Shrek 2: A Hyperbole of New Comedy’s Comic Resolution

 

In his chapter on ‘the Argument of Comedy,’ Northrop Frye discusses the ‘comic resolution’ of New Comedies.[1] I will focus this post on three main elements of this resolution: First, Northrop’s focus on the fatherly ‘senex’ figure surrendering to our protagonist[2]; second, the social reconciliation which stems from ‘all the right people’ coming to the hero’s side[3]; and lastly, the inclusion of a final ‘festival’ which celebrates the triumph of a free society over a humorously flawed one[4].

One genre in which New Comedy can be easily found is in the animated family film. Thus, the three aforementioned elements of reconciliation can be found hyperbolised in the ending sequence of Dreamworks’ Shrek 2. While this film’s predecessor focused on the tropes of Old Comedy such as the power of the heroine and her disguise (in this case as a beautiful woman), Shrek 2’s plot revolves around both the tropes of New Comedy but also on the Comedy of Remarriage discussed by Stanley Cavell[5], foregoing the realisation of differences between bride and groom for the simple ousting of the husband by the father.

Returning to the film’s ending, the surrender of the father is hyperbolised here by a literal transformation from a King to a frog, followed by an apology to both Wife and son-in-law. A transformation also sees husband and wife reunite and return to their “normal” selves and thank their allies before alluding to their physical reunification. To stop this unification from becoming more than an implication (this is a kid’s movie, after all), the pair are interrupted by Puss in Boots who delivers the most explicit hyperbole of a New Comedy trope: “Hey, aren’t we supposed to be having a fiesta?!”

As is common with family films of the late 1990s to 2010, the festival of reconciliation takes the form of a full musical number, highlighting the triumph of the diverse fairy creatures over the antagonistic forces of prince charming, and (of course) making use of popular music released 5 years prior to the film’s opening. To summarise, the ending of Shrek 2 highlights how the animated family comedy hyperbolises the tropes of New Comedy for easy and accessible entertainment.

[1] Frye, Northrop. “The Argument of Comedy” in English Institute Essays. New York: Columbia, 1949 pp. 58-73

[2] Frye, Northrop. “The Argument of Comedy” in English Institute Essays. New York: Columbia, 1949 pp. 59

[3] Frye, Northrop. “The Argument of Comedy” in English Institute Essays. New York: Columbia, 1949 pp. 60

[4] Frye, Northrop. “The Argument of Comedy” in English Institute Essays. New York: Columbia, 1949 pp. 62

[5] Cavell, Stanley. “Introduction: Words for a Conversation.” In Pursuits of Happiness: the Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981.

5 comments

  1. I would have never thought of Shrek 2 as a comedy of remarriage, but it’s actually a really good example. I like how you’ve also managed to link Cavell and Northrop’s texts to these films, and I agree that the ending musical number resembles the festival that takes place in New Comedies.

  2. The comparison of Shrek 2 to Comedy of remarriage is brilliant as it ends in a re-marriage. However, the fiesta doesn’t necessarily mean the free society is triumphing over a new one. Instead Shrek 2 preaches an inclusivity to one person it would normally reject, while the exclusivity still exists within the kingdom. The hero still wins and rises again while the father steps down, but there is still a heiarchy in place and society, as we see in the next movie, largely remains the same.

  3. Shrek 2 raises an interesting perspective about the comedy of remarriage in its way of creating franchise. All of the Shrek sequels play upon this same formula to great success in emotionally satisfying the film’s audience. It is further interesting to see how an animated family film can adhere to this formula successfully when its is usually only seen in the territory of romantic comedies.

  4. It’s interesting that you bring up Shrek, which upon further reflection makes me realize that far more comedies are comedies of remarriage than I had initially realized. I did appreciate how you acknowledged that the film also utilities many old comedy tropes.

  5. This is an amazing example illustrating the tropes of a comic resolution in New Comedy. It makes me realise that although the re-marriage element is not as common now, the comic resolution is still reliably present in popular media, and involves pop music a lot of the time too. Another example I can think of is Ella Enchanted.

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