The 2001 animated film Shrek is a fractured fairy tale that sees the titular ogre (Mike Myers), along with his sidekick Donkey (Eddie Murphy), rescue Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) against the evil Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). Along the way, many of the characters themselves learn important, valuable lessons of the need to communicate one's feelings, the freedom to make one's own decisions in life, and the value of individuality. In the meantime, these messages provide a positive outlook for young children in society, and the fact that the film reverses a lot of things told to them in fairy tales allows children to learn that people and situations need to be looked at in a more realistic way than shown in those stories.
One of the primary struggles that the main character, Shrek, has throughout the film is the inability to express his emotions and feelings. At first, he hides this with Donkey by noting that "there's a lot more to ogres than people thinkExample uh ogres are like onions!" Using this confusing metaphor that Donkey is not able to really understand, Shrek attempts to pass off playing emotions close to the chest as 'having a lot under the surface.' However, this turns out to nearly cost him the love of his life, and almost resigns him to a lifetime of isolation in his swamp. By showing Shrek getting over his shyness and isolation, the film teaches children that they, too, can be honest with themselves and to each other, and that people are happier that way.
Princess Fiona, who is revealed later to also be an ogre, has a problem dealing with her physical unattractiveness and how it does not befit her position. "I'm a princess! And this is not how a princess is supposed to look!" Despite being shown to be headstrong and assertive, this strength goes away when she loses hear beauty; it takes Shrek's love and acceptance to make her feel happy with herself. Unlike Beauty and the Beast, where love makes the Beast outwardly beautiful, Fiona's ultimate victory is remaining an ogre and being with Shrek, fully accepting who she is - this creates a positive message of acceptance in children and society.
The character of Donkey provides great messages to those who watch Shrek about loyalty, friendship, and the need to accept others for who they are; unlike everyone else, who rejected Shrek because of his appearance, Donkey cannot get enough of him. Furthermore, Donkey's ability to speak whatever was on his mind is a direct contrast to Shrek, showing the value of being open and honest with people; at one point, he even tells Shrek "donkeys don't have layers. We wear our fear right there on our sleeves." This is presented as a good thing, and it shows Shrek that it is okay to feel things.
Shrek provides some incredible insights that can affect children's development in a positive way; children learn that everyone is special and unique, and physical appearance is not a prerequisite for being a good and valued person. Furthermore, open and honest communication is shown to resolve many conflicts in the film, showing the importance of being yourself and not learning to judge others by appearance.
Adamson, Andrew and Vicky Jenson (dirs.) Shrek. Perf. Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz. DreamWorks Animation, 2001. Film.
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