If you remember, the original was an apparently traditional fairy tale that made fun of traditional fairy tales but ended up being a traditional fairy tale. A hero rescuing a maiden from a tower protected by a dragon, true love’s kiss redeeming the maiden. And the twist was that the maiden who was an ogre by night and a blonde human by day, was actually an ogre as her true self. Some Jungian analysis about the self etc.
But in this fourth installment it seems the storytellers went back to the original spirit. In this tale, Shrek has now been married with Fiona and has cute little triplet ogres and they are living happily in their village. But Shrek has a mid-life crisis and pines over the loss of his youthful free spirited ogre life of scaring people and being a basically selfish rogue. All the responsibility has taken the fun out of his life and he makes a deal with an evil Rumplestiltskin to have one day as his old single self in exchange for one day that Rumple picks out of Shrek’s life. Well, after Shrek has his fun, he discovers that Rumple has picked Shrek’s birth date as the one day he gets. So Shrek is never born and Shrek is now trapped in a world where he didn’t exist to free Fiona from her tower and the evil Rumple has taken over building his exploitative kingdom in place of the good king and queen. Shrek now realizes what a mistake he has made and tries to find Fiona, only to discover that, because Shrek never rescued her, she had to rescue herself and has now become a hardened warrior leader of the ogres who are oppressed by the kingdom. So now Shrek has to win Fiona’s true love kiss again in order to change the world. Only this time, she doesn’t need him. She’s been liberated and doesn’t need a man to rescue her.
This is a tale of traditional values that seems to reinforce the need for strong male leadership in a love relationship. Yes, Shrek and Fiona go on a journey together, so it’s not patriarchal abuse, but rather a need for Shrek to take the lead and even responsibility in his life and love. And Fiona is not fulfilled as a lone warrior leader until she discovers love with Shrek. When Shrek gets back to his real world, he has a renewed appreciation and treasure of his family that rejects the juvenile freedom of his single past. It’s a classic tale of It’s a Wonderful Life, in embracing maturity and responsibility over the carefree selfishness of youth, as well as traditional role models for male and female relationships in love and marriage. In Shrek Forever After, A man needs to lead with a woman who admires him, and a woman needs a man to admire.