Shrek Forever After (if that is its real title) achieves exactly what it wanted to achieve simply by being a fun animated comedy with characters we’ve come to love. Still, for something so heavily promoted as being the final chapter, I’m surprised at how small and ordinary it seemed. Movies like this should end with a bang, emotionally and physically; they should not go from beginning to end on a slow and steady burn. By the end, most will feel as if they’ve been entertained. I felt that way. At the same time, some may feel that, in all likelihood, this movie didn’t have to be made. I felt that way, too. Perhaps it’s no longer a good sign that we can be so easily amused by unnecessary films. Are they no stories left to stimulate our imaginations and broaden our horizons at the same time?
In this film, Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) finds that he’s dissatisfied with his new life as a domestic ogre. As a husband and father, he has absolutely no free time. Villagers no longer fear him. He can’t take a mud bath without being invaded by swamp tourists. Knowing he’s desperate for a change, the disgruntled Rumpelstiltskin (voiced by Walt Dohrn) offers Shrek a chance live one day as his old ogre self. The catch, as I understand it, is that one day out of his past will be erased from time – give a day to get a day, according to Rumpelstiltskin. Shrek agrees and signs a contract, although he fails to specify precisely which day he’ll let Rumpelstiltskin have. Bad move; he’s transported to an alternate Far Far Away that’s ruled by Rumpelstiltskin and has fallen into ruin.
There are other changes. At Rumpelstiltskin’s bidding, ogres are hunted by wicked witches and forced into slavery. Shrek’s best friend, Donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy), now a lowly cart puller, has never met Shrek and is afraid of him. Puss in Boots (voiced by Antonio Banderas) is now an obese housecat and owned by Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz), no longer Shrek’s beloved wife and mother to his children but rather the iron-clad leader of an underground ogre resistance. Like Donkey, she has no idea who Shrek is. Stranger still, she’s back under the curse that factored into the first film. In this new Far Far Away, it’s as if Shrek had never been born. If he’s to set everything right, he must turn to that most reliable of fairy-tale clichés: Receiving true love’s kiss before the following sunrise.
What are Rumpelstiltskin’s motives? I leave it to you to find out. I will say that his reasons are about as good as they can be for a fairy tale. I liked this character; big of ego and short of stature, he’s villainous in a childish, sniveling sort of way, making for a great deal of fun when he loses his temper.
Many of the previous film’s more memorable side characters are used far less frequently in Shrek Forever After, making for a film that feels oddly condensed. The appearances of Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs, and Gingy the Gingerbread Man, for example, are reduced to mere cameos, which is a missed opportunity for some great comedy. I’m especially fond of Gingy, with his iced legs and candy eyes and grating voice. In the alternate Far Far Away, he has become a battle-scarred gladiator who fights for the amusement of cheering crowds; the fact that his opponents are animal crackers and that he uses a broken lollipop as a weapon is, in my warped way of thinking, inherently funny. Maybe it’s because foods of such childish innocence have become violent. Or maybe it has something to do Gingy being one tough cookie.
It seems that the film’s biggest draw, aside from being the last in the series, is its release in 3-D. I’ve championed certain 3-D films (Disney’s A Christmas Carol, How to Train Your Dragon, Avatar), but now that it’s back in the mainstream, I’m coming to the realization that, generally speaking, it’s an overrated marketing gimmick. For this particular film, I suggest you save your cash for a traditional (and less expensive) 2-D experience. I’m quite certain the overall quality will not be affected.
The bottom line: The story is funny and exciting and sweet, and I had a pleasant time watching it. But Shrek Forever After is not the grandiose finale the ads have claimed it to be, and I find that a little disappointing. My recommendation relates not to its worth as a successor to the previous Shrek films, or even to its status as the last in the series; it relates to the belief that audiences will enjoy it on its own terms. It’s a light, good-hearted animated comedy, and as such films go, it gets the job done. I can only hope the filmmakers don’t treat it like a horror franchise, some of which are known to produce sequels even after a “final chapter” has been released. At that point, I don’t think there will anything good left to say about Shrek and his magical misadventures.