Shrek Forever After utilizes a superficially clever way of keeping the same old characters fresh and interesting by reversing roles, wiping memories, and rewriting history. The setting is the same but those in power are not, which drastically changes the look and feel of the world as well as most of its inhabitants. The catch comes with a debilitating “exit clause” which makes the entire story rather predictable. The fourth installment in the popular series actually tones down the reliance on pop culture for its humor (though the pop songs remain) resulting in laughs more universal and intelligently crafted. The running gags continue to build as expected, the 3D seems like an afterthought (we guarantee you won’t be able to remember a single dimension-bursting moment upon leaving the theater), and once again the supporting characters end up stealing the show – but wide-eyed pussycats and wisecracking donkeys still muster plenty of appeal to go around. Beloved ogre Shrek (Mike Myers) seems to have it all – a loving wife, Fiona (Cameron Diaz), three happy kids, and best friends Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas). While everyone around him admires his life, Shrek finds himself growing steadily exhausted by the daily routines of shutting out loud tourists, changing diapers, and perpetually interrupted mud baths. Wishing for the calm and freedom of his days as a fearsome ogre, Shrek falls for the calculated plot of the cunning Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn, with the most memorable voice despite being the only non-celebrity) and trades one day from his childhood for one day to live as his old carefree self. Realizing too late the vengeful dwarf’s trickery, Shrek has only 24 hours to undo the damage by finding Fiona and getting her to fall in love with him all over again.
With this fourth entry into the Shrek series, it’s clear this franchise is becoming more episodic than theatrical. The plot could serve more beneficially to a TV show timeframe, especially with the attention to comedic dialogue and side characters. The humor is more conventional than the last film, sticking to the hilarious antics of Puss in Boots or the Gingerbread Man for laughs, but by the end, little feels strikingly clever or new. It seems that the filmmakers couldn’t even decide on a title until the last minute, judging by promotional posters using the moniker “The Final Chapter.”
The story offers a chance for unbridled creativity with a completely alternate, redone outcome for the classic characters, but really only delivers a single winner: a plump, lazy, pampered Puss in Boots. The remaining heroes all take on roughly the same roles (save maybe for the barbarian Gingy) with no knowledge of Shrek’s affect on their lives. This “amnesia” unfortunately causes repetitive activities for the crew, instead of drastically different interactions. Shrek Forever After brings back the musical montages, a musical training sequence, a musical chase sequence and more; perhaps it’s a trademark, or perhaps it’s the only way to keep the mood consistent. For those who can’t pick out the family-friendly themes, Shrek also spells it out, verbally commenting on his failure to acknowledge what he had until he lost it. The best bits involve the supporting characters, many of which don’t even speak, including a snaggletooth duck, a stumpy, ugly kid that insists Shrek roar for him, Rumpelstiltskin and his interchangeable mood wigs, and Cookie the chimichanga-hurling warrior chef (Craig Robinson). At least these films keep Eddie Murphy in business.
– The Massie Twins