2021 marked an important anniversary in animation: Shrek turned 20. The animated film from DreamWorks is credited as really helping to launch the company as a viable competitor to Disney’s Pixar. Prior to Shrek, DreamWorks had found success at the box office with Antz and Chicken Run, but Shrek was the first to really explode in both popularity and revenue. And unlike those preceding films, it was the launch of a bonafide franchise for DreamWorks as the ogre would go on to star in three more pictures and some holiday specials.
Now a days, Shrek is viewed in a somewhat ironic light or with an eyeroll. Part of that is due to the franchise overstaying its welcome. The first film felt like something new, and it was, with its approach to story-telling and humor and the second film delivered more of the same. By the third and fourth films though, the Shrek franchise was getting lambasted by critics though still bringing in money. And the other thing working against Shrek is it’s a film that hasn’t aged particularly well. CG films from 2001 have all aged to some degree, and not for the better, but Shrek‘s approach to its humor and soundtrack have proven especially dated. They also established a formula for DreamWorks that I think a lot of movie goers have grown tired of. Still, the company seems to be able to entertain children well enough so there aren’t many true flops, but I don’t think it’s controversial to say that DreamWorks never became the true Pixar competitor some had hoped it would be.
Dated humor and presentation aside, Shrek was a good film in 2001 and it’s still a pretty good film in 2021. It’s not a film, or franchise, I have held any real attachment to, but I can appreciate it for what it is. Since Shrek is celebrating its big 20th birthday (the character has actually been around for over 30 years), it made sense to finally include it in The Christmas Spot so today we’re looking at the special Shrek the Halls.
Shrek the Halls was first broadcast on ABC on November 28, 2007 following the release that year of Shrek the Third. Despite that film not being warmly received by critics, Shrek was still very much at the height of his powers as the film made a boatload of money and the Christmas special took the top spot in the ratings for its timeslot. The special takes place after the events of that film, though I don’t think one need to be familiar with that film, or really any of the films, in order to enjoy this special. This special returns the voice cast from the film and looks to tell the story of Shrek’s first Christmas. Even though Shrek is obviously well into his adult years, he’s never celebrated Christmas on account of the fact that he’s an ogre and ogres just don’t do that sort of thing. He now has a wife and kids though who are interested in celebrating the holiday (well, I assume the kids are, but they are infants so one can’t be sure) so he’s going to have to learn on the fly and also deal with his “friends” that prove to be a constant source of frustration for the grouchy ogre.
The special begins uncharacteristically with Shrek (Mike Myers) powdering the bottom of one of his triplets in a rather tropical setting. He remarks how they’re all clean now and plops them into a pit of mud before laying out on a deck chair to sun himself. “Summer Breeze” by Seals & Croft plays as Shrek soaks up the sun, until he’s rudely disturbed by Donkey (Eddie Murphy). Donkey is focused on Christmas already, despite it being summer, and Shrek could not care less. Once he’s dismissed, we jump ahead to the fall and Shrek is chopping wood. Donkey, once again, appears to remind Shrek that Christmas is coming and the ogre once again shoos him away. It’s now winter and Shrek is shoveling and when he digs his shovel into a snowdrift out pops the head of Donkey. Now it’s the day before Christmas Eve, and Donkey wants to know what Shrek is doing for Christmas, but he insists no one here cares about Christmas!
On cue, Fiona (Cameron Diaz) emerges from their home to shout her enthusiasm for a white Christmas. Shrek is surprised and confused, but not willing to let Fiona know he has nothing planned for the holiday. Donkey covers for him, but also tells Fiona that Shrek has a surprise in store for her and the kids. Excited, she returns to the house while Shrek now has to put together a Christmas celebration.
We smash cut to credits and Shrek is shown running across the frozen tundra and scaling a mountain while epic music plays in the background. All of this to get to town and a bookstore being run by a clerk (Marissa Jaret Winokur) looking to close up shop for Christmas. Shrek tells her he needs to create a wonderful Christmas for his family, but he knows nothing about it. She excitedly drags him to the counter and produces exactly what Shrek needs: Christmas for Village Idiots. She quickly skims the book pointing out the things that Shrek needs to do in order to create the perfect Christmas ending with a Christmas story by a warm fire. Shrek seems overwhelmed, but it’s not the clerk’s problem as she assures him he’ll be fine and shoves him out the door, apparently willing to part with the book for free just to rid herself of the ogre. When Shrek finds himself outside he sees various villagers running around screaming trying to find last minute items for Christmas while stores slam doors shut in their face.
