Friday, December 10, 2010

Shrek Forever After Movie Review: A Dying Franchise Gets a Final Reprieve

Puss let himself go a little bit

What is it about the shift from bachelorhood to family man that makes men suddenly wake up one day and wonder how they got themselves into a lifestyle that is the complete opposite to what they imagined as young men? Mid-life crises are often exploited for dramatic purposes and there are more than enough real-life examples of men who leave their wives for a younger woman or just an exciting fling. There must be something hard-wired in men that causes them to seemingly leap from the single life to married-with-children with little to no consideration for the intervening years.

Now even Shrek, the not-so-jolly green ogre, has succumbed to this universal experience. In Shrek Forever After, the third sequel to the successful 2001 skewering of fairy tales, Shrek (still voiced with a Scottish brogue by Mike Myers) makes a deal with the Devil (well, Rumpelstiltskin as voiced by Walt Dohrn) to live a day free of familial obligation. He quickly becomes ensconced in an alternate reality a la It’s a Wonderful Life. Of course anyone who’s seen the Frank Capra classic should already know that the twofold moral of the story is 1) to appreciate what you have because when it’s gone you’ll miss it dearly and 2) every individual life makes a difference in the world. Shrek Forever After focuses on the first of those and even if the adults in the attendance know lesson to be learned, it’s still important for kids.

Rumpelstiltskin is shown in flashback to have been mere seconds from ruling Far Far Away before a last minute announcement that stops the King from signing the contract. That announcement – that Shrek has rescued Princess Fiona from the tower – pushes poor Rumpel into a life of destitution and disregard, dreaming of the day he can exact his revenge.

As luck would have it, he’s in a position to eavesdrop on Shrek wishing to return to the old life of being the scary and reviled ogre. So old Rumpel engineers a meeting and a contract that takes away the day Shrek was born.

Shrek has a good laugh about it until the implications of the changed world finally dawn on him. Ogres are a persecuted class, Donkey (Eddie Murphy) doesn’t know him, Fiona is the leader of a revolution that includes ogres voiced by Jon Hamm and Jane Lynch, and he has until sunrise the next day to get Fiona to fall in love with him and kiss him if he a return to normalcy.

There should be little doubt as to the final outcome so the real test of the film’s mettle is in how it gets from A to B. In that respect it’s a great improvement over its predecessor, Shrek the Third. This could well be the result of bringing in fresh talent previously untouched by the Shrek franchise. Director Mike Mitchell and co-writer Darren Lemke have not been involved in the earlier films. Co-writer Josh Klausner served as an “additional writer” on the last film. Sometimes that’s just the kind of shakeup a story needs to get some life breathed back into it. That said, it is still lacking the bite of the first two films. Shrek Forever After feels very much like an animated fairy tale instead of the satire that the original team of writers brought. However, some of the gags are really amusing. If you’ve never had a fat cat, then take it from me the alternate reality Puss (Antonio Banderas) is an entirely accurate and hilarious depiction of a rotund feline, from his lack of interest in chasing a mouse to his inability to roll from his back to his stomach.

If nothing else, the story affords the writers the freedom to craft a scenario in which Shrek gets to do almost everything all over again: become friends with Donkey and Puss, fall in love with Fiona. They do manage to mine the premise for everything they can. Still, something tells me this franchise should end here before the series itself starts wishing it can take back the day it was born.

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