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Our favorite green monster is back for his fourth and last cinematic installment. While a triumph compared to “Shrek the Third”, “Shrek Forever After” hits a few high notes but remains a three-chord dummy for most of the film.
It’s like “The Wizard of Oz” with the moral conclusion of “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Nothing says, “I didn’t realize what I had until it was gone,” like a magical contract with Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) that goes south, turning “Far, Far Away” into a crooked land policed by witches and ruled by a troll doll. Shrek (Mike Myers) innocently wishes for a single day as a stress-free, family-free ogre, but the magical request backfires. Our rough-around-the-edges hero once again must win over his friends, Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), and his former love, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), if he wants things to go back to the way they were. But if he doesn’t, his existence is yet to be determined. Get ready for some new fairy tales to come to life and even more ogres to make their way into the “Skrek” story.
The premise of the original two films remains fantastic: an ogre with a heart of gold teams up with an atypical damsel in distress and a talking donkey. We’ve got some regular players like Pinocchio, Three Blind Mice, Three Little Piggies, and the Gingerbread Man. Come “Shrek 2”, Puss in Boots made an entrance with some of the cutest cat eyes around. Sadly, films three and four in the franchise survive because of the former days of glory, providing scant new material.
Using the alternate reality escape route to neatly wrap up an epic story is a risky wager. When you basically say to your audience, “none of this really happened”, then character development takes a backseat. When we spend the entire film watching a character do things he’s already done before, it just gets old. “Been there, done that” and “play it again, Sam” are the clichés of choice here.
The franchise began its downhill slope when director Adam Adamson left after “Shrek 2” for ill-received attempts at live-action directing for both “Narnia” films. Rookie director Chris Miller made “Shrek the Third” the joke it’s become and plans to do about the same with a Puss in Boots spin-off next year (may this never happen). And then director Mike Mitchell takes a stab (too many jokes to make, but we’ll just move on) at “Shrek Forever After”, adding digital animation film to his charming batch: “Deuce Bigalow”, “Surviving Christmas” and “Sky High”. It’s like Dreamworks wants these movies to fail.
For all its downfalls, “Shrek 4” still maintains a faint hint of engagement. Seeing the whole gang together for one last hurrah is at least nostalgic and brings back memories of happier times. Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” told a riveting tale of one man on the edge. For “Shrek Forever After”, trying to make a similar statement about the “horrors” of domestication just seems trite. Concluding that life’s worth living because “you don’t know what you got” doesn’t actually solve anything but actually becomes demeaning and condescending for anyone who may face the stresses of family life. And the moral of the story is…love your family because if you don’t, Rumpelstiltskin and his witches will make things worse, causing you to lose your family, your friends and perhaps even make you disappear at the end of the day. If a film wants to take the characters to the next level and show life after the daring adventures are over, then do it. All “Shrek 4” shows us is that the big green guy has one more adventure in him before he hangs up his axe.
Supposedly, creating a family is an adventure, just not one worth showing on the big screen.
The contradiction of this one comes in what isn’t shown, the family he claims to love.
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