The next morning, Fiona awakens from her slumber to a bunch of noise just outside the house. When she goes to investigate, she finds Shrek has decorated their home for Christmas. It’s…interesting and certainly ogre themed with a toilet seat wreath on the front door, but it sure seems to please her. Donkey then reappears to give them his Christmas card. Despite Donkey having a family of his own, his card just has a picture of him in a Santa suit on the front.
Donkey is here to remind Shrek, and us, that it’s Christmas Eve! Shrek tells him to go home and returns to his task, while Donkey tells Fiona that Shrek needs him in order to pull this perfect Christmas off. Fiona, trying to be polite, tells Donkey that what Shrek really wants is a nice Christmas with his family. Donkey is fine with this, too fine, and he takes his leave allowing Fiona to resume her conversation with Shrek. He’s determined to make this a perfect Christmas, and we head into a montage showing the Shrek family prepare for Christmas. Fiona kills snakes with a belch to create snake canes, they fetch a dead tree for their Christmas tree, and one of the babies grabs a possum for Christmas dinner. I’m sure it will be delicious.
Back at home, the house is decorated for Christmas, the possum is roasting on an open fire, and Shrek is now ready to put a cherry on top of this whole Christmas thing by telling the kids a story. They gather around and Shrek is ready to go, when suddenly there arose such a clatter! It’s Donkey, who comes busting in with a wreath around his neck ready to celebrate, and he’s not alone. Behind him come the other “friends” of Shrek and Fiona from the films: Pinocchio, the three little pigs, big bad wolf, the three blind mice, the gingerbread man (Gingy), and Puss in Boots. They brought decorations too and immediately set to putting them up while Gingy (Conrad Vernon) flirts with an angel cookie. Shrek is clearly not pleased, while Fiona tries to put on a smile, and the others are oblivious to all of this. Donkey strolls over to the fireplace and notices it’s low (since it’s a cooking fire) and calls up the chimney to his wife, a dragon, to heat the place up. She blasts some fire down from above (since she’s far too big to fit in the house) creating a roaring fire, while also destroying the possum dinner. As the pigs wrestle with setting up a tree, Shrek gets bumped out the door and it shuts in his face.
When we come back from a break, Fiona is trying to get Shrek to come out of the outhouse and back into the party. Shrek, clearly irritated, tells Fiona this is not the Christmas he wanted while Fiona reminds him that these people, as weird and irritating as they are, are still their friends. She asks him to come back to the party while the sound of breaking glass alerts her that she needs to get back inside leaving Shrek to stew in his own stench. He gets up to return to the house, reluctantly, and we find out that Pinocchio (Cody Cameron) has been waiting patiently to use the outhouse, which raises several questions. The ground is also shaking as the dragon is doing Snoopy’s dance outside the house.
When Shrek gets back inside he’s immediately annoyed. Gingy tells him he doesn’t feel well causing him to vomit at Shrek’s feet. His vomit is basically a Hershey Kiss, and Donkey strolls over and eats it. Shrek then spies Fiona under the mistletoe and goes to embrace his wife. They start to dance to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin” when Pinocchio cuts in. Rather than fight for his wife, Shrek makes a b-line to his children who are playing with Donkey’s weird, donkey-dragon, hybrid kids under a table. He asks the kids if they’d like him to finish the story and goes back into “The Night Before Christmas,” until Donkey butts in. He’s excited for the story, but then declares no one tells it better than him, and summons everyone to a chair so he can recite the poem while Shrek shouts out that he’s supposed to be the one that tells the Christmas story.
