Gender Roles – Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Women
Gender Roles - Men: 4 Stars
Shrek is nothing like the handsome and debonair prince charmings of similar fairy tales. He is calloused, mean and ugly and has no interest in making friends or falling in love. But in time, Shrek reluctantly admits how much it hurts him when people call him ugly and stupid, and how they assume that he is mean and terrible based on the way he looks. It becomes obvious that his aggressive and bullish nature is a way of covering up his feelings of loneliness and hurt. Shrek shows us that men also suffer from rejection based on their appearances, and that even tough guys and loners need friends and support.
Self Esteem and Body Image: 4 Stars (Spoilers)
Princess Fiona appears to have a sturdy sense of self-esteem, but only as long as she remains human and beautiful. Every evening she makes sure to slip away before the sun sets, hiding her secret transformation from Shrek and Donkey. Princess Fiona’s unusual curse explains why she’s in such a rush to find and marry her one true love. It’s not so much that she’s full of silly romantic ideas. She simply wants the spell to be broken so she doesn’t have to be afraid of her own body anymore.
In time, Fiona makes the decision to reveal her true self to Shrek. She is prepared to sacrifice her chance at becoming permanently human in exchange for the comfort of being with someone who isn’t afraid or ashamed of her ugliness. An unfortunate miscommunication prevents her from actually revealing herself to Shrek, but for a brief moment, she isn’t ashamed of her body and is willing to accept herself as she is. It takes a rushed, unhappy wedding and a heartfelt confession from Shrek for her to finally get the message, but she does eventually come to understand that love is stronger than beauty.
Gender Roles - Women: 2 Stars
Princess Fiona has been trapped in a tower with a fire-breathing dragon for an unknown number of years. But despite her long imprisonment, she is more interested in the romance of being rescued than she is in finally being free. She wants nothing more than to meet and marry her one true love, and doesn’t seem to care who he is or what he looks like. While Princess Fiona initially appears to be another hopeless, love-struck princess, the film portrays her in a way that reveals the absurdity of pinning all of one’s hopes and dreams on the magical kiss of a stranger. And as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Fiona is keeping a secret, and has a far more compelling reason than simple girlish fantasies to seek out her one true love.
Plot: 2 Stars (Spoilers)
Princess Fiona isn’t an incredibly strong or empowered character. She is locked away in a tower for most of her life, and once she is freed, she is still controlled by an ugly spell that transforms her into an ogre after sunset. She is forceful enough to get her way in certain situations, but her only motivation is to marry a complete stranger who may be the key to breaking her curse.
At one point, Fiona is fierce enough to defend herself and her new friends from an assault by Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men, but the scene is a little awkward and out of character. If Princess Fiona had this sort of skill and fire to her all along, it’s a wonder that she never bothered to free herself from the castle and the fire-breathing dragon. Unfortunately, this is the sort of cheap scene that filmmakers tend to add to children’s stories instead of creating truly strong and courageous female heroes. But one episode of improbable self-defense isn’t enough to override a film full of passivity and insecurity.
Character Development: 3 Stars
Because this is Shrek’s story, we don’t learn much about Princess Fiona - she doesn’t even appear until about 30 minutes into the film. We know nothing about who she was before she was cursed with a witch’s spell, or how she spent her days locked in a tower waiting to be freed. It is intriguing, however, that she is aware of the curse she’s under and the curious solution to breaking the spell. In fact, it is this knowledge that makes her so frightened and ashamed of her appearance and puts her in such a terrible rush to find true love.
It’s clear that Princess Fiona doesn’t quite understand the concept of true love. She doesn't seem to realize that her one true love should see past her hideous transformation and love her regardless. Her awakening to what true love really means might have been a more empowering moment had the film taken more time to explore her character. But the ending is really more about Shrek finding love than Fiona. The film as a whole is more about Shrek learning to let people into his life, than it is about Fiona coming to accept herself as an ogre.
Love: 3 Stars (Spoilers)
Shrek puts a unique spin on the traditional “Beauty and the Beast” tale in the sense that it is the princess who is under a loathsome curse, making her appear monstrous after sunset. Despite this twist, however, it is still about a beautiful woman falling in love with an ogre. Shrek doesn’t see Princess Fiona in her monstrous form until the very end, and even then, she is no more monstrous than he is. Princess Fiona, on the other hand, is willing to give up her beauty and her humanity for an unsightly ogre, based on only a few days of walking through the woods together. While Shrek plays with the idea of a fairy tale in which women too can find love despite their appearances, Shrek doesn’t quite tell that story. At the very least however, it does show us that everyone, no matter who they are or what they look like, is deserving of love and capable of finding it.