Shrek Forever After
Director : Mike Mitchell
Screenplay : Josh Klausner & Darren Lemke
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2010
In the great and ever-expanding pantheon of unnecessary sequels, Shrek Forever After deserves a special place, especially since the previous three films had formed a nicely self-contained arc of character development in which the perpetually grumpy green ogre of the title evolved from a self-centered grouch into a responsibly family-oriented grouch. For all their gross body jokes and satirical jabs at consumer and pop culture, the films as a whole traced a path of family-values conservatism that was hindered by nothing more than the series’ steady devolution of quality and originality (2001’s Shrek was the anti-Pixar, a shot of giddy, irreverent, whacked-out satire that hasn’t lost its bite). Thus, it would seem that everything was neatly tied up and finalized in 2008’s Shrek the Third, but think again.
In Shrek Forever After, writers Josh Klausner (Date Night) and Darren Lemke and director Mike Mitchell (Sky High) disguise their recycling of the previous entry’s theme--specifically Shrek’s difficulty in letting go of his past self and embracing marriage and fatherhood--by expanding it. Once again voiced with a cranky Scottish brogue by Mike Myers, Shrek has settled down into domesticity, the cyclical nature of which is depicted via the series’ signature narrative device: a montage scored to a pop tune. Here it works better than in previous incarnations in emphasizing the repetitiveness of Shrek’s life with his sweet-natured princess-turned-ogre wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz), their three little ogre children, and his best friends Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), who show up at the same time every week for play dates and dinner parties involving the same stories being told ad nauseum. Everyone is into it but Shrek, who finally blows a gasket at a birthday party and all but tells Fiona that he wishes he had never rescued her from that castle back in the first movie.
Enter the wily and diminutive Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn, best known as a writer for Dexter’s Laboratory and SpongeBob SquarePants), who, as far as I can tell, is the only immediately recognizable fairy tale character who has yet to be given the Shrek treatment. Still steaming about how Shrek unknowingly upended his attempt to steal the kingdom of Far Far Away, he takes advantage of the big green guy’s bad attitude about his current life by offering him a chance to live a day free from it, which requires Shrek to give up a previous day in his life. Desperate to roar and rage and frighten villagers again, Shrek declines to read the fine print on the contract (Rumpel’s specialty) and gives up the day he was born, which means that, after his day of freedom, he will cease to exist. Thus trapped in an alternate universe in which he never existed to rescue Fiona, befriend Donkey, save the kingdom, and so forth, Shrek is forced to come to grips with just how good he had it, a life he can salvage only if he can get Fiona, now a fierce warrior leading a band of rebel ogres against Rumpelstiltskin’s despotic rule of Far Far Away, to fall in love with him again.
For what it’s worth, Shrek Forever After is a slight step above Shrek the Third, which seemed even more tired and derivative. Perhaps it is because this fourth installment goes for a slightly gentler form of cracked fairy tale comedy, emphasizing character relationships over easy satirical jabs and pop culture reference (there is still plenty of that to be had, but it seems less intrusive and insistent). The movie still doesn’t work all that well, primarily because it doesn’t do anything the previous installments hadn’t already done for better or for worse. The story’s entire premise--that Shrek doesn’t know what he had until he lost it--is a cliché worthy of a bad rock ballad (didn’t Cinderella have a shrieking ’80s power anthem on this theme?), and it would work better in Shrek Forever After if it hadn’t essentially already been explored in Shrek the Third. As always, the production is top-notch, with beautifully detailed animation that makes the 3-D images pop (especially during a whirlybird action sequence on flying brooms that seems purposefully designed to be replicated as a video game level) even when the story doesn’t, but at this point that is hardly enough to justify revisiting these characters yet again.
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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