A film review by Craig J. Koban June 18, 2010

SHREK FOREVER AFTER j
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2010, PG, 93 mins.

 

Mike Myers: Shrek / Cameron Diaz: Fiona / Eddie Murphy: Donkey / Antonia Banderas: Puss and Boots /  Walt Dohrn: Rumplestiltskin

 

Directed by Mike Mitchell / Written by Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke 

The central dilemma that Shrek faces in the fourth and the proposed last (yeah, I’ll believe that when I see it) SHREK film, FOREVER AFTER, is that he is suffering from a mid-life crisis.  

This clearly is the most logical narrative trajectory to take with the character.  Thinking back rather fondly to the first entry of the billion dollar grossing series from 2001, Shrek certainly has come quite a long way from a feared and demonized monster, living in a vermin-filled shack in Far, Far Away.  He rescued a princess in human form, made her fall in love with him, and assisted her with returning back to her greener, ogre visage.  Then he had to meet her parents, get hitched, and further became embroiled in a political conspiracy that threatened his line to the throne.  After all of that, both he and the love of his life eventually returned to the swamps and conceived ogre triplets. 

Not bad for a hulking, mud loving, and insect eating creature that once had no ambition other than to just loaf around as a lethargic slacker.   

Alas, in SHREK FOREVER AFTER big greenie is having serious issues with being a daddy and a husband.  Middle age complacency and a sense that he’s on a maddening downward spiral in the second half of his life is starting to settle in.  Gone are the days where the denizens of Far, Far Away greeted Shrek (Mike Myers) with paralyzing horror and hysteria.  Yes, he still loves his better half, Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and he certainly is a proud poppa to his three little ogres in training, but what Shrek is really starting to miss is…well…his past as a monster that inspired panic-stricken trepidation in everyone around him.  He just doesn’t feel like a “real ogre” anymore.  An early scene in the film is particularly soul crushing for the lime-hued brute: he and his wife are hosting a first birthday party for their children and Shrek is so beloved and appreciated as a celebrity figure that people want him to sign pitchforks and respond to requests to roar.  Sign pitchforks?   Shrek use to gleefully run away from those that chased him with them in hand. 

All of this culminates with Shrek becoming so frustrated and unhappy that he bashes his own birthday cake and flees the party.  Fiona, rightfully so, follows her husband to confront him about his feelings, but she is more than a bit taken back when he infers that he was happier before he rescued her way back in the events of the first SHREK film.  She chastises him for not seeing and appreciating what he has, but Shrek remains stubbornly apathetic.  She leaves him and returns to the party, whereas Shrek sulks over the prime of his good ol’ days.  What he yearns for is just one day where he could turn back time when everything was simpler for him. 

Fate steps in with the appearance of red-haired and diminutive Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), who has overheard Shrek’s woes at the party.  With the gnarly and persuasive charisma of a wall street broker, he offers Shrek a deal of a lifetime: for one 24-hour period he will give Shrek a day where none of his previous adventures have ever occurred.  Shrek seems initially a bit suspicious, but the allure of the deal becomea a prospect too tantalizing to turn down.  Without reading the very fine print (oops!), he signs the contract and is abruptly whisked away and back to a Far Far Away that is both familiar and completely foreign.  What once was a kingdom of shimmering and regal real estate now looks like a dilapidated inner city.  This worries Shrek, but when he realizes that everyone in the kingdom has no idea who he is and are scared out of their collective wits of him, he frolics with a childlike whimsy and energy.  This leads to one of the film’s finer and funnier montages of Shrek blusteringly going out of his way to frighten and intimidate people and – most importantly – relishing in being chased by people with pitchforks once again.  Yes! 

Things, however, snowball really fast for him.  He soon realizes that the fine print in his contract involves him not surviving when his day is up, not to mention that all of his friends, like Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas) and Donkey (Eddie Murphy) don’t know him in the slightest.  Moreover, Fiona is now a Xena-like warrior princess that is the leader of an underground band of rebel ogres that is more concerned with overcoming Rumplestiltskin’s new empire than anything else.  This complicate things very much for Shrek, because the only way he can save his soul and return back to his former life is to secure a “kiss of true love” with Fiona, who in the alternate reality has no desire to even speak with him.  

