I don’t recall if I saw Shrek for the first time in a theater or on DVD, but whichever it was, it instantly became one of my favorite childhood films. From what would form the bones of DreamWorks’ signature animation style to the non-stop barrage of gags, both original and pop culture-inspired, it was a movie I had no hang-ups about watching over and over again. Anyone who has spent enough time on the internet over the last two decades can tell you this was not an isolated case; Shrek, both as a character and a franchise, has become one of the most enduring staples of meme culture, which is probably why its anniversary is being celebrated the way it is.
Today, May 18, is the 20th anniversary of the original theatrical release of Shrek, and fans young and old across just about every social media platform are celebrating. Some have taken the time to theorize on what, exactly, caused Shrek to stick in the public consciousness for so long, and one such theory is the sheer ubiquity of the franchise.
Today’s the day! Shrek officially turns 20 in the US, as Shrek was released in US theaters on May 18th, 2001! Happy birthday to the movie that changed my life forever #20YearsOfShrek ??? pic.twitter.com/ONw72Dy5Y0
— ShrekHistory (@ShrekHistory) May 18, 2021
“Shrek has spawned enough sequels so that there was a good 15 years where you didn’t have to go more than two years without a new Shrek offering,” writes BuzzFeed‘s Elamin Abdelmahmoud. “I’m not just talking about the main four Shrek films or the Puss in Boots spinoff — there’s also the eight short films (including 2010’s Donkey’s Christmas Shrektacular) and the Puss in Boots TV series, which lasted three seasons. In other words, if you’re under 20, Shrek has likely been an efficient machine that could find you just about anywhere.”
20 years ago today, SHREK was released and gave us the greatest scene in cinematic history. pic.twitter.com/KntpBacIBS
— Rabbit (@DCSkwad) May 18, 2021
As a medium of memes, Shrek’s evolution has continued past the films into the realm of the nonsensical. The long-established credo of “Shrek is love, Shrek is life” has a habit of finding its way back into the public consciousness, even as new memes are always coming and going. I’m sure someone with more time and a research grant could perform a fascinating in-depth study, but for the time being, let’s just spare a thought to a film franchise that, for whatever mysterious reason, changed the face of pop culture forever. Incidentally, if they decide to bring back the limited edition Shrek snacks, I’d totally buy them. That green popcorn was awesome.