For adults, Shrek was most enjoyable due to its willingness to lampoon the mythology of Disney’s fairytales, and this aspect was given extra oomph by the fact that DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg was a former Disney employee. Unfortunately, as is the case with successful family-friendly blockbusters, sequels followed. Shrek 2 was enjoyable but unremarkable, while Shrek the Third was an appalling follow-up marred by strained humour and a dull sitcom vibe. Irony of all ironies, the Shrek franchise has become the type of pandering, predictable fairytale franchise that the first film parodied. 2010’s Shrek Forever After (a.k.a. Shrek: The Final Chapter, Shrek Goes Forth, or whatever DreamWorks is calling it now) is reportedly the final entry in the series, and that’s fortunate. While it’s a marked improvement over the woeful Shrek the Third, this fourth film feels forced and, more pertinently, utterly unnecessary. Shrek Forever After is a product of commerce rather than art, though those wanting to say farewell to the Jolly Green Ogre may find it to be a tolerable way to spend 80 minutes.
As the old adage goes, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best. It would seem those responsible for Shrek Forever After took this to heart, as the core storyline is lifted fromIt’s a Wonderful Life. Shrek (Myers) has adopted a life of domesticity; he’s a father, husband and beloved community icon. Shrek grows tired of this mundane routine, however, and begins pining for his bygone days as a feared monster without any commitments. Hearing the call is the wicked Rumpelstiltskin (Dohrn), who offers Shrek a shady contract which would provide him with 24 hours of his former life. In return, Shrek must pay with a day of his life. Inadvertently, the ogre pays the deal with the day he was born, meaning he never existed. In the alternate reality he enters, he never saved Fiona (Diaz), never befriended Donkey (Murphy), and never encountered Puss in Boots (Banderas), while Rumpelstiltskin has taken the throne of Far Far Away. Realising the gravity of his mistake, and confronted with being erased from existence in 24 hours, Shrek begins racing against the clock in the hope of reversing the contract.
The limp-wristed It’s a Wonderful Life premise is at least reasonably well executed. Director Mike Mitchell has provided as much fun as can be had with whatever energy remained in the characters, and there are some laughs to be had despite a few mundane lulls in pacing. These gags are not in the least bit memorable, but Shrek Forever After is at least much more enjoyable than Shrek the Third. The Gingerbread Man steals his scenes, and his limited appearances constitute some of the film’s biggest laughs, while new characters like the Pied Piper and a chimichangas-obsessed ogre liven up the proceedings from time to time. Really, there are some isolated moments that shine. As a whole, however, Shrek Forever After does not work, primarily because it fails to justify itself and it does not offer anything new. The whole reason the filmmakers played the alternate reality card is because there was no place for the story to go in the franchise’s reality, which must be a red flag. Moreover, 90% of this conclusion to the franchise is akin to a dream (seems a bit worthless, doesn’t it?), and the notion of Shrek growing bored of his life was explored in Shrek the Third.
The writers (Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke) simply lack the creative spark that made the first movie so successful, and newcomer Mike Mitchell lacks the deft directorial touch of Andrew Adamson (director of the first two Shrek movies). What started as an original, invigorating fairytale parody has simply transformed into something different; an adventure which has no reason to exist under the Shrek banner. What’s most unfortunate is that Shrek Forever After seems predominantly geared towards the little kids more than any other demographic, whereas the original Shrek appealed to young & old. While the idea of Shrek getting fed up with the domestic life raises familiar points for adults, from frame one it’s obvious where the film is headed: the well-worn “be grateful for what you have” lesson. And what of the animation? It’s as perfect as it needs to be to retain the intended atmosphere. This is also the first Shrek movie to be available in 3-D, but it’s a very perfunctory application. There’s nothing glaringly wrong with the 3-D effects, but there is nothing right with them either; the added value is minimal. It’s not worth the surcharge, as it does not enhance the experience in any effective or note-worthy way.
Naturally, there is plenty of time allotted to Fiona, Donkey and Puss in their alternate reality forms, the most amusing of which finds Puss in a state of kitty obesity. Antonio Banderas steals the show as Puss in Boots, of course, and provides a few big laughs. Eddie Murphy as Donkey, meanwhile, is the same buffoon he’s been since the first film, yet the character is still fun. Mike Myers is fine as Shrek, but he’s no longer a standout due to the scripting, while Cameron Diaz seemed to have seriously phoned in her performance as Fiona. Whether it’s due to fatigue, general disinterest or poor acting, Diaz sounds irretrievably bored. On the other hand, Walt Dohrn – a writer and storyboard artist – is a terrific Rumpelstiltskin.
Perhaps it was unreasonable to expect the Shrek sequels to recapture the magic of the original. After all, the filmmakers certainly never seemed to think it was a priority. Look, it’s not that Shrek Forever After is a bad movie; it just didn’t need to be made. The original Shrek had something to say and a story to tell, whereas this fourth movie feels like an excuse to revisit the franchise for extra bucks. Still, at least Shrek Forever Afterends the series on a better than expected note. It could have been far worse. And let’s face it, kids will most likely enjoy this feature because it’s good enough by their standards.