Shrek Forever After review - When you’re sitting on a franchise that’s pulled in over $2bn dollars in box office receipts and you’ve already hit the magic number three in the series, what to do?
Clearly you put it in the hands of Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo director Mike Mitchell, who has opted for an ‘alternate reality’ storyline – surely the contemporary version of the ‘it was all a dream’ twist – allowing potentially tired characters to re-live and re-invent their glorious origins once again.
While alternate reality plot lines are nothing new – Capra played masterfully with the idea in 1947’s It’s A Wonderful Life – they’ve been used more recently to rescue sci-fi series like Fringe and Lost (the latter’s former scribe, Darren Lemke, is Shrek 4’s co-writer).
Whether Shrek’s pre-teen audience is ready for such high-fallutin’ concepts and ‘be thankful for what you have’ moralising remains to be seen, but it certainly gives the filmmakers a clean slate on which to paint a fresh coat of green. And so Shrek Forever After places our familiar protagonists in unfamiliar territory: the married Shrek (Mike Myers) is drowning in domestic misery, raising three ogre offspring with his royal bride Fiona (Cameron Diaz). Now a beloved rather than feared resident of Far Far Away, his home is on the tourist trail and his once-dreaded roar relegated to a mere party piece.
In the midst of this mid-life crisis, he accepts a deal from the manipulative Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn, whose vocal gymnastics graced a half-dozen side characters in Shrek The Third and who performs as capably here as his celebrity co-stars). The deal is this: if Shrek gives the mini Jon Favreau-lookalike any day out of his life, he’ll give him a day’s peace. The green one accepts, but the conniving Rumpelstiltskin takes his birthday.
The result? Shrek’s thrown into a new world where he’s never been born and, like Jack Bauer himself, the clock’s ticking on the 24 hours he has to sort out the whole sorry mess before disappearing forever. Trouble is, CTU aren’t around to help.
To complicate matters, only Fiona can rescue him with a kiss – but Fiona in a world where Shrek never existed is an entirely different Fiona. In this parallel universe she escaped from the tower using her own moxie and became a freedom fighter for ogres everywhere. She doesn’t know Shrek from a Donkey (Eddie Murphy), who also has to re-establish his relationship with his former best buddy.
With the stage set, Mitchell and his team have fun with flying witches, dense forests and a huge, pampered Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderes), all delivered in this season’s new colours – 3D. Originally conceived in its three-dimensional form, Shrek Forever After resists the urge to bombard you with anything other than the occasional stream of projectile vomit, but instead adds an engulfing depth of vision to what is already something of a visual feast.
Unfortunately, since the original’s Oscar-winning debut in 2001, animated movie lovers have given their hearts and wallets to soulful robot garbage collectors, flying houses, dancing penguins and trained dragons, leaving the more simply illustrated ogre looking a little tired by comparison. It’s not that Shrek doesn’t visually sparkle, but a combination of familiarity and predictability breed the seeds of indifference.
Which is not to say that Shrek Forever After doesn’t have its moments. Over the course of the franchise they’ve gradually moved away from dominating the films with pop culture references and now most of the big laughs come from the casual asides, sight gags and the subtle character quirks of the supporting cast rather than from the plot-driving headliners. Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, Glee’s Jane Lynch, reality star Kathy Griffin, American Idol emcee Ryan Seacrest and news vet Larry King are all on hand to bolster the talent quota, but it’s the animator’s hand that really pushes the viewer’s buttons.
As a result, this (possibly) last installment of this groundbreaking series seems more squarely aimed at the kids. Despite Shrek’s mini-breakdown over his domestic nightmare, as well as the sci-fi rooted alt-universe that the characters spend most of the film in, Shrek Forever After is at its core a simple tale, simply told. But even though there’s less of the vocal gymnastics and wink-wink references that have made it easier for grown-ups to come along for the ride, there’s still plenty to enjoy here.
DreamWorks may claim they’re finally closing the book on this long-running fairytale, but don’t bet on it – this ‘final chapter’ will be raking in the green come opening weekend. There could be life in the big lug yet…
This fourth ogre outing delivers plenty of 3D razzle dazzle and has fun messing about with its alternate-reality storyline, but it never troubles the modernclassic status achieved by the first Shrek. Still, a chunky step up from Shrek The Third.