No one seems to pay Shrek any mind though as Donkey starts into his own version of the story, with him as both narrator and star. He’s focused on the sights, and smells, of the holiday as we see his version of the story fully animated. There’s an eggnog fountain and acrobatics and it all leads to a big Christmas parade. When he gets to the part where he should be introducing Saint Nicholas, he does, only he’s a giant waffle float covered in butter and syrup. Donkey apparently likes waffles and syrup and we see him start to lick the giant Santa float only to find out he’s actually licking Shrek’s foot who gets him to stop.
Now, it’s Puss in Boots’ (Antonio Banderas) turn to tell the real story of Santa, as he describes it. He starts fingering a guitar and telling the story of Santa: a spicy, Latin, cat with some killer dance moves. We see this Santa, who is just Puss in a festive red ensemble. He describes how this Santa has actual claws, and goes into detail about the articles of clothing he wears. When he gets to the hat, which has a pom-pom at the end, we see the cat in the story become entranced by the cotton ball. He starts to bat at it playfully and we cut to Puss in Boots as he’s doing the same to an ornament on the tree. He snaps out of it and concedes that he has shamed himself before slumping his shoulders and walking off.
Gingy then steps up to tell the real story of Santa. It’s a horror story, since Gingy is a cookie and all, and we see him sitting in a convertible with a gingerbread woman. He’s telling the classic man with the hook story and frightens his date, but she’s not mad and they appear to be having a good time. Things look like they’re about to get a little steamy, until a sound startles Gingy. The female cookie thinks he’s just trying to scare her, but soon a monstrous figure appears: Santa! He basically roars like Godzilla as he reaches down and plucks the girl from the car as she screams. Santa bites her head off, to the horror of Gingy, and the story ends because Donkey is offended the cookie would present Santa in such a bad light.
Shrek has had enough at this point and suggests they all leave now to beat the holiday traffic. Donkey wants to finish his story though and as Shrek moves in to tell him it’s not needed, his book falls out of his pocket. Donkey wants to check it out, but Shrek doesn’t want Fiona to see it so he tries to hide it quickly, but Donkey won’t let go. It eventually goes flying across the room setting off a chain of unfortunate events that end with Shrek’s ass getting lit on fire! He eventually gets doused with water, after the flames were put out, and that’s the final straw. As he appears poised to blow, the sound of a whistling kettle can be heard because the pigs had put an actual kettle on the fire for tea.
Shrek explodes and we cut to everyone running out of the house, with Donkey getting literally thrown out. He’s upset and barks back at Shrek that he’s not getting him a Christmas present now, but Shrek doesn’t care. They hurl insults back and forth before Donkey finally leaves. The pigs (Cameron) suggest they can go to their house while Shrek slams the door. When he turns around though he finds Fiona with her winter coat on. She’s gathering up the children to go after the others while Shrek tries to reason with her. She tells him that this is what Christmas is: crowded, loud, and often out of hand. Shrek rather wisely points out that this one went beyond that as he was literally set on fire. She still feels the need to apologize to their friends while Shrek insists he just wanted to have a perfect Christmas. He mistakenly refers to it as “his” Christmas, which is apparently the worst thing he could do. He knows he messed up right away, but Fiona still digs into him that it isn’t his Christmas, it’s everyone’s.
Shrek finds himself alone in his house on Christmas. A sappy song plays as he looks over his book and then to Donkey’s Christmas card. We then check-in with the others and Donkey is complaining to Fiona about Shrek. He says they were just doing what she wanted by giving Shrek a big old, noisy, family, Christmas. Now it’s Donkey’s turn to listen as Fiona explains that’s not what she meant when she told him it was their family’s first Christmas together. Donkey still doesn’t understand as he clearly views them all as family while Fiona points out that no one asked Shrek what he wanted.
Puss seems to realize how annoying Donkey was and starts up an argument, but Shrek appears to interrupt it. He’s come to make amends, but he has a hard time doing so as he apologizes for them “being so annoying,” and other similar sentiments. Struggling, he confesses that Christmas is hard for him because he’s an ogre. Ogres don’t celebrate Christmas, they don’t celebrate anything. He takes a seat on a log in a defeated posture as Donkey and others question how he’s never celebrated Christmas and it’s obviously structured to make it seem like Shrek just admitted he’s a virgin.
