Shrek and Shrek 2 can easily be referred to as animated classics and have, like nearly every feature film in the Pixar canon, set the standard for tone and design in computer-animated movies for the last decade. Using irreverence as fuel – almost making concerted efforts to be the anti-Disney, and buoyed by an eclectic list of effective voice talent, the first two Shrek films were able to appeal to adults and kids with its fairytale mix of sweet and spicy humor.
But something went wrong with Shrek the Third. Sure it made a ton of cash ($322,719,944 to be exact), but it nosedived with critics. Now, I realize the folks reviewing movies can be a snooty, frivolous batch of fools sometimes, but when the first two movies are around 90percent fresh on RottenTomatoes.com and the third movie is drowning at 41 percent, something clearly didn’t work. We can say been-there-done-that, the franchise has run out of gas and a thousand other clichés, but the real culprit was the fairytale was ripped from the story, replaced with marriage, responsibility, babies and the whole ball-and-chain we call real life. Adults don’t go to cartoons for reminders into their responsibilities and it sure as hell isn’t funny, at least not in the way that makes you want to engage in cinematic self-flagellation by repeatedly spending your hard earned money on a full-price ticket.
Thankfully someone at DreamWorks kind of noticed this problem and the fourth movie in the franchise, Shrek Forever After (in 3D!), is a slight return to the fairytale world that made Shrek so endearing to moviegoers. I say slight, because writers Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke, as well as director Mike Mitchell (Sky High) are sneaky in the way they return us to the fantasyland of Far Far Away. This is enough to make the movie more entertaining than Shrek the Third, but still isn’t enough for a return the glory days of 2001 and 2004.
For his fourth outing into multiplexes, Shrek (Mike Meyers) finds himself stuck in the day-to-day rigmarole of being married and having three diaper-wearing baby ogres. His days are almost identical – change diapers, feed babies, fix the outhouse, etc – and, in sort of a mid-life crisis, has a minor mental breakdown at his kid’s birthday party. Fiona (Cameron Diaz) isn’t happy with Shrek’s behavior and Shrek storms off and eventually encounters Rumplestilskin (Walt Dohrn), who promises Shrek he can give him a break – a day off from his life, but he must give up a day in the process. Sounds to good to be true, but Shrek signs the contract and soon learns he has been tricked by Rumplestilskin and now inhabits a world where he doesn’t exist, Fiona is a warrior and fugitive, Donkey (Eddie Murphy) is still Donkey and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) has become a fat, pampered housecat. Making matters worse, Shrek learns if he doesn’t receive true love’s kiss from Fiona by sunrise the contract he signed with Rumple will be finalized and Shrek will disappear forever.
Like the other three movies, Shrek Forever After is short – clocking in at 93 minutes, and has enough funny moments to keep the kids entertained and the adults reasonably pleased. I saw it in 3D and once again was unimpressed and underwhelmed by an overrated technology that serves as a distraction not an addition. You won’t regret paying full-price, but you won’t be doing cartwheels out of the theater. Personally, I think DreamWorks has run the table on the Shrek series and it’s time to move to other avenues. Can anyone say Puss in Boots: Story of an Ogre Killer coming in 2011? Considering Banderas steals the show, I’m looking forward to this new chapter.