Ah, Shrek. Animation’s favorite green anti-hero (sorry Mike Wazowski) has led a successful film franchise, a Broadway musical and a bevy of disturbing memes. One of the most remarkable elements of the Shrek film saga, its eponymous ogre (Mike Myers), his trusty ass (Eddie Murphy) and the world of Far Far Away is the reference-heavy humor that characterize the four films—from the original Shrek to Shrek Forever After. But that’s not all that the series is good at. In fact, layered in there with all the pop culture gags are true moments of emotional resonance and character growth. No, really. Shrek actually has something to say.
Here’s a list of some of the most funny, endearing quotes from the Shrek films.
1. Accepting Friendship and Being Seen in Shrek
“That’ll do Donkey, that’ll do.” – Shrek
In the first Shrek film, Shrek and Donkey successfully reach the Dragon’s Keep where Fiona (Cameron Diaz) has long been locked away. Shrek has come to save Fiona and deliver her to DreamWorks’ Napoleonic antagonist, Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). One of the final things that literally and metaphorically stand between Shrek and reclaiming his swamp is his ability to get himself and the frightened donkey across a rickety wooden bridge and the lake of lava that boils beneath it. Shrek assures Donkey that, “for emotional support,” the duo will tackle the bridge together. When Donkey spirals and cannot overcome his quaking fear, he considers not moving forward after reaching the halfway point. Rather than lambasting his four-legged friend for his reasonable anxiety, Shrek cleverly stalks forward towards Donkey, shimmying the bridge to and fro, thereby coaxing Donkey to successfully make it to the other side of the bridge. This endearing moment is not only one that signifies a shift in Shrek and Donkey’s friendship, where Shrek appeals to and supports Donkey in earnest for one of the first times, but one with a Babe reference that seals the moment.
“Ogres are like onions.” – Shrek
This one’s a classic! When embarking upon the quest that Lord Farquaad and the people of Duloc have sent them on, Donkey and Shrek discuss the fundamental nature of ogres. Donkey wonders why Shrek agrees to the hefty task of rescuing a princess and slaying a dragon to reclaim his home. Why doesn’t Shrek simply “lay siege to his fortress” and grind Farquaad’s bones for bread? This is an effective moment because it reveals that even though Donkey enthusiastically befriends Shrek, he still believes that ogres are inherently violent and base creatures who navigate the world by exploiting the fear that they strike in the hearts of others. Finally, Shrek has the opportunity to define himself and his group outside of the terrified gaze of pitchfork-wielding townspeople. In a quintessential back and forth, Shrek shares his own thoughts on ogres and compares them to onions. Not because they make people cry or are smelly—as Donkey interjects—but because they have a full depth of emotion: Layers. Shrek’s useful albeit humorous simile offers Donkey and the audience a glimpse into Shrek’s inner world of complex emotions.
“This’ll be fun. We’ll stay up late, swapping manly stories, and in the morning… I’m making waffles!” – Donkey
Donkey luxuriates in a spirit of gratitude when he is saved from the auction in which his character is first introduced. As he interacts with Shrek, he takes a strong liking to the stand-offish ogre which culminates in Donkey proposing a sleepover and breakfast the morning after. What a gentleman. One of the greatest strengths about Shrek and Donkey’s dynamic throughout the Shrek series is exemplified in this early shared encounter. Donkey is unapologetically himself and eager to share himself with people he admires. In contrast, Shrek (while unapologetically himself) avoids emotional intimacy because of the social ways in which he’s been deemed ineligible for it. As much as Shrek adores his swamp, his space and his filth, Shrek’s villainization makes his swamp something of a safe haven—the swamp is also a cocoon of loneliness. Shrek is so effective at performing indifference and isolating himself that Donkey’s expression of “I like you, Shrek” genuinely delights, bewilders and scares him. Donkey is the first of multiple characters in Shrek’s life that encourages him to see himself as an ogre worthy of love, admiration and company. Donkey is just an ass, standing in front of an ogre asking him to accept hot syrupy waffles.
