The 88th Academy Awards will be held at the end of this month, and among the awards given out will be the one for Best Animated Feature. Five films are nominated this year, with the contest really coming down to Anomalisa and Inside Out, both of which are fantastic pieces of filmmaking in very different regards.

Best Animated Feature has been an inconsistent category in many respects. Some years, there are multiple incredible films nominated, while other years the level of competition is substantially lower, though the winners in this category have largely been consistently fantastic. Among these, however, there is one film that rarely gets the respect it deserves as the film that catapulted the industry into the 21st century.

What film am I talking about? Shrek, obviously.

When I profess my undying love for Shrek, people generally think I must be joking, and at times I definitely am being intentionally absurdist because of their lack of faith in my favorite ogre. However, when I talk about the what Shrek represents in the film industry, I am being completely genuine.


Out With the Ye Olde, In With the New

Transitions between two different eras of film can be awkward, especially when viewed in hindsight. This transition, though, is where Shrek finds a large portion of its importance. This is because, even though it was released in 2001, as a film, nearly every aspect of Shrek is being pulled toward two millennia.

The '90s aspects of the film should be obvious to anyone who sees the film. From the moment Shrek is first seen kicking open his outhouse door, they are anything but subtle. This is what makes Shrek such a perfect transition into a new era, however. It took all the things that now scream the '90s (Smash Mouth, especially) and threw them at the viewer. In many ways, it was a swan song for a decade that needed to end so that art and entertainment could move on.

However, the film was also groundbreaking in ways that are distinctly tenets of 21st century filmmaking. While films like Airplane! have utilized comedy to satirize or spoof genres in the past, generally these films' simply used their story arcs as vehicles for comedy. Shrek, however, really was not doing that. Its story, though filled with fantasy tropes, was still the driving force behind the film, and the comedy and meta humor was used to give the story flavor.

Shrek was also the herald of the franchise boom in Hollywood that we've seen in the last decade. Whether it's Marvel, DC, or The Fast and the Furious, all of these franchises are following a model set up by Shrek (and X-Men) of trying to expanding franchises by bringing in additional characters with each subsequent film until they are too many to count. It showed that there was a massive fan interest in crossovers between franchises. If you're looking at the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, or Marvel's Cinematic Universe and can't keep track of all the new characters that will be appearing, thank Shrek for showing Hollywood that you can always fit a few more fairy tales into your franchise.


Shrek, Social Justice Ogre (Warrior)

This wide variety of characters, and the way they are treated within Shrek is actually incredibly important, however. Possibly the biggest contribution that Shrek made to 21st century filmmaking, however, is how it dealt with important social issues in ways that had not really been seen in a children's movie before. This film deals with issues like institutional racism, gentrification, "non-traditional" love, and body positivity in progressive ways.

The way each of these is portrayed is a direct reaction to the the history of film before Shrek, specifically Disney. Jeffrey Katzenberg, the co-founder and CEO of DreamWorks Animation, left Disney in 1994 quite disgruntled at his time there, and Shrek is his response to Disney. The fact that social justice themes come across so heavily, and that Shrek was so successful shows a huge cultural shift that took place between the 20th and 21st centuries.

Disney fairy tales where princes and princesses are the hero were no longer what people wanted to see, and that's why it took Disney until Frozen in 2013 to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Film (even a classic like Cinderella, who comes from poverty, is hard to root for once she's in her $76,000,000 castle). Shrek, by winning that award the first year it was a category, set the tone not only for children's or animated filmmaking in the 21st century, but for filmmaking as a whole. Even our heroes need flaws now, but they also have to fight for the good of common people.

The fight for those in need is no small thing in our world, and one of the biggest changes of the 21st century is that this fight has become more global. Because of the internet, there is now more awareness of the issues facing people around the world than ever before. This awareness also presents incredible learning opportunities in empathy, and this cultural shift is reflected in Shrek. Shrek initially has no love for the fairy tale creatures that have been dumped in his swamp. He simply wants them gone, and will do whatever it takes to regain his privacy and space. By the end of the film, however, he has learned to identify with them and becomes their hero, even if he didn't set out to be.

The way that this film portrays a wide variety of characters, especially women, is incredibly important as well. This is because of the massive impact that the lack of female representation in film has had. According to Lara Brown, Program Director of George Washington University's Political Management program, the way women have been represented in film even affects the American Presidential race. In a world that so frequently lacks positive and interesting representation of women, the way that Shrek handles female characters like Fiona and Dragon, with depth and respect, is no small thing.

I only hope that the world starts to see how important Shrek is to our world. Until then, however, I will continue to tell everyone who is willing to listen.