Shrek Forever After
Directed by Mike Mitchell
Shrek's fourth feature is fairly decent entertainment, but when all is said and done, it's time to hope Shrek lives happily ever after—someplace else.
True Love's Bliss?
Shrek's turned into a curmudgeon, well a curmudgeon is relative given he's an ogre. Domestic life has worn down his ogre roar to a wimper. His life is all about routine: his friends, Donkey and Puss in Boots, come over for the same bit of revelry; his three ogrelings poop, burp, and fart with such regularity, clocks could be set by their bowels; and Shrek's own constitutional regularity is greeted by a "Star Tours" celebrity bus tour day after day.
He's not the ogre he used to be and he misses the good ol' days when people feared him, the days before Fiona. Back before he had to worry about his triplets and the terrible twos.
Enter Rumpelstiltskin. The crafty little runt's developed quite a reputation as Far Far Away's biggest shyster.
Signing Rumpel's standard "ogre for a day" contract, Shrek revels in the opportunity to once again terrorize the villagers. The Carpenters' Top of the World serves as the theme music while Shrek runs amok; it's a nice touch of Shrekian wit.
When Shrek sees posters once again offering a reward for his capture, he quips, "It's nice to be wanted again." But so is Fiona. In signing away his own birthday, Shrek's toppled the world as he knew it.
In some respects, Shrek Forever After is a marginal improvement over Shrek the Third. The humor works a little better and the machinery hums along nicely. But the series has most definitely run its course. The emphasis is no longer on clever fairy tale riffing. This time, it's all about a fairly standard overarching story: mean green ogre mellows, yearns for the days when he was feared, then realizes he had everything he ever wanted and lost it all.
That said, the basic premise opens the door to some pretty cool ideas that make this fourth, and allegedly final, movie enjoyable.
For one, Fiona's story gets a total overhaul. Once a damsel in distress, she freed herself and became a female ogre version of William Wallace, valiantly fighting for her fellow ogres' freedom from Rumpelstiltskin's evil, dictatorial rule.
As any dictator will attest, having an army of dedicated soldiers is a must. For Rumpel, those soldiers are found in a clan of witches. And, as any dictator will attest, it's always nice when those soldiers can be cast into a paralyzing fear when confronted with a glass of water.
Shrek's deal with Rumpel relegates Donkey to cart-pulling duty and Puss in Boots' posh, pampered lifestyle has turned him into a tubby cat.
Jolly Green Joke
Shrek deals with the devil of Far Far Away: Rumpelstiltskin
One of the hallmarks of the Shrek series is the occasional grown-up joke or double entendre that flies way over the littlest heads. And, with Mike Mitchell, the dubious director of Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, at the helm, that tradition remains intact. At one point, Shrek gives Fiona a rundown behind their new circumstances and concludes with, "My donkey fell in your waffle hole." So literally true, but also so open to misinterpretation. And Donkey coins a new word. If the ears aren't mistaken, he claims he was "assnapped."
At the other end of the spectrum, one particular, brief sight gag that's for all ages involves the Gingerbread Man battling it out with animal crackers a la Gladiator. That's the kind of funny, innocent joke that has made the Shrek series so endearing.
Given the vast number of people involved in the production, describing Shrek Forever After as a piece of machinery is certainly apropos. For one thing, it attempts to ride the wave that is the current 3D craze, but with only mild success. The opening scene puts the 3D effects to spectacular use, but the bulk of the movie fails to impress. Even with witches whirling around, there's a sense that a chance to do something really special with 3D was squandered. In this case, 2D viewing should prove to be every bit as satisfying—and considerably cheaper.
But the end credits reveal something even crasser than the 3D cash-in. Approximately 60 people are listed under an odd category for movie credits, that of "Marketing and Consumer Products."
Hold on to that wallet! Shrek's looking for one last big payday by offering up things like purple and green fingernail polish, Shrek ears, and oodles upon oodles of toys.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.