Having that weight off of his shoulders, Shrek is able to apologize appropriately. He also requests that everyone come back to their home and celebrate Christmas with his family. He then gets blasted with a snowball from offscreen. Forcing a laugh while admitting he deserved that, Shrek wipes the snow off of his face before he’s promptly hit with several more. Now he’s getting mad as Donkey howls with laughter, only to get completely buried by snow. He pops his head out in search of the culprit and the camera pans back and reveals it was his dragon wife who knocked some snow off of a tree.
Everyone returns to the ogre home and everyone is preparing for bed. Big Bad Wolf (Aron Warner) is looking for a spot and seems to feel that Pinocchio is in the way, who insists he doesn’t want to move because he always gets a bad spot. The wolf kicks him out of the way clearly not caring about the puppet’s feelings. The three little pigs are sharing a blanket, and one has to point out that they’re pigs in a blanket, but does it in such a manner that saves the bit. Shrek then tells them it’s time for lights out, but Donkey demands a story before bed and the others agree.
This is Shrek’s moment to shine as he tosses his book aside and sits down to tell HIS Christmas story with his children in his arms. It’s basically “The Night Before Christmas,” but with a Shrek twist. The house is depicted as it is now decorated for Christmas in a conventional manner. The babies, and Fiona, are “playing kazoo in their sleep” which means they’re farting and we see the blankets billow with the expelling of gas. This is all to set the stage for Ogre Claus, who is Shrek in a Santa suit. He finds the surroundings too sweet, so he lets out a giant belch of green gas that turns the place into something an ogre would find suitable. He gives each baby a bottle of stinky swamp juice, and a Christmas goose to Fiona (a literal goose). Then he sticks a finger in his nose and up the chimney he goes!
Shrek finishes his story with a “Smelly Christmas to all, and to all a gross night,” as everyone seems to have taken well to the ogre version of the story. The sound of sleigh bells gets everyone’s attention and they head outside and spy Santa flying in front of a full moon. They all look up with wonder, except for Gingy who screams and runs back inside. Shrek and Fiona share a gaze and he puts his arm around her. We look up to the sky again and see some Christmas magic from Santa. Red and green stars dance around the moon giving it Shrek ears as a raucous version of “Deck the Halls” kicks in and the credits roll.
Shrek the Halls is a legitimately entertaining Christmas special. Being able to basically duplicate the presentation of the films goes a long way in helping that as we have the usual cast and the visuals hold up very well. My guess is that this thing was basically made in tandem with the third film and that’s why it looks so good. It’s also a clever Christmas story for the Shrek character since it’s not surprising that he would clash with the traditional version of Christmas. It’s a little odd that the subject never came up between he and Fiona before, but it’s not that important either.
The antagonist here is basically Donkey, who exists to annoy and irritate both Shrek and the viewer. He works almost too well as I find it hard to view him with any sympathy. Yeah, he misunderstood Fiona, but Shrek is always very clear with how annoyed he is with Donkey who just constantly disregards Shrek’s wishes. And it’s not just him. As Shrek pointed out, he was set on fire! That ogre was totally within his rights to toss everyone out after that happened and the special struggles, via Fiona, to convince me he did anything wrong. It basically presents Shrek’s slip of the tongue in referring to it as “his Christmas” as a terrible sin worthy of punishment. That whole group should have returned to Shrek to apologize to him, not the other way around.
That’s a small criticism though as the special proves to be plenty entertaining. Yeah, there’s still too much licensed music in play, but little of it feels dated since most if is dated by design (like Journey, though I could definitely do with out that particular song). Most of the side characters get a chance to do something funny with the star player likely being Gingy and his Santa horror story. The ending is about as predictable as it gets, but still suitable. It’s not like many Christmas specials surprise in that regard.
Shrek the Halls is currently locked into an exclusive agreement with ABC so the only channels you’ll find it on are Disney owned ones. It’s also on Hulu (if you have the Live TV add-on) and available on physical media. Considering it’s Christmas Eve, it might be tough to find at this point, but there’s still time to spend Christmas with Ogre Claus.