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.
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 talk, 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 couple. 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.
Dragon 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.