The ‘Shrek’ Soundtracks: A Music Lover’s Dream

Shrek and its sequels first burst onto the scene in 2001 as raunchy, raucous, spell-binding fairy tales that had a little bit of something for everyone. There were sword fights, a dragon, romance, and of course, magic. There were sight gags for the little ones and clever double entendres for the parents to chuckle at during their fiftieth viewing.

And the soundtracks, which covered a multitude of genres and decades, were a music lover’s dream. With Shrek 5 officially in the works, it’s time to look back on the genius of the original soundtracks and score, and make some predictions on what the latest installment could have in store.

The score

As children’s movies go, Shrek could be considered the riskiest of them all in the “appropriate humor” department. But what gives the series its heart and soul isn’t just the beautiful artwork and animation, it’s the lush soundtracks provided by Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell.

With every string solo or trumpet toot, the kingdoms of Far Far Away and Duloc become a little more grand, real, and more emotional. As Gregson-Williams and Powell have been involved in each iteration of Shrek, including the holiday special Shrek the Halls, it’s safe to assume they’ll be taking the helm for the next chapter as well.

The covers

Kids movies have long relied on using music from previous generations as a way to bridge the gap between the little ones for which the movie is intended, and the adults forced to watch it with them repeatedly.

Shrek is no exception, blending a traditional orchestral score with new arrangements of old songs performed by the cast. The most famous example of this is “Believer” by The Monkees, sung by Eddie Murphy as Donkey to close out the first movie. Jennifer Saunders performs a flawless rendition of “Holding Out for a Hero” in Shrek 2 as the Fairy Godmother, second only to 1984’s original Bonnie Tyler version. The results are a wonderful blend of old and new, introducing children to songs they might otherwise never have heard.

With the recent resurgence of Prince and David Bowie into the mainstream, especially with Bowie’s prior involvement in the series, we could see more covers from characters like Puss in Boots as they serenade us with “Little Red Corvette”. Or maybe they’ll borrow another song from Hunky Dory and cover Bowie’s “Oh! You Pretty Things” as we watch Shrek and Fiona’s babies grow up.

The contemporary (along with the classics)

The first two soundtracks are a veritable time capsule for what was popular at the time, and they charted as such. Both took the top spot on the US Soundtracks Chart, and Shrek hit number 28 on the US Billboard 200 while Shrek 2 reached 8 at its peak.

There wasn’t a radio station that could escape listeners asking for “All Star” by Smash Mouth in summer 2001, while “Accidentally in Love” by Counting Crows bounced its way onto a million mix CDs in 2004. That song did particularly well, even getting nominated for an Academy Award. The Eels, Frou Frou, and Dashboard Confessional gave the soundtrack an indie feel while Tom Waits and Bowie added levity to the more heartfelt moments.

The third and fourth movie soundtracks gave kids a gateway into 1970’s rock and roll with appearances by Led Zeppelin and The Ramones, along with lighter fare provided by Paul McCartney and Wings and the Carpenters. The 1980’s aren’t forgotten, with Lionel Richie and the Beastie Boys lending some of their greatest hits to fray.

While Shrek Forever After didn’t chart as well as the others, Shrek the Third made it to number 2 on the US Soundtrack chart. Now that people born in the 1980’s are having children of their own, we may expect to hear more music from the 1990’s as well as current and up and coming top 40 music. Think Spice Girls, INXS, Ariana Grande, Portugal. The Man, and Hippocampus. Regardless of track selection, and with prior album successes in mind, Shrek 5 will be sure to get both the kids’ and parents’ attention.