‘Shrek Forever After’
Starring the voices of: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, Jon Hamm, John Cleese
Rated: PG for mild action, some rude humor and brief language
Running time: 93 minutes
Bottomline: A fair, fond farewell to the big ogre
"Shrek Forever After" is the least necessary sequel of 2010. And yes, that includes "Piranha 3D" (releasing in August).
The sarcastic humor punctuated with nonstop pop culture references in the original "Shrek" fit the mood of summer 2001, but that cynical humor now seems tired. "Shrek the Third" did decent business but was a ho-hum movie — proof the franchise had run its course.
So naturally, Dreamworks made another sequel. Why quit when you can crassly cash in one more time?
Given all that, the most surprising thing about "Shrek Forever After" is that it’s not so bad. This will be, according to Dreamworks, the final Shrek, and it plays like a loving goodbye to a character who has meant a lot to the company and to many fans for almost a decade.
Shrek (Mike Myers) became a domesticated ogre in the last film, and he’s not handling it well. The routine of feeding and changing three babies keeps him and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) busy, while Donkey (Eddie Murphy), Puss (Antonio Banderas) and other friends drop by daily.
What should be blissful becomes a grind for Shrek. We parents relate, no?
Shrek also must deal with annoying tourists making stops outside his home. Meanwhile, Shrek misses scaring villagers and all the other, natural ogre pastimes.
During an expertly done montage, Shrek goes from restless to full-on blow up. He storms out of the kids’ first birthday party, and the devious Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dorhn, who also directs) capitalizes on his discontent and tricks Shrek into making a deal.
Shrek gets to be a real ogre for one day, and Rumpelstiltskin gets a day in exchange.
Seems fair, but the fine print in Rumpelstiltskin’s contract allows him to go back and make it so Shrek was never born. Thus, Shrek glimpses his loved ones’ lives if he had never existed, and he must set aright all the changes Rumpel has wrought.
In other words, imagine if Jimmy Stewart in "A Wonderful Life" were an ogre. The story isn’t original, but it works.
However, it doesn’t include many jokes. This Shrek shows more heart than anything else, inspiring more "Aw’s" than "Ha’s." It doesn’t make us laugh much, but at least it doesn’t make us groan like the others.
The Shrek series has developed in an interesting way. The original cynically took direct aim at Disney. They turned as many of the Mouse House’s saccharine fairy tales on their big round ears as possible.
Few critics or viewers cried foul at the time, which signalled that many people had grown tired of the Disney style. And let’s face it, Disney has done plenty of things off screen to make itself an easy target.
But everybody made fun of Disney throughout the Aughts — including Disney (see "Enchanted") — and now it’s an old joke. Parodying the latest pop hit has also been run into the ground.
The "Shrek Forever After" writers are aware of how times have changed, because they chucked most of the blatant attacks on Disney and the pop culture jokes (Donkey does still sing a few well-chosen tunes). And on fairy tales in general, for that matter.
Whereas the first film undermines the myth of a magical kiss (they turned into ogres when it finally did happen), "Shrek Forever After" believes very much in true love, family and the power of a kiss.
Dreamworks isn’t completely innocent of cashing in, though. None of the previous Shreks were in 3D, but this one is being released in 2D, 3D and 3D Imax.
The 3D format adds nothing. They are obviously, shamelessly, milking the trend for the premium ticket price. Do not aid and abet Dreamworks by shelling out cash for 3D tickets. Besides, that would only make it more likely you’ll leave disappointed.
"Shrek Forever After" will please fans of the series, but that’s about it. If you’ve followed the franchise, go and enjoy saying your goodbyes.
Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.