What’s an orgy to do? 

SHREK FOREVER AFTER’s resemblance to Frank Capra’s IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE is anything but subtle: both films involve the main character in an existentialist funk that are giving a glimpse into a world where they essentially have not existed in.  However, this hook is what gives this fourth film a much needed dosage of modest freshness.  We get to see Far Far Away through a vastly different lens and we also get to see how our favorite characters throughout the series have been completely re-imagined in their alternate reality.  Poor Donkey is now forced to pull carriages driven by Rumplestiltskin's witch-henchwomen, the Gingerbread Man is now a Gladiatorial nut job, and Puss In Boots has long since retired from swashbuckling and is now a grossly obese feline that can barely sit up or walk.  Pinocchio is still…uh…a very possessed and crazy wooden toy. 

The film certainly is not the subversive, laugh-a-minute satirical riot that the first two SHREK films were (those entries cheerfully mocked and ridiculed the fairytale and Disney film conventions and lampooned them with a feverish tenacity), but there are still chuckles to be had here.  Banderas’ Puss In Boots, even though obscenely fat, still tries to con people with his “big, sad eyes” routine that’s infectious cute and funny.  I also greatly enjoyed the aforementioned montage of Shrek re-aquainting himself with the sublime pleasures of being detested again in the alternate world.  There are two other moments that are howlers: the first involves the wily and crafty Pied Piper (under Rumplestiltskin's orders) using his unique music making abilities to cast a spell over Fiona’s orgy army that causes them all to break out into line dancing.  The second, which I will try not to spoil, involves the Gingerbread Man and Puss In Boots.  Warning to all men made of ginger: stay the hell away from gluttonous cats that are always hungry. 

I guess my main misgiving with this newest SHREK outing is that, ultimately; it feels too obligatory and mundane.  Essentially, SHREK FOREVER AFTER has the unfortunate status of being the second of two SHREK films too many.  Even though the arc of the new story is interesting, the film lacks a sense of frivolity and wondrous ambition…as well as a sense of wide-eyed freshness and originality.  I did like Rumplestiltskin as the chief, magic brooking baddie, who is voiced with a suitably annoying and conniving panache by Dohrn; he is the sort of icy, slimy, and weasel huckster with a battalion of Wizard of Oz-like witches that gives the film a sense of weirdness and tension.   

Yet, even with a good antagonist, too much of SHREK FOREVER AFTER has a been-there, done-that aura of redundancy.  The film certainly has a warmth and tenderness in the underlining storyline involving Shrek coming to grips with what matters most in life, but the overall magic seems kind of vacant here.  Again, I lauded the first two SHREK entries and – to a much lesser degree – the third one, but too much of the time SHREK FOREVER AFTER seems to be mechanically spinning its wheels.  Like many a third or fourth film in a series, this one just feels more exhausted than novel. 

The visuals and computer animation is evidently matchless here, but exacerbating the film’s wonderful aesthetic sheen is another in a recent series of botched 3D presentations.  Watching the fairly shoddy and sometimes blurry visuals here, I found myself wondering where the vibrant and boisterous color spectrum from the first three films went.  The 3D processing here leaves much to be desired – as most that I’ve seen lately – and considering that this is such a high pedigree release, I was surprised by how much inferior it looked when compared to HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, which was one of the finest 3D presentations of an animated film ever.  With a definite lack of three dimensionality to the images and sense of immersion within them, Dreamworks should be ashamed of the end results here, not to mention charging – sigh – an unnecessary surcharge for people wanting to see them.  Cheating movie goers like that is certainly something Rumplestiltskin would appreciate.

 

CrAiGeR's other

Reviews:

 

SHREK 2  (2004)  jjjj

 

SHREK THE THIRD (2007)  jjj 

And, for what it's worth, CrAiGeR's ranking of the SHREK films:

1.  SHREK 2  (2004)  jjjj

2.  SHREK  (2001)  jjj1/2

3.  SHREK THE THIRD (2007)  jjj

4.  SHREK FOREVER AFTER  (2010)  jj1/2

 

 

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