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Shrek Forever After / *** (PG)Posted Tuesday, June 1, 2010, at 10:24 PM
Shrek, Fiona, and the rest of the gang are back for their final chapter in "Shrek Forever After".
The "Shrek" franchise of CGI animated features has provided hours of romping good times. It has never been a groundbreaking series. Some felt the irreverent take on classic fairy tales first encountered in the original "Shrek" was something spectacular. I've never thought any of the films were much more than clever parody, pop culture references, and enjoyable characters. Number four seems to be a good place to end. The previous sequels, "Shrek 2" and "Shrek the Third", saw diminishing returns on cleverness and laughs. "Shrek Forever After" is the best since the first one. Going on further might be pushing it.
"Shrek Forever After" is the first in the series to break away from the theme of "being yourself," although it doesn't stray far. By following an "It's a Wonderful Life" storyline, it allows Shrek to learn that everybody in his life plays a pretty big role in shaping who he is and his presence has shaped both what he loves and hates about his world. Most importantly, the things that he loves outweigh the things he doesn't.
In the standard "Shrek" storybook introduction, we learn that before Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers, "Austin Powers") had rescued Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz, "My Sister's Keeper") from the Dragon's keep, Fiona's parents, the King and Queen of Far Far Away, had been desperate to save her from her sentence there. They were in the process of employing the help of a trickster named Rumpelstiltskin to magically free her in exchange for their kingdom, but before they signed his contract, Fiona had been saved.
Rumpelstiltskin is ruined by his failure to gain the kingdom until he discovers Shrek in an overwhelmed state. Shrek tells the trickster about how much simpler life was when he was "just an ogre". Rumpel sees an opportunity and offers Shrek a chance to be an ogre again, just for a day, in exchange for any other day in Shrek's life. There are a few strings attached to the deal that 'Stilts fails to point out, and after having a bit of fun scaring off peasants, like in the old days, Shrek realizes he's been tricked. Somehow Rumpelstiltskin has become ruler of Far Far Away, none of Shrek's friends know who he is, ogres are hunted and hated in the land, and Shrek must put everything right before the first light of the next day or he will cease to exist.
"Shrek Forever After" is probably the most adventurous of the series, concentrating less on poking fun at fairy tale traditions than on telling its story. The "Shrek" formula of eking out every fairy tale creature and spinning it in some clever spoof was becoming a bit tiresome with the third movie, and it's a wise choice to focus in a different direction this time around. The cast of major characters involved in this plot is much smaller than the previous two films. Except for Rumpelstiltskin, there are few other characters introduced this time out and many from the past don't return. This allows the writers to trim down on the subplots and focus their efforts more on the story at hand.
Donkey (Eddie Murphy, "Imagine That") and Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas, "The Mask of Zorro") return as the stalwart anchors in Shrek's reality. As usual, they provide the majority of the movie's laughs and strengthen their characters' sense of camaraderie and chemistry. Puss, in the alternate universe that Shrek creates through his deal with Stilts, is now a fat feline who's gotten a little soft around the edges... and round.
Although he's not a major movie star, like the rest of the "Shrek" voice cast of characters, Walt Dohrn is the right choice to voice Rumpelstiltskin. Having been a storyboard artist and writer for some popular animated shows, he has experience in selling these characters to his directors. I read that director Mike Mitchell ("Greg the Bunny") had a few stars read for the role, but nobody's performance as Stilts had been as good as Dohrn's storyboard presentation. Dohrn's Stiltskin is something akin to an evil Pee Wee Herman, who has the ability to sound sincere and innocent with just a crack in the veneer every once and a while.
For an aging franchise, it's nice to see a strong effort made to pick it up for its last lap. Any good runner knows you have to save a little speed for that last leg, and it seems the "Shrek" franchise has. It's lost a little of its bite since the first installment, but that's really what was beginning to wear for the series anyway. The filmmakers make some smart choices to focus on a fun, adventurous story above rehashing the same jokes and situations, and it all makes for one last raucous ride that everyone can enjoy. Don't think you'll never see any of these characters again, however, Puss gets his feature-length spin-off next.
"Shrek Forever After" is playing in 2D at Marshall Cinema and in 3D at Galaxy Cinema in Sedalia.
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Andrew is a professionally trained actor and stage director. He was a reporter for the daily newspaper The Marshall Democrat News. He has been critiquing film since Mr. Lucas released the first of his "Star Wars" prequels in 1999. His reviews can also be seen at his blog site.