Shrek Forever After
What It Is
Now that he’s living happily ever after, Shrek (voiced by Mike Meyers) is thinking twice. He’s tired of being everyone’s favorite ogre and frustrated by the routine of his life with Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and their farty, gurgly triplets. His feelings are summarized neatly in an opening montage of repeated scenes: Shrek diapers babies, feeds babies, shares play-dates with Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and his half-dragon kiddies. At the same time, he yearns for long-lost previous life, when humans feared his roar, when he spent most of his time alone—wallowing in mud baths, scaring all his neighbors, and drinking eyeball-tinis in the evenings.
At around the same time, the wicked Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) is also unhappy with his lot: when he offers Shrek a chance to spend a day living his former life—before he rescued Fiona from the Dragon’s Keep—the ogre signs a contract, unaware that he’s trading away his entire life. This leads to a scenario like the one in It’s a Wonderful Life, where George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) wanders through bleak streets, among people who never knew him because he’s never been born. In Shrek’s alternative world, Rumpelstiltskin rules from a large palace, surrounded by witches who do his bidding. Ogres are slaves and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) is fat from too much cream. Fiona is still cursed (living as a human by day and an ogre by night), and also leading an ogre resistance—passionate but so far, not quite clever enough to overthrow the tyrant Rumpelstiltskin. The only way Shrek can recover his old life, including his friendship with Donkey, his loving marriage, and his now non-existent children, is through “true love’s kiss.” That is, he needs to convince Fiona, always wonderful, patient, and smart (and now awesomely Amazonian), to fall in love with him again.
Why It’s Fun
The voice actors are delightful as ever, their inflections at least as entertaining as the animation. Ironically, since the plot has Shrek feeling stuck in a rut, the franchise is similarly stuck. While this movie is more entertaining than 2007’s Shrek the Third (not so hard to do), the question is the same all the films ask: how can Shrek be a happy ogre? Occasional 3D flourishes, especially at the film’s beginning, when a carriage bearing Fiona’s parents—the Queen (Julie Andrews) and King (John Cleese)—rushes forward, the horses looking ready to gallop off the screen into our laps. The amped-up action throughout the film has two effects, enlivening the familiar plot and also exposing that it needs enlivening.
Who’s Going To Love It
The film seems made for viewers who want to see Shrek confront the same obstacles as he has before. And, as boisterously charming as Shrek can be, his midlife crisis isn’t, on its face, a plot aimed at kids. It does allow for some recalibrations of his primary relationships—with Donkey, Puss in Boots, and Fiona, of course—but the route is repetition. Essentially, he has to relive the life we’ve already seen in the first three films, still resisting growing up, and still (again) learning to appreciate Fiona’s wisdom and maturity.
What To Be Aware Of
Shrek’s initial displays of anger upset his family and friends, especially Fiona, whose hurt feelings are quite visible. His complaints include some name-calling (he calls Rumpelstiltskin a “curly-toed weirdo”). And he’s enticed to sign the contract in part because he’s drinking too many eyeball-tinis with Rumpelstiltskin.
In the alterna-world, our usual heroes are all discontented: Fiona lives underground with fierce other ogres, focused on her ninja-style training and worried her curse will be discovered by her comrades (who don’t like humans). Puss in Boots is lazy and resigned (though Banderas’ voice performance is still subtly funny). Donkey is pulling a cart for witches, who whip him. And poor Gingy (Conrad Vernon) is forced to fight other cookies in a Gladiator-style arena.
During one faux-tense moment, Donkey calls Gingy “cracker,” a term with multiple meanings in this context, underlined by Murphy’s intonation. Another odd scene has Donkey and Shrek’s families riding Donkey’s flying dragon wife Fifi to a Chucky-Cheesey-style restaurant, then leaving her with the valet, to be “parked” outside, and not invited inside with her husband and children.
When the rebel ogres finally fight back against Rumpelstiltskin’s witches, the scene is long and loud and full of predictably cartoony violence: falls, slams into walls, clobberings with hatchets and hammers. When Shrek steals a witch’s broom and evades capture by zipping and zapping through the air, the scene seems lifted from one of Harry Potter’s quidditch matches: what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in welcome energy.
6 out of 10
Shrek Forever After
Director: Mike Mitchell
Cast: Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Jane Lynch, Eddie Murphy, Julie Andrews, Antonio Banderas, Jon Hamm, Craig Robinson
Studio: Dreamworks SKG
US Premiere: May 21, 2010
UK Premiere: July 2, 2010