2. Self-Acceptance, Relationship Shifts and Class in Shrek 2
“Don’t you want to tell me about your trip? How about a game of Parcheesi?” – Donkey
In Shrek 2, arguably the best sequel of all time, Shrek and Fiona are tasked to travel to the land of Far Far Away and meet Fiona’s parents. A recurring theme in this film—as Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) and King Harold (John Cleese) attempt to separate Fiona and Shrek—is self-acceptance. Can ogres receive love and be deemed worthy of love by members of society that hold the greatest power? More so, can ogres love themselves and one another, farts and all? In addition to Shrek and Fiona’s interconnected journey of self-acceptance, Donkey is forced to accept that his best friend is now also another person’s husband. When Fiona and Shrek first return from their honeymoon, Donkey is at the swamp eagerly awaiting them. He anticipates that once Shrek has returned, play and camaraderie can commence again—he has yet to accept that social dynamics have now changed. In a comical failure to take a hint, Shrek and Fiona repeatedly ask for some privacy (perhaps for some ogre lovin’) while Donkey insists that he hear all about the trip and join them for a game of Parcheesi. This is a classic Shrekian moment: Anachronistic and strange pop culture references and emotional depth. It captures Donkey’s desperation to participate in Shrek’s life and the dynamic shift that inevitably occur as relationships change with newly adopted responsibilities.
“It’s gonna be champagne wishes and caviar dreams from now on.” – Donkey
In one the most memorable sequences of the entire Shrek series, Donkey, Fiona and Shrek finally arrive in Far Far Away in a scrumptious sequence set to “Funkytown.” After a grueling journey in which Donkey repeatedly asks “are we there yet?” (the hallowed question that Ice Cube would answer only two years later), Donkey beams at the luxury of Far Far Away. The brick roads, the towering palm trees, the Versarchery store. In a dual nod to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and Black Twitter’s beloved aunty Dionne Warwick, Donkey exclaims “It’s gonna be champagne wishes and caviar dreams from now on!” The line is an effective signifier of the change in class environment that our dynamic trio experiences. Shrek’s swamp and surrounding, sparsely populated villages were not exactly shimmering with wealth. But when Shrek, Fiona and the rest of the gang eventually land in Far Far Away, the audience is able to understand how Shrek’s ogre-ness and his comparatively humble background operate in tandem to other him from the riches that Fiona grew up with. Donkey is genuinely enthused to access the exclusivity and pomp of Far Far Away while Shrek, understandably so, is a bit more apprehensive and must work through his discomfort.
“Oh, Shrek. Don’t worry, things just seem bad because it’s dark and rainy and Fiona’s father hired a sleazy hitman to whack you. It’ll be better in the morning. You’ll see.” – Donkey
After King Harold meets and combatively converses with Shrek during dinner, he seeks help from notorious assassin Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas). In Harold’s line of thought, he’ll have Shrek killed, then Fiona will be able to find a husband more suitable for her, AKA Fairy Godmother’s son, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett). Quality Grade A+ dad behavior, right? Although Shrek, Puss and Donkey eventually team up to thwart King Harold’s nefarious schemes, Shrek is forced to ponder if Harold’s apprehensions towards an ogre son-in-law hold any water. Perhaps, Shrek thinks, he isn’t good enough for Fiona after all. This quote comes as Donkey attempts—emphasis on attempts—to comfort a humanized Shrek about the situation. Coming straight out the gates with hard realities and chipper disposition is Donkey’s whole thing. But in this moment, it is especially lovely because although I wouldn’t characterize Donkey’s assurances as successful, they are genuine. Donkey’s words encapsulate his unwavering confidence in Shrek’s worthiness of “happily ever after” and the trio’s ability to beat the clock and recreate Shrek and Fiona’s “true love’s kiss.”
“Shrek, Fiona will you accept an Old Frog’s apology and my blessing?” – King Harold
In the third act of Shrek 2, it is revealed that King Harold’s obsession with hiding Fiona’s curse and the blemishes of her situation are steeped in the shame he carries towards himself. When King Harold refuses to comply with Fairy Godmother’s plot to get Fiona and Prince Charming together, she turns King Harold back into his original form: A frog. It is a plot twist that successfully incorporates the princess and the frog into the Shrek universe. But it also impressively explores the way generational trauma can shape a family. All of King Harold’s verbal flourishes about wanting what is best for his daughter are compassionately reinforced and contextualized by the revelation of his true froggy form. In this moment of vulnerability and remorse, he offers Shrek and Fiona his blessing and asks for their forgiveness. Seldom are fairytale patriarchs present at all or allowed to live long enough to disseminate the good that they do possess. Therefore, King Harold’s apology resonates because of its authenticity and because of the refreshing way it demonstrates that adults, like children, make mistakes and sometimes allow fear—rather than love—to be their compass.
