– Summary –
Director : Mike Mitchell
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Voices of Mike Meyers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, John Cleese, Walt Dohrn,
Approx Running Time : 93 Minutes
Synopsis: Shrek signs a deal with the evil Rumpelstiltskin to return to being a true ogre for a single day, only to find that his life appears to be completely forgotten by all and sundry around him. Realising he’s been duped, Shrek must once more befriend all his old friends, and once more get Princess Fiona to fall in love with him. (otherwise, all is lost!)
What we think : Fourth and final trip to the Fairy Tale Well has the hallmarks of a big send-off, but can’t quite deliver the rapid fire laughs of the first instalment (or even the second), nor the heartfelt characterisation of the franchise so far. Better than the third film, Shrek Forever After is a well intended, but ultimately same-same feeling entry into the franchise. Good enough, but I, for one, am glad they’ve called time on everybody’s favourite ogre where they did.
Like the majority of the world, I fell in love with Shrek, Fiona and Donkey when they first appeared on cinema screens back in 2001. A pastiche of everyone’s favourite fairy stories, given a modern pop-culture twist, Shrek was a whip-smart CGi feature that simply begged for sequels. The potential, the virtually unlimited story ideas that could be crafted from all the hundreds of Fairy Stories around the world, gave many audiences hope that future Shrek films would enhance and broaden the franchises’ comedic and character driven horizon. Shrek 2, which introduced Antonio Banderas’s screamingly funny Puss In Boots, as well as Joanna Lumley’s evil Fairy Godmother, and Rupert Everett’s Prince Charming, delivered this intent with aplomb, as well as better visuals and a more epic sensibility to it’s story. Shrek The Third, which gave us cute little Shrek babies and Cameron Diaz’s former boyfriend Justin Timberlake as some lazily written family tree offshoot, was less than impressive, with a thinly spread comedy smattering, and a heavy handed, overly romanticised adult humour that avoided the kiddies and subsequently left audiences underwhelmed. Now, with the fourth entry into the franchise, we see the concluding adventure in the tale of our oafish ogre, his (ahem) hot ogre wife and their extended family of donkey/dragon mutant babies, wooden puppet boys, bulimia-afflicted pig triplets, and a wolf with a deadpan delivery worse than Bobcat Goldthwaite. Irony, folks, suck it up. So is Shrek Forever After any good? Is it an improvement over the third film, or will history consign it to the increasingly larger series Law Of Diminishing Returns Sequels that attempts (but fails) to recapture the allure of the original we all loved so much?
Well, not exactly. Shrek Forever After looks, sounds, and has the production design of a film made in 2010, which makes the animation of the original film look remarkably tame by comparison, so if you remove anything like story and characters, the fourth entry gives the impression of better production values. The problem is, the story (and the characters within it) lack the oomph and impetus the first film managed to impart, resulting in a film trying desperately to rekindle the aww-shucks romance of Shrek and Fiona, the gut-busting wit of Donkey’s verbal barrages, and the modern twists on fairy tales we all know and love – and failing on almost every level. Don’t get me wrong – Shrek 4 isn’t a dreadful film, heck it’s actually a damn fine piece of entertainment by most standards of the medium; but if you sit it next to the other three films in the series, and next to anything Pixar put out, Shrek Forever After is only a little better than Shrek The Third. Which isn’t saying much.
Shrek (Mike Meyers) is finding himself a little lost in marriage, family and responsibility, and longs for the days when he was a carefree ogre bathing in his mudpool and scaring villagers. After a brutal first birthday party for his three kids, he storms out, has a fight with Fiona (Cameron Diaz), and walks off in a self-righteous huff. Vindictive snark-monkey Rumpelstiltskin (a brilliant Walt Dohrn – this man sounds like Andy Dick after drinking three bottles of Black Label) plans to usurp control of the Kingdom Of Far Far Away, and makes a deal with Shrek – live as an ogre for a day, in return from one day from Shrek’s past. After an initial bout of conscience, and some cajoling from the goose-obsessed dwarf, Shrek signs the contract, and is transported back to Far Far Away – only, he’s not the famous Farquard-killing ogre on the tourist map, he’s now a feared creature who sends local villagers running. But after a while, he realises something is not quite right: Donkey (Eddie Murphy, who seems bored by it all now) doesn’t remember him, Fiona is now a rebel leader of an underground Ogre resistance movement (a la Braveheart, I must say), and Puss (Antonio Banderas) has put on a little weight after hanging up his boots. It seems that the day Rumpelstiltskin took from Shrek was the day he was born, meaning nobody recognises him at all – and if he can’t drag first loves true kiss out of Fiona by midnight, he will be erased from existence. Oh, and Rumpelstiltskin now rules Far Far Away like the despot he is: his underlings are the Witches, and his enemies are the Ogres. Shrek must not only convince a now hard-ass Fiona that she is his wife and true love, but also convince Puss and Donkey that he’s their friend. And he must battle Rumpelstiltskin as well, which you’d think would be easy because he’s such a toady little guy.
