Shrek Forever After
By Carl Kozlowski
May 21, 2010
The new billboards for the fourth and ostensibly final Shrek movie, Shrek Forever After [check out the Q&A with the stars of the film], feature Shrek helplessly tied down by the nefarious Rumpelstiltskin, the green ogre’s worried eyes accentuated by the slogan “What the Shrek Just Happened?”
Unfortunately, fans of the series may wonder the same thing while watching the new adventures of our hero, which—alas—are not that adventurous at all.
When Shrek hit the world’s movie screens in 2001, it created a daring new standard for animated films seeking to balance entertaining children as well as adults, and drew outstanding reviews and more than $400 million in box office worldwide. Shrek 2 scored even bigger with audiences, exploding to more than $900 million in ticket sales and placing it in the rarefied stratosphere of the highest-grossing films of all time.
But the magic started to wear off with 2007’s Shrek the Third, as the returns tumbled back down a couple hundred million or so. But that clearly didn’t worry the folks at Dreamworks, who now have trotted out Shrek and his band of eccentric friends and family and placed them in a richly 3D world without bothering to give the actual script much dimension as well.
Think back to the original Shrek and you’ll recall that aside from some of the best vocal work ever in an animated flick from stars (so many other animated films use stars to no real effect other than box office curiosity), and a wickedly funny non-stop lampooning of Disney films and fairy tales, it also had a rousing and expertly done adventure tale involving Shrek and Donkey fighting off a dragon to save Princess Fiona.
The second film has plenty of fans, including some who like it even better than the first, but it kept the laughs without as much adventure, since Shrek mainly had to contend with having royalty as family and the personality conflicts that situation provided. Opponent-wise, the Fairy Godmother tried to upend his love life by attempting to use potions and trickery to get Prince Charming to marry Princess Fiona instead of Shrek.
Third featured Shrek mainly facing the dilemma of whether to become an heir to the throne of Fiona’s family or go back to his simpler beloved life in the swamp. There was way too much sappy dialogue and not nearly enough funny moments and action to stir viewers on the same level as before.
And that is a problem made even worse in the new film, in which Shrek feels trapped by domestic life and is so desperate to cut loose as an ogre again for just one day that he signs a deal with the ruthlessly magical Rumpelstiltskin for just that purpose. But there’s always a catch in a fairy tale deal, so the twist this time is that Shrek has to give up a different day of his life in exchange for gaining the day he desires—and he accidentally gives up the day he was born.
This, of course, sets off ramifications throughout Shrek’s world, somehow not killing him but forcing his entire life and all his relationships to turn out completely different and much, much darker and sadder. Along the way to setting things right, there are a few slapstick setpieces, but as with far too many of the current wave of 3D films, things seem to get frenzied solely to create a whizbang effect rather than to create genuine wonder or comedy.
Ultimately, Shrek Forever After gets trapped in maudlin sappiness, becoming a drawn-out examination of Shrek’s life and an appreciation of family rather than regaining the anything-goes anarchic spirit that spawned the series in the first place. With Diaz and especially Murphy being underutilized in comparison to the prior series editions, this feels like a paycheck more than a creative endeavor.
Just hope this is the last payday in the series and leave us with our happy memories of the first two.