What: Shrek Retold
Who: 3GI Productions and over 200 artists
When: All the time, just watch it right now. Come on, the video’s right there.
Where: YouTube dot com
Tickets: Lol, it’s free.
If you have memories of the early 2000s, chances are you’ll recognize this scene.
A man in red walks through the halls of a castle: menacing, mysterious. But the shot changes, and we see he is short as hell. A shot later, he interrogates a gingerbread man. “Do you know the muffin man?” he asks. His lackeys interrupt. “My Lord? We’ve found it.” It’s the magic mirror.
Now imagine that scene again: only this time, the man in red has a quadruple chin as he walks through the halls. The scene shifts, and he has the face of Jimmy Fallon. It shifts again, and the magic mirror “crashes.” The program shrek.exe has stopped working. The mirror becomes an old-school desktop, showing eligible fairy tale bachelorettes on a dated dating site.
The first one, of course, is Shrek. The second? It’s Shrek for our time.
Let me bring you up to speed: I’m writing these words minutes after finishing my first watch of Shrek Retold, the fan-made remake of Shrek coordinated by 3GI Productions.
I say first watch because this will no doubt be the first of many to come. I’m calling it: from late-night meme binges to boys’ nights to first dates, this cinematic masterpiece will sustain me through the hellscape of late capitalism, climate catastrophes, and the return of fascism.
This may seem like high praise for a goofy YouTube remix, a meme gone too far. You may assume I’m being “ironic” or half-jokingly hyperbolic. But you’d be wrong. Because Shrek Retold is no mere meme. No, it’s a creative triumph.
3GI, a Milwaukee-based comedy collective, hosts Shrekfest, the world’s best con, every year in Wisconsin. To top his already superb work for the Shrek fandom, 3GI’s Grant Duffrin split the animated classic into 96 scenes. He then solicited remakes of each scene from fellow cursed content creators, who recreated each part of the film in their respective styles.
The result? Well, like everyone’s favourite ogre, it has layers. Each scene offers a glimpse into the creative world of a different group of artists. One minute (or sometimes less than that), you’ll be watching crude 3-D animated models walk through a half-rendered castle town. The next, you’ll witness an anime battle royale. A vlog? Yup. A puppet show? Several. Shrek Retold‘s gotchu covered.
Sure, a lot of it’s goofs. Three grown adults walk single-file, together wearing a long donkey costume, Chinese dragon dance style. One guy edits his face onto all three main characters overtop of an animatic.
But a lot of it’s intricately crafted. From sputtering animated lava to psychedelic melting faces, the work these artists each put into their small part of a grander project is inspiring. And towards the end, several scenes illuminate the story’s emotional core perhaps even more poignantly than the original.
The climactic scene in which Fiona reveals her secret to Donkey — spoilers, she becomes an ogre after sunset — is remade in a live-action domestic setting. Donkey, now just a dude wearing grey, discovers Fiona in a corner of the house. He’s shocked, confused, afraid, and she is hopelessly lost to herself. More than I ever did watching the OG bad boi on VHS, I bore witness to these characters’ complex human (or onion-like) struggle, the handheld camera wavering as Fiona’s heart wavers.
Before the denouement at Fiona and Farquaad’s sham wedding, an elderly ventriloquist with a Shrek puppet interrupts the action to recount the story of Shrek to you, the viewer. Fiona becomes a Shrek at night, he says, so when the movie ends they can both be Shreks together! My heart, which had been racing for the previous 80 or so minutes, slowed to a halt when this weird and wonderful scene blessed my already deep-fried eyes.
Shrek Retold is love. Shrek Retold is life. No joke: this is a project of enormous creative labour, of an artistic community drawn together for an absurd task. The result is nothing short of beautiful — just like Fiona and her ogre husband of old.