Shrek Forever After (Dreamworks/Paramount)
What is this movie called exactly? Shrek Forever After? Shrek: The Final Chapter? Shrek in 3D? Shrek Trek IV: The Voyage Home?
Technically, it’s the first of those listed, but glancing over the promotional materials for the film, and even sitting through both the opening and closing credits, you could still be understandably mistaken.
The same sort of title confusion was seen with Dreamworks’ previous animated effort, the heartfelt and lovely How to Train Your Dragon, which was truncated (and pluralized) into the pithier Dragons for television ads following its initial (and somewhat tepid) release.
The studio was likely hoping that the single-word proposition would draw more moviegoers to its impressive 3D production than the lengthier instructional title did. A bait and switch of sorts, except the switch was to something richer, more breathtaking, magical.
With Shrek Wars IV: A New Hope, it’s exactly the opposite. Dreamworks is dangling the draw of its beloved animated franchise—Shrek is back! What more do you need to know?—and swapping out for this safely unimaginative and instantly forgettable, albeit consistently entertaining, start-of-the-summer diversion.
In his fourth and (allegedly) final go-round, the green and grumpy Shrek suffers from the Jon Gosselin syndrome: encumbered and exhausted by a life suddenly domesticated, and desperately seeking an escape.
Instead of wreaking havoc and frightening passers-by, as any self-respecting ogre is wont to do, he’s stuck changing diapers and tending to house and home. His awesome ogrely roar, once a measure of his power to terrify, is now but a blast of noise and wind to excite and amuse.
Nostalgic for his glory days as a menacing monster, Shrek strikes a deal with the lanky, scheming Rumpelstiltskin, who looks like a proportioned, fuzz-topped Stewie Griffin of television’s Family Guy. Shrek resigns one day, any day of his life, in exchange for one day as his former ogre self: feared once again by all, and unburdened by obligations as husband and father.
The catch? A “rumple” in the enchanted clause finds Shrek in a strange alternate universe, one in which he never existed—in which he never met the jolly talking Donkey, or rescued Princess Fiona from her dragon-guarded tower, or became ogre-in-residence of the royal fairytale kingdom of Far Far Away.
It’s as if the first three Shrek movies never even occurred.
Here is where Dreamworks proves just as diabolical as that stocky gold spinner Rumpelstiltskin. By erasing and then redrawing the events of Shreks past, the latest Shrek can play to the newest generation—unfamiliar, perhaps, to the rest of series—and still appeal to those returning for another serving.
Dreamworks reboots the Shrek franchise without actually rebooting it.
It’s a marketing maneuver as cunning as it is a lazy storytelling ploy. Previously established narrative ties can be forgotten, and the film must simply exist as a showcase for our beloved slate of spunky Shrek characters. And it does (Donkey is as riotous as ever), though with considerably less wit and charm than what was offered in the first two installments (Shrek 3: Rise of the Machines was a letdown and a throwaway).
If you haven’t heard, this one’s in 3D, too. The effects, implemented during post-production and therefore all but guaranteed to be tacky, begin with an artful boxiness, as though Shrek were a pop-up book brought to life. But they quickly lose both color and intent, and the extra dimension becomes merely a grab for premium ticket overcharges.
So is this fourth serving of Shrek worth the while? For the 3D version, I’d say no. In its intended classically-projected form, I’d say you could do a lot worse.
Perhaps the story is a bit too weighed down by anxiety—we feel the existential aftershocks of fatherhood and marital strain as much as Shrek does—but thanks to friendly and familiar faces, and a Puss in Boots in need of a call to Jenny Craig, Shrek Forever After is a pat, enjoyable romp.
Directed by Mike Mitchell. Written by Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke.
Rated PG for mild action, some rude humor and brief language.
Runtime is 1 hour, 33 minutes.