Whenever a movie series proclaims the latest installment is the last, it rarely ever is. The reason being is that the proclamation is just a cheap trick to get more viewers after a disastrous sequel. Dreamworks fully knows this, digging the marketing tool out from the grave for their sacred Shrek series. After the third installment was met with apathy (I hated it just as much as everybody else did), the heads at Dreamworks were worried. Sure, it still raked in a ton of dough. But, the bad word of mouth would sour future investors if, and when, a fourth movie was made. They had to think quick and fast, before their precious Shrek drifted away from then.
Enter Shrek Forever After, also going by the name Shrek: The Final Chapter (whenever the title includes the word final, it almost never is), the latest chapter in the lucrative Shrek series. Not only does it have the distinction of supposedly being the last one, Dreamworks also tacks on the latest resurrected fad, 3D (something in which I’m not a big fan of). Not only do they have to use the “final installment” excuse to hopefully gain customers, they have to add another dimension as well. Pretty shameful, if you ask me. Surprisingly, the film isn’t that bad. In parts, it’s quite decent.
The story revolves around two people (or on person and an ogre) with a chip on their shoulder(s). For Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), his chance of ruling Far Far Away vanished right in front of his eyes when Shrek saves Fiona from the castle (yes, the latest sequel starts off once again with the old “saving Fiona” spiel). He was moments away from having Fiona’s parents, the King (John Cleese) and Queen (Julie Andrews), sign a contract in which they would give him full custody of Far Far Away in return for their imprisoned daughter. Unbeknownst to them, it’s all a trick. They sign, the fine print makes them disappear, leaves Fiona still waiting in the castle for Mr. Right and gives Rumpelstiltskin control of Far Far Away. When Shrek inadvertently ruins his plans, he leaves the rest of his life penniless with a vengeance.
In the present day, Shrek (Mike Myers) appears to be living the good life. He has a loving wife, a happy family and the best friends you could ask for. However, every day seems to be the same old routine. Wake up via the children, take care of the children, pander to his fans, hang out with his friends (which we all know too much of Donkey (Eddie Murphy) is a bad thing) and re-tell the story of how he and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) met over and over and over again. He has no time to himself, which slowly drives him mad. At his son’s first birthday party, he finally snaps. He rushes out and runs away from it all, to get some much needed peace and quiet.
Enter Rumpelstiltskin. After overhearing Shrek and Fiona arguing, he tricks Shrek into signing a contract in which, for just one day, he can have his old life back. Everybody fears him, nobody bothers him and he has all the time in the world to himself. He just has to give up one day from his life in order to gain this one. He randomly gives away one from his childhood. At first, every thing seems fine and dandy. Everybody fears him, nobody bothers with him and he’s happier than he’s ever been. What he doesn’t know is that the day he signed away was the day of his birth.
After being captured by witches, he is taken to Rumpelstiltskin (who now rules Far Far Away since Shrek was never there to prevent the King and Queen from signing the contract). He informs him that Fiona is an outlaw and that nobody knows who he is. Worst of all, he has only twenty-four hours until he disappears forever. Thanks to a reluctant Donkey, he finds the exit clause in the contract. True love’s kiss will reverse the spell and send everything back to normal. Along with Donkey and a now-fattened Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), he sets out to find Fiona and set things right.
Unlike in Shrek the Third, the writers actually attempted to create a story here. Instead of mixing pop culture with old fairy tales, putting it into auto-pilot and expecting laughs to emerge, they put time and effort into creating an unoriginal, but fresh story. Having Shrek try to convince everybody he’s not crazy does provide some good laughs. For instance, the scene where he finally finds Fiona, he informs her of what happened in hilarious fashion, which garners him a weird reaction, making him look like a nut. In another good scene, he tries to convince Donkey that he can trust him by singing him a song about friendship. Once again, he is met with a befuddled reaction, making him come off as crazy.
Where the movie truly shines is in Rumpelstiltskin, voiced wonderfully by Dreamworks’ head animator and screenwriter, Walt Dohrn. Usually just lending his voice to minor characters (which he also does here, including a priest and the Krekraw Ogre), he gets promoted to lead villain. He doesn’t let anybody down, as he easily steals the show. He gives the perfect whiny pitch and demeanor to Rumpel that you can’t help but love. With his mimicking of his defenseless foes to his child-like glee when he gets what he wants, he brought a huge smile to my face any time he appeared on screen. Without him, I don’t think this film would have worked.
That’s not to say he provides the only laughs in the film. As per usual, Donkey delivers his own gut-busting lines, though quite a few of them do fall flat on their face (such as when he sticks eyeballs in his nostrils). Shrek’s bewilderment that nobody knows who he is also captures a few chuckles (such as in the scenes noted a few paragraphs earlier). What doesn’t deliver laughs this time around is Puss in Boots, who was one of the only characters to get a laugh out of me in the wretched third film. He doesn’t get to deliver any good lines this time around, instead being fattened up for sight gags that don’t work. I couldn’t find the humor in a fat cat slowly clawing his way down a kitty climber or fumbling as he tries to run along and keep up with everybody else’s pace. To me, it was a weak sight gag that was done before, which wasn’t that funny in the first place.
With those laughs comes two major downfalls. Shrek and Fiona’s rekindling love seems forced and contrived, not giving the audience any true reason to root for them. It doesn’t help that you can figure out the ending just by watching the trailer (to be fair, this is a family film, which are almost always predictable). What saddened me most were the anemic 3D visuals. None of them were eye-popping of interesting in the least. Just cheap sight gags that were done before (that seems to be a recurring theme in this movie). Sure, I may not be a fan of 3D. But, I did find the 3D visuals in Avatar to be fun and stunning. So why couldn’t Shrek Forever After deliver on their 3D effects?
It may have it’s fair share of problems, but Shrek Forever After isn’t all bad. There are enough laughs to keep you attentive, even if there are dead spots. Helping out the most is the wildly entertaining Rumpelstiltskin. I know Walt Dohrn’s regular job isn’t voice acting, but after seeing him work his magic here, I hope he reconsiders his job status and does more voice work for future Dreamworks pictures. I know there is a Puss in Boots spin-off in the works (which I think Dreamworks is hoping will replace the Shrek series). I, for one, would rather see a Rumpelstiltskin movie.