who she’s never had a real romantic or sexual relationship with in the comics (she had one with the first Robin). Throughout the scene, she is extremely angry at him, and he makes it clear that he doesn’t see her as an equal. She fights him and pins him down in anger…and awkwardly kisses him. They embrace, and she takes her clothes off and we get an offscreen sex scene. On a public rooftop. Where someone could see them. Oh yeah. *Insert erotic music here*

(Image via Time.com)

It doesn’t look like either character is truly enjoying it. It also feels like it comes out of nowhere. Why are these two having sex? Why don’t they look like they’re into it? Apparently it’s to make us feel more sorry for Barbara when she gets shot, but it just makes the situation infinitely worse, especially since their relationship only gets more awkward from there.

See, The Killing Joke is an INTENSELY misogynistic story (to the point where Alan Moore, the original writer, disowned it). Not only is the Joker’s main reason for going insane the (offscreen) death of his wife and unborn child (yay for fridging women!), but the treatment of Barbara is disgusting. She only appears two times: once, when she’s at home and shot (and there’s even a pause between when she sees Joker and when she gets shot, she doesn’t even fight back) and again when she’s in the hospital, frightened and paralyzed. And we never see her again. The movie tries to remedy this by giving her an extended role, but rather than humanizing Barbara by expanding on her relationship with her father (which would’ve made her paralyzation actually tragic), the movie focuses almost entirely on her sexuality, having her lust after characters and characters lusting after her (which causes her to nearly go over the edge and kill someone, after which she decides to retire), thus making what happens to her all the more insulting. It reinforces Barbara as a body, not a person, and as a plot device, not a character. Course, that might have to to with the fact that the writers and producers are literally ALL MEN, but hey, the glass ceiling is thick.

Honestly? If the movie wanted to be respectful to Barbara, they should’ve written her out entirely. You don’t have to add any of this. Just have Joker kidnap Commission Gordon and try to drive him insane with all the horrors of the world. Focus more on the dynamics of Batman and the Joker. You don’t need to bring Barbara into this mess.

By contrast, here’s a sex scene between Harley Quinn and Deadshot in Arkham:

Look how into it they both are. Harley has found someone to move on from the Joker, and Deadshot has found a companion. It’s also very quick and contained. Both partners are willing and enthusiastic. And later, you see them have a steady relationship, where they both look out for one another and work together. And Harley Quinn isn’t objectified one bit; here, she owns her sexuality, and has her own character, and is important throughout the movie (and we don’t need to have her defiled)! She even helps save the day in the end! And it’s important to note that there are also two other women (Killer Frost and Amanda Waller) who have their own character development and role in the story (unlike Barbara, who was the only woman in her movie and had a lot to bear).

In short, how a female character expresses herself sexually can tell a great deal of what her character is like and how the narrative treats her. And considering how a lot of superhero movies are struggling with how they represent their female characters, these two movies can be used as lessons on what to do and what NOT to do in handling them.

The Shrek Effect

You all remember DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek, right?

Of course you do. It was HUGE hit back in 2001, raking in $484 million at the box office (which may seem like a more modest hit nowadays but was a big deal back in the early 2000s), winning the the very first Oscar for Best Animated Feature (this was before Pixar took over the world for awhile), and spawning an abundance of merchandise and (to date) three sequels.

So why is that today, nobody seems to talk about it besides making fun of it?

Seriously, this movie has sparked a lot of Internet memes, some of them rather disturbing (don’t Google “Shrek is Love Shrek is Life”, and I might avoid looking up Shrek on Google Images as well), jokes about how it has an infinite number of sequels, cheap shots at all the merch it spawned, and questions as to whether or not any love for this film is genuine or ironic. A lot of posts in general on Shrek are sarcastic or, well, weird.

While most people can agree that the second film is actually good (thanks in large part to the “I Need a Hero” cover) and the last two films are bad, nobody can really seem to agree on whether the first film is a true classic or a parody onto itself.

I think I can call what happened to Shrek (and DreamWorks in General) the Shrek Effect.

When Shrek first came out, it was rather unique. You had a main hero who was ugly and crude and pretty much the opposite of Prince Charming and proud of it. You had a Princess who knew martial arts and could also be pretty crude and turned out to be happy with her ogre form. You had the two of them getting married and remaining ugly and living happily ever after in the swamp. You also had a lot of pop culture references, scathing parodies of Disney, a snarky overtone and lots and lots and LOTS of crude/rude/sexual humour that wouldn’t let up. In short, it was different, and people, at the time, loved it. So much so, that DreamwWorks decided to copy the formula for almost all their other films (mainly their CGI films, as their more original 2D films weren’t very successful), and other companies followed suit.

What happened was an oversaturation of crude, snarky, and almost bitter films that tried to be edgy and in-your-face. Whereas Pixar stuck with making heartfelt, down-to-earth movies, DreamWorks would create cynical counterparts (or rather, ripoffs) that would try to convey a positive message while being weird and sometimes gross. Walt Disney Animation Studios, which had been struggling to keep up in the 2000s after having ruled the animation roost during the 1990s, tried to ride DreamWorks’s coattails with films like Home on the Range and Chicken Little, which ended up hurting the company even more until they bought Pixar.

While DreamWorks did enjoy some success during this time, now they’re in serious financial trouble and their reputation has been forever tarnished. While Disney has managed to recover from their Shrek-inspired days (thank you, John Lasseter), and other companies have gained a new life, DreamWorks is still widely seen as a crude company that cribs inspiration from Pixar and makes too many sequels and merchandise to films that weren’t that great. The only franchise DreamWorks has that seems to be universally loved is How To Train Your Dragon, and even that series isn’t making enough. And, of course, the film that started it all is now ridiculed.

I think what a lot of people fail to realize is that, where other films failed, Shrek actually WORKED.

Shrek wasn’t just an asshole misanthrope for no reason; you understood how he felt he had to shut himself off because no one liked him. Fiona wasn’t just a princess who knew kung fu; she also had some hidden depth (mainly she thought she had to be beautiful, but realized it was better to be ugly and loved). Donkey wasn’t just a comic relief sidekick, he was Shrek’s truest friend and companion. And the movie has an important message of how looks don’t matter as much as what you are inside. But because of the neck-deep crassness, dated pop cultural references, constant middle finger to Disney, the excess of sequels and merchandise and other weird moments (mainly the fact that the Donkey had an intimate relationship with a dragon much bigger and less sentient than him), and how a lot of other DreamWorks films did almost the same thing, nobody really remembers Shrek that fondly anymore. It does have some loyal fans, but generally speaking, Shrek has become nothing more than a collective joke for a lot of people.

It’s kind of sad that while Shrek only hurt other companies for a brief period of time, it’s still hurting its parent company. While I do have some problems with DreamWorks Animation (I’ll probably get to that in another post), I don’t think it’s fair for them to be suffering just because they’re not allowed to move on for their early days. What’s really upsetting is that they feel like they have to make all their films squarely for young children now just to make a profit (though there is no excuse for them to do this because they feel only children are watching their films; Disney has proven people of all ages are flocking to see their animated works).

I refuse to see Shrek as nothing  more than meme fodder, but I will unfortunately remember it as the film that helped and harmed the animation industry, especially DreamWorks. As it stands, Shrek will likely not be remembered the way DreamWorks would like it to be in animation history.