After the debacle that was Shrek The Third, fans were understandably skeptical when DreamWorks Animation announced their plans to make two more Shrek films. Fortunately, the upcoming installments had the full support of Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was more excited for the coming films than any moviegoer was. Explaining that the whole Shrek story had been mapped out since the first film’s pre-production process, Katzenberg went on to make these promises:
Shrek 3 and 4 are going to reveal other unanswered questions and, finally, in the last chapter, we will understand how Shrek came to be in that swamp, when we meet him in the first movie. There is a reason he came to be there, but there is another chapter to the story before that.
Six years after these statements, Shrek 4 – re-titled Shrek Forever After – arrived on multiplex screens. The film yielded healthy box office returns, but a boatload of mediocre to bad reviews.
With that, we come to the thousand-dollar question: were those bad reviews justified? The general consensus says yes. As for me… well, not to spoil my review, but I don’t think so! After seeing the film for the first time for this review, I have to say that I think it’s a perfectly solid sequel. It’s fine, especially when compared to Shrek The Third.
So, what did I like about this much-maligned film? Well, sit down, friend, and I’ll tell you.
Shrek Forever After starts – as does every other Shrek film – with a storybook opening. This time, the book is being read by Rumplestiltskin (Walt Dohrn), a con artist who specializes in making crooked deals. Rumplestiltskin recalls the night that Fiona (Cameron Diaz)’s father and mother approached him, trying to make a deal that would benefit their cursed daughter. Just as the King and Queen are about to sign the contract, however, a servant bursts in with the good news that Fiona has been saved. The King and Queen tell Rumplestiltskin that there will be no deal, which leads the con artist down a road of destitution.
We flash forward several years. By now, Shrek (Mike Myers) has ensconced himself into family life: taking care of his children, nurturing his relationship with Fiona, and hanging out with Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas). However, domestic bliss comes with a price: Shrek can no longer be the carefree ogre bachelor he once was.
After things come to a head at a birthday party, Shrek runs into Rumplestiltskin, who hears opportunity knocking. Rumple gets Shrek liquored up and gets Shrek to sign an “Ogre For A Day” contract, which gives Shrek one day of commitment-free ogre behavior in exchange for another day from his childhood. In the middle of enjoying his day, however, Shrek realizes that the day Rumplestiltskin has taken is the day Shrek was born. Now, the only way Shrek can survive past sunrise is to take the contract’s escape clause and get Fiona – now a warrior princess – to share true love’s kiss with him.
The story is fairly predictable to anyone who’s seen It’s A Wonderful Life, a Disney fairy tale, or any of the vast array of deal-with-the-devil stories out there. However, even though each plot point can be seen from miles away, the tale unfolds in an agreeable way, getting from point A to point Z with a few laughs along the way. The legendary director Howard Hawks once said that a good film was one with “three good scenes and no bad ones,” and Shrek Forever After is a textbook example of that formula!
Most of the voice acting is fine, with the actors having comfortably settled into their roles. That being said, none of the leads are phoning it in; it’s just that we’ve seen Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and Antonio Banderas in these roles so often that the novelty is gone. The only real exception to the “good voice acting” trend is Walt Dohrn as Rumplestiltskin, who is annoying from beginning to end.
The animation also feels like the same old stuff we got in the prior three films. Apparently deciding that there was no need to tinker with a formula that was working, the animators do nothing exciting with the characters. Unfortunately, this also extends to most of the alternate-universe versions of our leads, sticking merely with cosmetic changes (Puss being fat, for instance) and having their personalities and movement remain the same. The sole exception to this rule is Fiona, who looks and feels TOTALLY different in her warrior-princess persona.
Overall, if I had been given only one word with which to review Shrek Forever After, I would have chosen ‘average.’ There’s nothing about the fourth Shrek movie that makes it stand out among its siblings, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, Shrek The Third stands out for being horrible. I found it to be a perfectly fine way to while away an hour and a half, and, ultimately, that’s all a movie needs to be!