“Oh, Of COURSE you’re a girl”: Dragon from Shrek

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When I initially saw Shrek (2001), I was a high school senior lazing away Christmas break. I’d ignored the release of the movie almost entirely, convinced that it was something I’d be bored by. But my dad wanted to watch it—he’s a sucker for happily ever after endings, and one of the things he and I enjoy doing together has always been watching movies. So I popped the DVD into the player, and my dad and I sat down.

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We were pleasantly surprised. We both laughed quite a bit. I marveled a bit at the film. Here was something with all kinds of fairy tale creatures outside of their stories, interacting with one another in new and interesting ways. And here was something where the princess was utterly complex, and the prince wasn’t really a prince at all but an ogre. I also got a lot of the adult humor that I might’ve missed as a child, and I became curious about what I’d missed in things I’d read before (many things, it turns out).

I haven’t seen all of the sequels to the film, though the first film in the franchise remains one of my favorite animated films. The follow-up Shrek 2 (2004) didn’t hold the same fascination for me as the initial film, but it still had some interesting moments. In both films, I quite enjoy Dragon, who I also find to be a bit of a perplexing character.

We really know very little about the Dragon. Her only name seems to be Dragon, and this doesn’t seem to be a problem, as we don’t see any other dragons in the story. We don’t know how or when Dragon came to live in the castle, but it is clear from the skeletons of knights she’s eaten and the hoard of gold and treasure that it has been some time since she moved in. We never see her family, aside from the children she later has, nor do we know how old she is.

Dragon is a large, magenta colored, European-style dragon. She doesn’t speak. Virtually all the other characters in the Shrek universe dragontalk, but Dragon communicates in grunts, roars, and body language. She is incredibly strong, and when motivated she can be incredibly deadly. This partially explains why Donkey is surprised when he realizes that Dragon is a girl—an assumption that Dragon is a male based on stereotypical traits.

Dragon is guarding a stairway castle, at the top of which is a room that is home to Princess Fiona, whose parents locked her away when she was a child. Donkey and Shrek are on the way to rescue Fiona and bring her back to be Lord Farquaad’s bride so that Shrek can have his swampland home back to himself. The two charge in and are separated; Donkey is pursued by Dragon to the top of cliff, where he is stranded.

After taking a closer look at Dragon, whose lips look a bit like they’re painted red with lipstick and her eyelashes, which seem long and fluttery, Donkey realizes that Dragon is, in fact, a girl dragon. He shifts from trying to run from her to trying to flirt with her—and it quickly starts working. Donkey is actively alarmed at her affection, but he is rescued by Shrek. Reportedly, original versions of the character had her drawn as more frumpy, very overweight, with a tuft of wispy hair atop her head.

Later, Donkey and Dragon meet again by the side of a brook, both of them sad and lonely. We don’t know when or why Dragon left the castle, but it’s clear she’s looking for a new home. Donkey approaches Dragon, and the two rather quickly seem to become a dragon2couple. At the end of the first film the two are clearly well on their way to getting married, and at the start of the second it is clear that they are married but a bit at odds.

In the second film, Dragon is largely absent. She’s only seen onscreen at the end of the film. At the beginning of the movie, Donkey is visiting Shrek, complaining about how grumpy Dragon has been recently. By film’s end, Dragon has shown up with a brood of Dragon/Donkey babies, indicating that perhaps the reason she has been grumpy and the reason she has been absent from the film is her pregnancy.

dragonbabiesDragon is not a bad monster. She is a lonely one. She is a neglected one. She doesn’t have a voice in the story, and she is often ushered off the stage and the paraded back rather than given her own set of motivations, her own story. The portrayal of her character in the films is puzzling and enlightening, especially in light of Fiona’s own monstrous status and character development.

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  1. I did miss Dragon in the second movie. She deserves more screen time. But the thing I always wondered, when she shows up at the end of the second movie with babies in tow, is the logistics of that tiny donkey & that giant dragon making said babies. But I’m weird like that (and I think too much about the randomest things).

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  2. The girly eyelash thing!!! It used to offend me so much… then this weekend, I picked up a picture book (Digger, Dozer, Dumper by Hope Vestergaard) where they actually alternated the gender of the trucks, and stuck some hefty eyelashes on some of the diggers… and instead of being annoyed, I was so glad they hadn’t just assumed, as so many do, that only boys read read books about trucks.

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    1. I think that’s a valid point. It’s unfortunate, though, that our way of signaling that a character is a girl is through long eyelashes and lipstick. I wish there were some less stereotypical, gender-reinforcing to deal with that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Agreed. I still try to avoid all the pajamas where the “girl” polar bears appear to be wearing massacre. I want my daughter to grow up thinking of makeup as a matter of personal choice, not something that just happens to all females!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah—I think makeup and big eyelashes on girl characters is just one of those things that is unfortunately so ubiquitous that there’s no hiding from it. Girl things aren’t bad at all. They’re good, sometimes positive steps; they just need to be more diverse.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting take! I have to watch this again now. It’s been so long, I’m not surprised this went over my head. *sigh* it sucks when you grow up and see how your favorite movies were also helping to reinforce gender stereotypes

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean! Shrek was one of the first films that I watched and got the adult jokes the first time, knowing the movie was meant for children, and it made me rethink some of the other movies I’d watched as a kid. lol

      And I think Shrek is one of those films that both subverts and reinforces stereotypes, and that’s part of what is interesting about it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved Dragon. I loved how it flipped the whole dragon trope on its head. Honestly, though, traditional fairy tales usually just have dragons as the Obstacle to be Overcome, and there is no real end to it except for the dragon to be slain. In that respect, I think Dragon actually got a lot more story than her predecessors!

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    1. I really like Dragon, too—I just wish I had more info about her! 🙂 I think you’re right about her getting more time than dragons usually do, and being a character rather than an obstacle, which is interesting in itself.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the lipstick and eyelashes are really indicative of the heteronormativity in the film—even though some gender tropes get turned on their heads (the female pursuing the male), it is within a boundary of certain rules about gender and sex. Dragon complicates everything about that movie. lol

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