Five Life Lessons We Can Learn from Shrek

Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” He talks about the highs and unsettling lows of parenthood while always being entertaining and engaging in the process. Author of the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt,” Joe is working on releasing a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be emailed at or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.

It’s easy enough to take a kid’s movie at face value. Typically, “does this safely entertain my child and keep him out of trouble for a while?” is the vital question we need to answer before dropping the DVD into the player.  But it doesn’t hurt to think a little deeper about what our children are actually learning from these movies that they watch, then watch again, then again until you can quote the movie yourself (whether you like it or not). So, with that in mind, I recently did this with my sons’ perennial favorite, the Shrek series. And I say the series because literally anything that includes the green ogre somewhere keeps them enthralled. Shrek 1-4, Shrek the Halls Christmas special, a cameo on Game of Thrones, you name it. They love it. So anyway, here are the lessons it reinforces for me.

  • Your best friend doesn’t mirror you, they balance you

As evidenced by the seemingly off-kilter friendship between the hot-tempered Shrek and the gleeful Donkey, most of us will come to realize that our best friend is someone who not only accepts us for our faults, but brings something to the table that we need. Donkey reminds Shrek to look on the bright side of life, while Shrek provides Donkey the sense of family and companionship he’d always craved. Win-win.

  • You and your spouse must accept each other at your “ugliest”

Potentially my favorite lesson from the Shrek movies. I grew up used to “fairytale” endings like in “The Little Mermaid” or “Beauty and the Beast” where the beautiful girl ends up with the beautiful, perfect man. In “Shrek,” it’s the exact opposite. And it’s far more realistic. Shrek and Fiona ultimately find beauty in each other’s physical imperfections, so much so that Fiona ends Shrek 2 with the line, “I want the ogre I fell in love with,” opting to keep Shrek as he is, while being given the option of keeping him “handsome.” It sends a message to children that, when choosing a partner, it’s never, ever all about looks. And if you have to change who are you completely, you’re with the wrong person.

  • If you want the prize, do the work

The extremely unlikeable Lord Farquaad tries getting others to do his work for him by holding a tournament to determine who will save Fiona from the castle, naturally so he can marry the princess and become king. When Shrek steps in, does the dirty work and falls in love with that princess, we are reminded once again that there are no shortcuts (pardon the pun) to success (or love).

  • You will sacrifice some of yourself when you have a family (but it’s worth it)

The Shrek series, while giving parents plenty of reasons to chuckle with mature jokes or references that sail over our kids’ heads, has a way of entertaining children while also reminding adults of what’s important in life. In “Shrek Forever After,” the final installment of the series, Shrek is bitter about not being the intimidating monster he used to be before he’d fallen in love and started a family. But after striking a deal with Rumpelstiltskin, he learns the hard way that what’s in front of you is more important than what’s behind.

  • Sometimes, we don’t even know what’s best for our own kids

In Shrek 2, The King and Queen of Far, Far Away  (aka Fiona’s parents) meet Shrek for the first time, and it’s the typical “in-laws aren’t thrilled with the dud their daughter has brought home” type of comedy. The Queen is much more tolerant of her daughter’s unexpected ogre husband, but the King is disgusted by him, insulting him at every turn. And it’s all based on the fact that his daughter didn’t follow the path that he had laid out for her. To be fair, he truly did think that locking her in a dragon-guarded castle until Prince Charming rescued her was for her own good. And that should serve as a really extreme euphemism for how we treat our own kids. While we will always want to protect them, sooner or later we need to accept that they’re old enough to make their own decisions. And ultimately, they know what will make them happy better than we do. I don’t expect this to be easy.

My 4-year-old, Antonio, with his buddy on the Hollywood Walk of Fame


Do any of you notice lessons in movies your kids watch that you hope stick with them? Tell me about them in the comments section below! And while you’re at it, check out my appearance on last week’s HuffPost Live, discussing parenting mistakes and my article on Disney’s first same-sex couple!

As always, thanks for reading.

Check out the 50 Best Movies for Kids!

Parenting Style: Positive Parenting
Parenting Style: Positive Parenting
Parenting Style: Positive Parenting

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