Yep, the trials of not being happy with what you’ve got get rolled out once more with Shrek, and to be honest, I’d hoped this element of the franchise had run its course with the first two sequels. Shrek should know by now (or at least, it’s been proven to him time and again!) that his life with Fiona is pretty darn tootin’, and to go messing with it is always tantamount to disaster. For this story to thrive, however, the writers have deemed that once more, he must try and prove to himself just how lucky he is to have a family, and in order to do so they must put him through the wringer again. It’s now become a worn cliche in Shrek-world, and I, like many others, am a little over it. Shrek’s domestic problems have come and gone – can we get down to a new issue for the giant green goofball? Still, it is what it is, and resting on its laurels is what this film seems to be about: the film deviates from known history altogether by removing Shrek from all we know and love, and presenting it in a new, Shrek-unfriendly way. His friends don’t know him (ohh, how original), his enemy is evil (but not exceedingly powerful, I must admit) and the consequences… well, they’re actually pretty huge, but the last gasp or-the-curse-will-last-forever chestnut is simply a retread of previous films. Which, now that I think of it, is pretty much the standard of most fairy stories anyway, but since they were written hundreds of years ago when imagination was a little understood facet of human existence (about the same time that the Pope declared that the sun revolved around the Earth, and the Earth was flat you explorer bastards!) it smacks of lack of imagination by the writers of today to try something new. By that, I mean give our heroes something more to do than yet another villain-of-the-week retread.
With a story running on tired gags (often references to the previous film – again, another sign of lazy writing) and a heroic quest that feels like the bastard twin of Highlander and frickin’ Mel Gibson in Braveheart, the cast valiantly try and squeeze every morsel of life from the script, and the animation team up the ante once more with a dazzling display of CGI visuals. The trouble is, the script can’t decide which it wants to do more; be funny, be romantic, or be hard-core bad-ass, the latter of which I think was the intention. The dialogue doesn’t sparkle between Shrek and Donkey like it once did, and Fiona seems more like an imbecile for not understanding (or at least appreciating) Shrek’s dilemma at the films opening. Puss, who is once more voiced by a purr-fectly cast Banderas, is the real life of the heroic show in this film, his overweight fumbling a delight to watch and listen to. Actually, the most revelatory part of the entire film is the vocal performance of Walt Dohrn, a bolt-from-the-blue casting decision that turned a pretty feeble villain into somebody who’s actually pretty darn devious, now that you mention it sir. Dohrn gives Rumpelstiltskin a devious, husky-voiced creepiness that elevates him above the material he is given – and turns a pretty ineffectual character into one with real menace.
Look, I know it seems like I’m really ragging on this film, and I guess I am only to drive home the point that I was expecting a lot more from what is the final installment in this series. Puss In Boots, the spin-off film due out later this year, will deliver my own fanboy wet-dream of having Puss star in his own feature film (something I mentioned to Lisa when we saw the second film – she didn’t get the irony in so many potential pussy jokes…), but Shrek Forever After should have delivered a better ending for the series that started it all. The execution, from a technical point of view, is fantastic – the animation is simply breathtaking, and the sound, editing and music are all top notch. But the script, which teeters between melodramatic schmaltz and outright widescreen epic (the finale, a brawl in Rumpelstiltskin’s castle between the Ogre army and the Witch army, is effective) doesn’t click like it should: the humour is forced, the dialogue trite and the characters badly written – at least, the characters deviate too far from what’s already been established, and they feel alien and cold to me. It’s a film trying hard to go out with a bang, but ending up as little more than a cleverly animated, pop-culture lite, whimper.