EXPECTATIONS: Used to be, people would get excited when you said the word "Shrek". The post-Disney fantasy was something new and unexpected, like nobody had ever thought to make fun of Disney before. Shrek was the first sign that Dreamworks might actually be able to produce Pixar-caliber entertainment. Today, the Shrek schtick has been done to death, and Disney is able to poke fun at itself while turning out decent material. Dreamworks is selling this as "The Final Chapter," clearly hoping that what's true for Jason Voorhees will prove true for Shrek. My only hope is that Corey Feldman shows up and attacks Shrek with a machete.
REALITY: Shrek Forever After is the very definition of a half-assed movie. It is a fifty percent experience through and through. The big green ogre looks like Shrek; he talks like Shrek; he blows his nose out his ass like Shrek, yet the movie is missing the one crucial element that made the whole enterprise worth watching in the first place. For as detailed as the animation is and for as spot-on as the voice acting sounds, Shrek Forever After is just not funny. It almost completely fails as a comedy, which is saying a lot, considering this franchise stars a Scottish booger.
It's funny because they're green.
Not all that long ago in a place called Far Far Away, Shrek (Mike Myers) discovers that, lo and behold, the family life he's spent three movies cultivating is monotonous, time-consuming and cringingly dull. The ogre babies are a handful, Fiona (Cameron Diaz) has become kind of a harpy, and Donkey (Eddie Murphy) is an annoying jackass (also he's a donkey that sings). Naturally, Shrek does what any weary new parent would do and wishes he had his old life back for just one day. Enter Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), a magical little dickhead who offers to grant Shrek's wish. As a result of what the character calls a metaphysical paradox, Shrek finds himself in a world in which he never existed. Here, Rumpelstiltskin lords over the land of Far Far Away with a tiny little iron fist, and roving bands of witches hunt down and enslave ogres.
Critics jumped at the chance to label Shrek 4 a shameless ripoff of Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, and while that's true, calling this movie It's an Ogreful Life is about as clever as using Dances with Smurfs to describe Avatar. That is to say it isn't clever, and it's really just a way of saying "I can't be bothered to explain the plot." Oh, and for anyone who's interested, according to Google I'm now the 95th critic to use the phrase "It's an Ogreful Life." Hooray!
Shrek Forever After is precisely the kind of thing we've come to expect from Dreamworks Animation: lots of goofy faces and fart noises for the kids, lots of unnecessary Deliverance references for mom and dad, and a few fun vocal performances and CG flourishes for the people who actually pay attention to crap like that. It's routine, it rakes in the big bucks, and it's everything I've come to hate about computer-animated kids movies. Everything that was once fun and refreshing about the original Shrek has been stripped out, leaving only the four or five things that made the sequels so goddamn irritating.
Nerds still love cats, right? Even fat ones?Actually, even that isn't true. Every time the movie does manage to strike a good note, it follows that up with an equally strong bad note. For every instance of the Gingerbread Man battling animal crackers in a miniature Colosseum for the amusement of others, we're treated to break-dancing witches. Every appearance of Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) is balanced out by a long shot of Donkey grinning. It's sort of like being forced to watch Hot Fuzz and Epic Movie at the same time.
Of course, this makes the film sound like some kind of psychotic, taxing experience, which thankfully it is not. Despite the fact that the film's central plot is about as basic as fantasy plots come, I get the distinct impression that the writers realized that they had finally landed on an interesting idea. Granted, that idea is pretty basic and cribs as much from the original Shrek as it does from Frank Capra, but with a solid premise, Team Dreamworks is able to tweak the Shrek formula and come up with a handful of interesting bits to distract you from the fact that you just paid to see the same movie for the fourth time.
For instance, it finally dawned on the filmmakers that after four movies, maybe it was time to turn Princess Fiona into a character with more than two dimensions. In Shrek 4's alternate universe, Fiona has more or less become the ogre warrior princess who don't take no guff from no one. After occupying the role of the damsel in distress for three whole films, Fiona is suddenly in a position of power. Instead of waiting for her Prince Charming to arrive, she decides to kick ass, take names, and not apologize for it just because she's a girl. It's the sort of cliche reversal that would've been right at home in the first Shrek, and it works until Shrek starts up with his whole "You gotta believe me!" routine.
Which leads me to perhaps the best thing about Shrek Forever After: The plot exists in a world in which the two previous movies never happened. That's a world I want to live in. It's almost as though they went back in time to 2003 and made a real sequel to Shrek that wasn't that terrible "4D" theme park ride. Okay, sure, Shrek 2 was fine as far as sequels go, but it squandered everything that made the original film special in the first place. Aside from the giant Gingerbread Man, of course. That shit was hysterical.
This time, at least there seems to be a conscious effort to recapture that certain something from the first film. It's not much of an effort, mind you, as it mostly amounts to callbacks to lines or gags from Shrek. "Hey, Donkey, remember that time you talked about making waffles? Look, there are some waffles."
But at least this movie tried. That's more than the last two films had going for them.
MINORITY REPORT: There is an ogre who lives in a nearby swamp. He goes by the name of Boggy Pete and is known to eat any children who venture near. Naturally, I must ensure that he does not get his hands on the local children through any means necessary. So zealously do I protect these children that I felt my course of locking each of them in the basement of my home to be a good one. It seems their parents did not agree, especially after the flood. -Montague "Legally Sane" Smythe
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