Movie Review: Shrek Forever After
The Charlotte Observer
Like most of you, I found the first two installments of “Shrek” to be laugh-till-you-gasp funny. I even thought the third showed flashes of inspiration, though it wore me out.
So when I heard about “Shrek Forever After,” I still regarded the title as a potential promise. Now that I’ve seen the film, it’s a threat.
The picture is a chaotic, unacknowledged copy of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” That movie is in the public domain, so writers can steal from it without credit or payment. But “Forever After” feels like a tired yank on the udders of a cash cow that’s nearly dry.
There’s nothing much wrong with the film’s pacing or characterizations. We’ve just seen it all in fresher and funnier forms, from Donkey’s sassy backtalk to Puss in Boots’ eye-widening charm.
The only significant new character, evil Rumpelstiltskin, is merely a blend of previous “Shrek” pests Farquaad (short, mean and ill-tempered) and Prince Charming (dishonest and ambitious). He’s voiced like an adenoidal leprechaun by Walt Dohrn, who is also credited with being “head of story.” (Hey, that makes him the villain both in the picture and in real life.)
Rumpel offers Shrek, who has tired of life as a beloved celebrity in Far, Far Away, a chance to return for a day to anonymous, havoc-wreaking ogredom. In return, he asks for a day from Shrek’s childhood – and takes the day of his birth, changing the green guy’s universe completely.
Now Rumpelstiltskin is king, served by malevolent witches and hated by rebellious ogres. Shrek has one day to get a kiss from his true love – Fiona, who no longer knows him – or he’ll vanish, and fate will be changed forever.
You know the drill, right? Shrek’s friends don’t recognize him and lead miserable lives. (Donkey is a witch’s slave, Puss an obese buffoon.) The kingdom is in ruins, because a greedy plutocrat controls the purse strings. Shrek clings to sanity by fondling a token his daughter dropped into his pocket in the real world – not a handful of petals, as in “Life,” but a doll.
We know Shrek’s going to get kissed, so nothing’s at stake: Time will simply go back to the point where he made his bad bargain, with happiness restored. So the script is a half-step removed from the “it was all a dream” ending that remains Hollywood’s lamest resolution.
The main vocal actors slip smoothly into their roles, and Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz bring extra tenderness and good humor to Shrek and Fiona. (Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas are wasted for the second picture in a row as Donkey and Puss.)
The familiar supporting characters – Pinocchio, Gingerbread Man, the Three Blind Mice, etc. – have been crammed in for form’s sake and given nothing to do, while Jon Hamm of “Mad Men” is wasted as a rebel ogre.
Director Mike Mitchell ends unwisely, with a series of highlights from the first three films that remind us how much better they were.
Before that, though, he gives us a quick look at our hero’s bookshelf. It contains volumes with his name in the title (such as “Shrek and the Beanstalk”), hinting at an infinitude of potential sequels. I don’t expect to see a scarier shot in any movie this year.