It’s an Ogreful Life
They’ve promised us that this will be the last Shrek film, and please let it be true. Shrek Forever After is so tediously Shrek-lite pop culture junk food that I could simply rerun my review of Shrek the Third here and no one would notice anything amiss. The first Shrek was a brilliant deconstruction of fairy tales — it was one of the best movies of 2001, and deservedly won the very first Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Shrek 2 was even better. By Shrek the Third, however, I said:
We’ve seen it. We’ve been around the park twice, bought the T-shirt and the Shrek ears, sent a postcard home. Now we’re bored. What else ya got? More of the same? Yawn.
Look, I chuckled at Third. I snorted. I did. I passed a pleasant 84 minutes at the movies.
And exactly the same is true of Forever After. It’s not that this isn’t a moderately diverting film, with a few genuinely amusing chuckles and one or two actual belly laughs. It’s that those chuckles and those belly laughs are indistinguishable from those we’ve experienced before, which perforce lessens their impact.
It’s time to put this ogre out to pasture.
This time out, Shrek (the voice of Mike Myers: Inglourious Basterds, The Love Guru) is bored with domesticity. He and Fiona (the voice of Cameron Diaz: The Box, My Sister’s Keeper) have settled down in his little shack in the swamp, with the detached outhouse and in-ground mudbath, and three little ogres have come along. The babies burp and poop a lot, but they’re still really, really cute; Fiona adores her husband; and every evening, like clockwork, there’s the company of Shrek’s best friends, Donkey (the voice of Eddie Murphy: Imagine That, Meet Dave) and Puss in Boots (the voice of Antonio Banderas: Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over), to entertain him. Obviously, this is a nightmare up with which no self-respecting ogre should have to put, and Shrek is unhappy. (Is Fiona fed up with the daily grind of making a home? Of course not. Only men are allowed midlife crises, or a wish that their lives had gone a different way. Women live for changing shitty diapers and nagging their husbands to unclog the outhouse. It’s every girl’s dream.)
So Shrek makes a magical deal with Rumpelstiltskin (the voice of Walt Dohrn, part of the DreamWorks creative team and Head of Story on this film) to live just one day like he used to, terrifying villagers and wallowing in his mudbath unencumbered by husbandly and fatherly responsibilities. Of course it goes wrong — ya gots to read yer magical contracts closely; the fine print is a killer — and Shrek ends up in an alterna-Far Far Away where Stiltskin is a Sauron-like emperor and Fiona, who is leading an ogre uprising against the tyrant, doesn’t even know him.
It’s not a terribly convincing scenario, that Far Far Away would be an awful place if Shrek hadn’t rescued Fiona and convinced her that he was her one true love back in the first film. And it’s not even a terribly interesting one. Donkey still has all the best lines and is easily the sweetest, most likable character; I’m not sure if it’s awesome or sad that this is probably going to be the most memorable character Eddie Murphy will create. All the smartest jokes are in the trailer. There’s nothing in the least bit surprising about Forever After, which is really a crime, considering how subversive the first two films in the series were.
It’s notable, I’m sure, that none of the top-level creative folks here had anything to do with those first two films. Cowriter (with Darren Lemke) Josh Klausner contributed to Shrek 3 — and the similarly cheap and easy Date Night — and director Mike Mitchell’s chief claim to fame is having excreted Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (though this is more on the neutrally inoffensive level of his teen superhero comedy Sky High). And they tread safe water through Forever After, indulging in a fart joke here, some slapstick there. The genuinely unexpected moments — such as the new appearance in the series of one character from fairy tales I won’t spoil — are too few and far between and yet intriguing enough that you’ll wish the film was willing to take more chances.