Shrek Forever After (Film Review)
3 out of 4 stars
If there was ever a beloved franchise plagued by sequel fatigue, it’s DreamWorks Animation’s ‘Shrek’ series. When the original film snuck quietly into theatres in 2001, it captured the heart of a generation with its touching story of an ogre hiding a heart of gold behind his monstrous appearance, becoming a cultural phenomenon by the end of its cinematic run.
However, its follow-up ‘Shrek 2’ sacrificed much of the original’s heart, aiming for flashy comedy and action over genuine drama. By the time 2007’s ‘Shrek the Third’ arrived, the series had descended to the level of self-parody, filled with stale jokes, lifeless characters, and clichéd plot twists. Quite simply, the franchise had collapsed in on itself after six years of merciless studio exploitation.
Thankfully though, the final chapter in the series is one of the most enjoyable in recent memory. Even though ‘Shrek Forever After’ doesn’t come close to capturing the sheer brilliance of the original, it does boast eye-catching animation, a witty sense of humour, and rousing action scenes, single-handedly lifting the franchise out of its previous creative rut. Now that they have created a worthy farewell, hopefully DreamWorks will stick to their word and let everyone’s favourite ogre rest in peace.
Set some time after ‘Shrek the Third’, this film sees Shrek (Mike Myers) as a domesticated family man, raising three kids with the help of his wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and his two best friends Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas). Even the local villagers see Shrek as having gone soft: instead of hunting him down, they ask him to autograph their pitchforks, much to his chagrin.
Bored and wanting to relive his days as a real ogre, Shrek decides to make a deal with the charming magician Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn). In return for one day from Shrek’s childhood, the wizard offers Shrek a day spent as a real ogre, where he can terrorise as many villagers as he wants without consequence.
However, as soon as Shrek signs the magical contract offered to him, he is thrust into a sinister alternate reality where Rumpelstiltskin rules the kingdom and he has never met Fiona, Donkey or Puss in Boots. With the help of the ogre resistance movement, Shrek must find his wife and friends and restore balance to Far, Far Away before it’s too late.
Although it’s rarely moving, ‘Shrek Forever After’ is consistently funny, so much so that viewers will often find themselves laughing out loud in the theatre. Whether it’s watching a grossly overweight Puss in Boots struggling to lift himself off a couch, or Shrek clumsily attempting to woo a re-imagined warrior version of his wife, the film fully exploits the comedic value of seeing familiar characters in new situations.
Additionally, new villain Rumpelstiltskin, originally planned to be voiced by Paul McCartney, generates his fair share of laughs as well. Resembling a human version of Gollum from Lord of the Rings, the pint-sized wizard is delightfully despicable, ruling with an iron fist while villagers and creatures alike starve outside his palace gates. In fact, he’s so decadent that his whole palace is designed as a gaudy discotheque, where his personal army of witches hold a rave party in one of the movie’s funniest scenes.
As for the animation, ‘Shrek Forever After’ just might be the most visually engaging entry in the series to date. Every facial expression and every forest and castle is grandly brought to life in 3-D, making scenes like Shrek’s daring aerial escape from Rumpelstiltskin’s palace and the time travel sequences ever more vivid and exciting. Once again, it seems certain that 3-D will become the standard format for animated films in the future.
On the downside, the emotional hook’s essentially non-existent in ‘Shrek Forever After’, as in all of the films since the original. Never once does the audience feel moved or surprised by the events on screen, a problem only compounded by the gimmicky nature of the film’s alternate reality plot. Even Shrek’s mid-life crisis at the film’s beginning seems more like a plot necessity than a genuine emotional arc.
More fundamentally, the iconic characters simply aren’t as compelling or unique after four films. Underneath Puss’s fat suit and Fiona’s warrior princess attire, they’re exactly the same as they were in ‘Shrek the Third’ and ‘Shrek 2’, coming across more as caricatures of themselves than three dimensional beings. Indeed, they could be replaced by unknown characters and the movie’s tone would still remain the same.
Although it’s shallow, ‘Shrek Forever After’ is still an enjoyable experience for those seeking a final adventure with the ogre. It won’t win over any new fans, but after the massive success of the series, it doesn’t need to in order to become a hit. For better or worse, ‘Shrek Forever After’ epitomises the summer blockbuster to a tee.
‘Shrek Forever After’ is currently playing in mainland China.