3. Responsibility and Generational Trauma in Shrek the Third
“Well my stomach aches and my palms just got sweaty, must be a high school.” – Shrek
In Shrek the Third, Shrek struggles to accept his impending role as a father and to convince Fiona’s cousin, Arthur (Justin Timberlake), to rule Far Far Away when royal amphibian King Harold croaks. As Shrek, Puss and Donkey set out on a journey to find and court Arthur, they visit his school. Shrek animators do an effective job at offering a quick Dazed and Confused-esque glimpse at the social machinations inside the world of the high school. There are the stoner kids who fumble out of a medieval van, mumbling about how much frankincense they have left; the popular valley girls whose Shakespearean twang is accompanied by exaggerated eye rolls and wrist flicks; the list goes on and on. Although these youth are a pinch older than the triplets Fiona is pregnant with, their presence effectively dredges up Shrek’s anxiety about forthcoming fatherhood. When Donkey asks where they trio is, Shrek retorts that because of his bodily reactions and increased nerves, it must be a high school. It is a relatable throwaway line about how uncomfortable tween years can be, but it also encompasses Shrek’s nervousness about the way fatherhood will insert a greater responsibility into his life and trigger memories of his own complicated childhood.
“After a while you learn to ignore the names people call you and just trust who you are.” – Shrek
In a standout, campfire-lit heart-to-heart talk that Shrek shares with Arthur, both men divulge how their fear of responsibility stems from the absence of their fathers. Arthur is a capital-L Loser in the eyes of his peers. He is used as a jousting dummy in gym class duals and embarrassed in front of his pep rally peers Revenge of the Nerds-style by other dweeby teens. Let me put it this way: The dudes with headgear and chronic nosebleeds bully Arthur. So, he is characterized to be a less than obvious pick for kingship. But this unites Arthur and Shrek. Not only were they both neglected by their fathers—in Shrek’s case almost eaten by his father—but they were also socially underestimated and therefore deemed ineligible for power and love. While empathizing with Arthur’s personal insecurities and anger at social dejection, Shrek teaches Arthur a simple, salient lesson. It is unwise to use other people’s perception of you as the sole litmus test for your self-worth. It is crucial that people celebrate themselves and forge forward with a spirit of authenticity. The scene returns to the generative scene in the first Shrek, when Shrek—in a moment of vulnerability—talks with Donkey about how much he hates being judged before being known.
4. Gratitude in Shrek Forever After
“You know what the best part of today was? I got the chance to fall in love with you all over again.” – Shrek
In Shrek Forever After, Shrek becomes disillusioned by the routines of domestic life. In a cutting opening montage, he and Fiona take care of their triplets, Donkey and Puss visit and a tour bus drives through Shrek’s swamp. Where Shrek used to be a menacing swamp thing in the eyes of local townspeople, he has now become a local celebrity. It’s a shift that leads him to lose sight of what and who he values. Overall it forces him, like Jean Valjean, to question who he is. In a shifty deal Shrek makes with classic fairytale trickster Rumpelstiltskin, Shrek gets to be a full-fledged terrifying ogre for a day, but in the process accidentally forfeits the day he was born. Shrek is then given 24 hours to find his friends and recreate true love’s kiss with Fiona, in order to get his life back. In the film’s ending, warrior-princess Fiona holds a translucent, fading Shrek. It’s Pietà meets Back to the Future. While the threat of not existing may have sent Shrek into a reasonable rage, our gallant ogre rests in his lady’s arms and shares that, despite the chaos of the day and folly of his deal with Rumpelstiltskin, he is grateful for the opportunity to have met Fiona again for a first time.
Adesola Thomas is a screenwriter and culture writer. She loves talking about Annette Benning’s performance in 20th Century Women and making lasagna. You can follow her on Twitter.