In 2001, Dreamwork's Academy Award-winning animated film Shrek was released in theaters and warmed the hearts of kids and adults alike. Not only did it have a beautiful story, but it was also very unique, as it brought together countless fairy tale creatures. This included an ogre, the gingerbread man, Snow White, and the three blind mice.
One character that was part of the fairy tale creature crowd was Donkey, the donkey that talked like Eddie Murphy. Donkey played a major role in the franchise, yet most people don't even know what "fairy tale" story he is from. Unlike characters like Puss in Boots and Prince Charming, Donkey is not from any regular fairy tale. There are some who believe he was based on the main character from the Brothers Grimm story, 'The Little Donkey'. However, in that story, it is revealed that the donkey was a man in disguise the whole time — and if Donkey is secretly human, he's yet to reveal it! The first talking donkey didn't actually appear in a fairytale — it appeared in the Bible!
Is Donkey a Biblical Figure?!
To some, the idea of Shrek including a Biblical figure isn't surprising. Shrek took a lot of risks for a kids movie. The name of the lead villain, Lord Farquaad, was made to sound as close to "Lord F*ckwad" as possible without losing its PG rating. Clearly, the minds behind Shrek liked taking risks and breaking boundaries for a kids movie, and Donkey was just another way for them to do it.
You are probably asking yourself, how could Donkey be from the Bible? While it's true that a talking Donkey did not have as large of a Biblical role as people like Moses, Jesus or Abraham, there was still a talking donkey that briefly appeared at one point in the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible.
In the Book of Numbers, Balaam whips his donkey, so God opens the donkey's mouth to talk to Balaam. Check it out below:
Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.” Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. - Num. 22:28-31
Is Donkey Balaam's Donkey?
Now, there are a few slight differences between Balaam's donkey and Donkey from Shrek. First, Balaam's donkey is female, whereas Donkey from Shrek is male, seeing as he inexplicably mated with a female dragon. Second, Balaam's donkey talked because God opened her mouth and spoke through her, whereas Donkey from Shrek is able to talk on his own.
Like most of the characters in Shrek, Donkey is just an exaggeration of the source material. It's quite interesting, though, to realize that this character that we had believed to have originated in Shrek may actually have stemmed from the Bible.
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If Donkey was Balaam's donkey, was he supposed to note the absurdity of that one specific "fable" from the Bible, or was he supposed to mock the Bible altogether? If Shrek was intentionally making a jab at religions like Christianity and Judaism, it's surprising how much success the franchise has received.
Unfortunately, it's impossible to know if the character was supposed to be a jab at the one part of the Bible, as the filmmakers have yet to say anything about the intentions they had when making Donkey. Regardless, it's interesting to note the unique origins of one of our favorite Shrek characters. On-screen, the character was hilarious and really didn't make any jabs at the Bible, so it seems the filmmakers did not create Donkey with anti-religious intentions — they may have just used the Bible as a source for his origin, and then built the character from there.
Does this change your opinion of Shrek? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!