Shrek Forever After Review
It’s easy to forget now what an impact Shrek made when he first stomped his way in to multiplexes in 2001 (see Mike Sutton's original review to refresh your memory). Disney animations were in terminal decline, a shadow of their former selves. Audiences were tired of their preachy moralising, formulaic plots and tired gags. Though Pixar, the young pretenders to the throne, helped keep them afloat, Disney were sinking fast.
Suddenly, Shrek burst on to the scene like a blast of fresh air, ruthlessly skewering Disney’s conservative values and heroically demonstrating that it wasn’t just Pixar that could deliver a genuinely funny, warm-hearted feature-length cartoon. It won the Oscar for best animation that year, but even better, it was Bafta-nominated for Best Film and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Eddie Murphy as Donkey). How many other animations can make that claim?
Flash forward to 2010, and the situation is almost completely reversed. Disney, reborn following its acquisition of and merger with Pixar, is now beginning to rediscover its golden touch after this year’s The Princess and the Frog. Shrek, on the other hand, has become the very thing it set out to mock in the first place: a flabby, tired old franchise, creatively bankrupt, content to tread water in order to squeeze the last drops from a once profitable cash cow.
If that sounds a bit harsh, it’s meant to be. After the utterly mirthless Shrek the Third in 2007, my hopes were certainly not high for this fourth (and reportedly final) entry in the series. Here, Shrek is settling in to life as a father of three. With the novelty wearing off rather quickly, the ogre begins to wish he could go back to living as a free and single monster, terrorising the locals again. And wouldn’t you know it, Rumplestiltskin pops up offering him a whole 24 hours of being a feared ogre once more – in return for a day of his life. Shrek foolishly agrees, only to regret the decision when he finds out the day that Rumpelstiltskin took was the day he was born, which allows the trickster to claim the throne of Far Far Away. Only true love’s kiss (one of several nods back to the original film) can save Shrek and restore normality.
The good news is that this entry is a definite improvement over the dreary Third one. There are at least a few funny moments here, and the ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ conceit does bring a modicum of freshness to proceedings. We get to see a world where Shrek didn’t save Princess Fiona, where Donkey was enslaved by witches, and Puss-in-Boots got fat. But that’s as fresh as this sequel gets. As with the last entry, genuine humour is at a premium. The only laughs to be had are provided once again by Eddie Murphy as Donkey, thankfully not phoning it in. Unlike Mike Myers as Shrek, who is quite the opposite of funny this time round. The other characters pop up as before, with little to say that’s new or different.
The film makes some rather questionable plot choices: in the beginning we see Shrek reject his wife and kids, and revel in his new-found freedom. The kids in the audience must love seeing a parent do that. When he realises the mistake he has made, he mopes about trying to get Fiona to kiss him, having clearly forgotten all the lessons about love from the first two films.
Though it doesn’t exactly go ‘dark’, there’s not much levity either. Far Far Away is a pretty miserable place as ruled by Rumpelstiltskin: witches police the land, people are destitute and fairytale creatures are enslaved. The witches are quite sinister as well – why the scene with them draped over their employer in his nightclub-esque lounge had to be included is a mystery. Rumpelstiltskin himself owes more than a little to Syndrome, the villain from The Incredibles, only with less humour. The (spoilers?) happy ending is simply the restoration of the status quo, and it’s more a matter of relief than joy when it comes. Isn't Shrek supposed to be an enjoyable slice of light-hearted escapism for all the family?
On the plus side, it’s not overly long and the animation is top notch, as you would expect for Dreamworks Animation’s flagship franchise. There’s a great flying broomstick sequence as Shrek escapes from Rumpelstiltskin, and in 3D it works really well. And the end credits neatly recap the events seen over the whole series. But you know you’re in trouble when one of the few laughs in the film comes from a reprise of favourite moments from past glories.
Mike closed his review of the first film thusly: "For wit, invention, satisfying character development and a genuinely uplifting climax, Shrek is the only film worth seeing this Summer." That seems like a long time away now. With those traits no longer in evidence, it's time this ogre was sent to Far Far Away permanently.