Shrek Forever After
Directed by: Mike Mitchell
Movie Review by James Berardinelli
When the first Shrek made its theatrical debut in 2001, it came accompanied by expectations normally reserved for sequels with impressive pedigrees. Unlike any previous animated endeavor, it was a magically irreverent experience whose appeal crossed age and gender barriers. Unfortunately, as is often the case with family-friendly blockbusters, it became the flagship of a merchandising fleet. Sequels followed. Shrek 2 was enjoyable but unspectacular and Shrek 3 seemed to be going through the motions. The fourth Shrek, called Shrek Forever After, is being touted as "the final chapter," and that's unsurprising. The goose's eggs have gone from gold to silver to clad. There's so little buzz about this movie that even those with bee-sting allergies need not be concerned. Still, even though Shrek Forever After is obligatory and unnecessary, it's better than Shrek 3 and it's likely that most who attend as a way of saying goodbye to the Jolly Green Ogre will not find themselves wishing they had sought out a more profitable way of spending 90-odd minutes.
It has been said that if you're going to steal, steal from the best, and the filmmakers responsible for Shrek Forever After have taken this advice to heart. The core storyline has been lifted from It's a Wonderful Life, albeit with the character of Clarence turned nastier than Mr. Potter. Shrek (voice of Mike Myers) is provided with a chance to see life flash before his eyes as it might have been had he never been born. He gets into the situation because he's upset with the mundane day-to-day routine of being an ogre who doesn't scare anyone. For one day, he wants the world to go back to a time when everything makes sense. The impish Rumplestiltskin (Walt Dohn) overhears Shrek's wish and offers to grant it. Shrek doesn't read the small print in the contract he signs and soon discovers that his existence is in danger. Fortune unites him with Donkey (Eddie Murphy), who is more than a little skeptical of Shrek's hard-to-swallow tale. To get his old life back, Shrek has to fulfill an escape clause in the contract, which requires him to find his wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and share a kiss of true love with her. There are a few problems. First, in this reality, Fiona is a warrior queen who has long since stopped believing in things like "true love." Second, Shrek fails to make a positive impression during their initial encounter. Finally, Rumplestiltskin also knows about the escape clause and is determined not to let Shrek and Fiona lock lips.
As It's a Wonderful Life knock-offs go, this one isn't half-bad. There's always a fascination with seeing a familiar world with recognizable characters tweaked in unexpected ways. That's one reason the 2009 Star Trek worked so well. Unfortunately, for those hoping the final Shrek would find its way back to the wellspring of pure entertainment that marked the original, it doesn't happen. In fact, the whole reason Shrek Forever After has to play the alternate reality card is because there is no place for the story to go in the "real" world. Shrek is comfortably married with children and he's leading a depressingly ordinary life.
The animation is eye catching and rich in detail but it hasn't advanced much from what graced screens in 2001. The original Shrek was widely praised for its look and apparently the goal with the sequels was not to deviate much. Despite the passage of ten years, Shrek Forever After doesn't boast a radically different style or appearance than that of Shrek, Shrek 2 or Shrek 3. It is available in 3-D, but this is one of the most uninspired and perfunctory applications of 3-D I can remember. There's nothing glaringly wrong with the 3-D version. but there's nothing right with it, either; the value added is minimal. The moments were few and far between when something other than the sensation of wearing uncomfortable glasses emphasized the 3-D aspect. So why pay the surcharge?
Although Shrek Forever After is not as funny or as impudent is its great-grandparent, some of its comedic jabs land solid blows to the funny bone. The best humor relates to Puss and Boots (Antonio Banderas), the flamboyant cat with the big, sad eyes. In the alternate reality, Puss has grown fat and flabby, and the screenplay gets plenty of mileage from this situation. Sadly, the two villains (Rumplestiltskin and his hired henchman, The Pied Piper) are lacking when it comes to generating guffaws. Rumplestiltskin is a diluted Lord Farquaad.
Even though this is officially the last Shrek movie, there's no guarantee the character is retiring. In fact, a spin-off focused on Puss in Boots is already in the work, ensuring a continuation of the incredibly profitable franchise in at least some form. Is Puss a more interesting character than Shrek? At this point, yes, but who knows in another three years? One could successfully argue that Shrek Forever After is three Shreks too many. At least the filmmakers have allowed Shrek to depart on a strong note rather than slinking away into his swamp. There might not be much reason for excitement concerning Shrek Forever After, but neither is there anything to dread. It's a perfectly acceptable family-friendly summer sequel, which is likely all the filmmakers hoped for.