Crossover texts, or cross-writing, involves “migrating” texts, or books or other media that were made for one audience, but end up appealing to another. The Cinderella fairy tale adaptation of The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch teaches some great lessons about not being shallow, but the reception from adults was possibly much more enthused than that from children. Crossover texts in regard to age has to do with sources of entertainment or instruction which were written for children but also have a following consisting of adults, or made for adults but also appeals to children. Some books and movies are written explicitly for children or explicitly for adults, for example an alphabet learning book for young children or a book that teaches older adults how to best enjoy their retirement. However, there is some literature that despite being mostly intended for one audience, still gestures toward another. One example of this is adult humor in children’s movies. There are a lot of movies that are primarily meant to attract a child audience, but the makers of the film know that those children aren’t getting to the movies or pressing play on the DVD player themselves. Movies like DreamWorks’ “Shrek” do an effective and hilarious job of acknowledging the older, more savvy people in the audience with subtle nods to adult responsibilities, pop-culture references, sneaky allusions to adult relationships and sex, and mentions of drugs and alcohol.
Adult Responsibilities and Topics
The fact that the entire Shrek movie is a parody of what some would call outdated fairy tale values is something that adults might appreciate more about the film in the first place. Children could be familiar with classic fairy tales as well, but adults are more familiar with the cliché aspect of the stories. The movie opens with a voice reading a fairy tale book, but then the audience finds out that the narrator of the introduction is Shrek. He is reading it on the toilet and then rips a page out to use as toilet paper. He says, “Like that’s ever gonna happen!” and then we hear the toilet flush. He literally wipes his ass with the old-time version of the fairy tale love story.
Aside from the satirical premise of the film, there are also specific allusions to adult responsibilities that children typically do not know much about. Adults are familiar with the hassle of parking and finding a car in a crowded amusement park facility, while children might not pick up on why it’s so funny that a parking area is called “Lancelot.” Adults also generally have more experience with responsibilities and topics such as:
- Legal matters: one of the three little pigs explains why all the magical creatures had to leave their homes (“He huffed, and he puffed… and signed an eviction notice”)
- Politics and current events: the gingerbread man is tortured because the castle guards are trying to get him to disclose information, and he is waterboarded… with milk… “milkboarded”…?
- Real estate knowledge: Donkey and Shrek arrive at the treacherous tower in the middle of a volcano to try to rescue the princess, and comment sarcastically, “Sure it’s big enough, but look at the location!”
- Cosmetic hygiene: Donkey tries to flatter the female dragon by complimenting her beauty, commenting on her lovely smile and asking her if she’s had teeth bleaching done
- Stress and mental health care: Donkey states that “before this is over I’m gonna need a whole lot of serious therapy.”
- Puns, wordplay, and swearing: Shrek is thanking Donkey when Donkey replies, “Now don’t get all sloppy on me, no one likes a kiss-ass.”
One of the most prominent realms of pop-culture references represented in “Shrek” is music. Donkey is always the one to break out in song and sing something that is relevant to the situation, but the tracks he chooses are generally from adult generations. In the beginning when Donkey is trying to become friends with Shrek, he belts out, “’Cuz I’m all alone, there’s no one here beside me, and my problems have all gone, there is no one to deride me, but you got to have friends-” before the ogre gets annoyed and cuts him off, which is the song “Friends” by Bette Midler from 1973. He also starts to sing “On the Road Again,” a song from around 1980 by Willie Nelson, “If you like Pina Coladas” by Jimmy Buffett, and “Try a Little Tenderness” made popular by artists like Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, and Michael Bolton.
Other hints toward adult-oriented pop-culture include the old TV game show “The Dating Game” from the 60s and 70s which featured someone picking a date out of three people they couldn’t see, just based on their answers to questions.
Shrek also finds himself in a wrestling ring where he uses a folding chair as a weapon like in old-school WWF wrestling. Fiona proves herself a fighter of equal caliber when she mimics impossible martial arts moves from Kung Fu movies, including the satirical shot of her hovering in midair, camera panning all around her in a circle, and wiping her brow before she kicks two men in the face at once.
Adult Relationships and Sex
“Shrek” sneakily includes many (somewhat) subtle sexual allusions. Lord Farquaad is very short, but his castle is incredibly tall. On a couple of occasions, Shrek and Donkey say that he is “compensating for something,” but it is left up to the audience whether they mean his height or his genitals. When Robin Hood shows up in the forest, his merry men sing a song about him where they say, “What he’s basically saying is he likes to get – ” and the rhyme scheme makes the mature audience members expect the word “head” to come next – a comically-placed reference to oral sex. Donkey is also awoken from a wet dream in the morning after camping, and later tells Shrek to “wake up and smell the pheromones.”
Drugs and Alcohol
I would assume that Shrek is an adult over the age of 21, regardless of what drinking laws may be in this magical land, and it’s not so bad if he wants to enjoy a drink every now and again. He snacks on eyeballs and prepares himself a “dirty” martini, ogre style. Later, when he’s about to be attacked by knights on Lord Farquaad’s orders, he busts open a large barrel and tries to reason with them by asking, “Can’t we just settle this over a pint?”
It’s also worth checking out this hilarious clip from the sequel “Shrek 2” in which a show called “Knights” is modeled after the TV show “Cops.” The horse calls out “police brutality,” the knights use a pepper grinder instead of pepperspray, and the cat swears that the cat-nip they find on him isn’t his.
“That’s uhh, not mine.”
“Shrek” is still funny to viewers of an older age because of the appeals to adult sensibilities. Movie makers strategically peppered in adult humor to make this picture a great children’s movie that also makes a gesture toward adults that keep them laughing too.
[Undocumented multimedia source: All images are screenshots taken from the DVD I own.]