(by Dustin Putman
The title on the advertising and marketing materials for the fourth "Shrek" feature is "Shrek: The Final Chapter," while the given name at the opening of the film is "Shrek Forever After." That a studio (in this case, Dreamworks Animation) cannot even decide on a title for their major summer tentpole on the week of release does not exactly stir confidence in the product being put out. On top of that, Dreamworks continues to jump on the 3-D bandwagon—a fad that could vanish today, never to be seen again, and it wouldn't bother me one bit—for no reason other than pure greed. For the added cost of a 3-D ticket, viewers will be inundated with an image that is three-quarters as bright as the 2-D version and a film that creatively gains nothing at all from this format. That the movie in question takes place primarily at night, in dark and fog-enshrouded locales, doesn't help matters. There is no doubt that the high-definition transfer for "Shrek Forever After" will be a stunning aesthetic feast once the picture reaches Blu-Ray, but as a 3-D theatrical experience, it is nothing if not murky and unattractive. For those who want such a thing, go ahead and pay the $15- to $18-dollar ticket price. Have a ball. Don't say you weren't warned. Article continues below
Title confusion and haphazard 3-D aside, how is "Shrek Forever After" as a film? Well, if 2001's "Shrek" was groundbreaking and imaginative for its day, a wit-filled, satirical fairy tale that both children and adults ate up, and 2004's "Shrek 2" was almost as good, if ever so slightly less inspired, and 2007's "Shrek the Third" began to show signs of aging for the franchise, then "Shrek Forever Ever" drops down one step further into outright tedium. Lacking creativity and low on charm, the film's director, Mike Mitchell (2005's "Sky High"), and screenwriters, Josh Klausner (2010's "Date Night") and Darren Lemke, are content to pretty much repeat the same gags from the previous three efforts without adding anything particularly new or memorable to the equation. Having seen "Shrek Forever After" only four days ago, it has already begun to slowly fade from memory, whereas the original "Shrek" remains fresh and vibrant in my mind, as if it were just viewed yesterday. What does that tell you about the series' drop in quality?
Married ogre couple Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are back home in their beloved swamp, having become parents in the interim. While Shrek should be happy—he's found a loving companion and made a family for himself, after all—he can't help but miss the days when he was seen as a creature to be feared, rather than a cuddly attraction for the tour groups who pass by each day. Furthermore, the repetitive rigors of domestic life have begun to wear him out. Following a blow-up at his children's birthday parties, Shrek happens upon squirrely elf Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), who agrees to give him back his ability to strike terror in people in exchange for a single day from his childhood. Shrek agrees, signs the contract, and suddenly is whisked away to an alternate reality where motor-mouthed sidekick Donkey (Eddie Murphy) has never met him before, Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) is little more than a lazy housecat, and Fiona is an all-business warrior princess not very interested in men or romance. Regretting his agreement with Rumpelstiltskin but with no way to take back his wish, Shrek has until the dawn of a new day to make Fiona fall in love with him again. If he doesn't receive true love's kiss by that time, he will cease to exist.
"Shrek Forever After" is stale and surprisingly cornball, spelling out its messages with dialogue so mundane that previous entries in the series would have laughed it right off the screen. "I didn't know what I had until it was gone," Shrek says at one point, stating the obvious. On the positive, at least the moral is slightly different than the previous three's "self-acceptance" motif. Otherwise, the film is but a shadow of its former self, remarkably sparse in the acerbic dialogue that made "Shrek" and "Shrek 2" so special. Donkey, usually a comedic highlight, mostly just sings a lot of song clips throughout. Fiona, in the alternate world that Shrek finds himself in, is gruff and not as likable. The gingerbread man, in lieu of sarcastically telling someone to "Eat me!," is literally and troublesomely eaten this time around. The worst offense, however, is the irresponsible treatment of Puss in Boots, a beloved, swarthy character who has been rendered overweight and nothing more. Instead of being given a critical role in the story, Puss in Boots is treated as the useless butt of non-stop fat jokes—just what impressionable youngsters need to see when they go to an animated feature that supposedly should be building confidence, not shattering it.
By now, the characters voiced by Mike Myers (2008's "The Love Guru"), Cameron Diaz (2009's "The Box"), Antonio Banderas (2006's "Take the Lead") and Eddie Murphy (2009's "Imagine That") fit the actors like well-worn gloves. Aside from not being given the same high level of material to work with as in the past, there are no surprises in their performances. The standout, then, is actually the one cast member who isn't recognizable by name. Walt Dohrn, a writer and storyboard artist, is terrific as Rumpelstiltskin, a part that calls for him to be both villainous and cowardly. Dohrn brightens up his every moment onscreen—just about the only ones that hold more than a modicum of enchantment. A mischievous pied piper who causes his victims to shake their groove thing and a humorous reference to "The Wizard of Oz" notwithstanding, "Shrek Forever After" garners few laughs. As for the plot, it's a grand miscalculation; for the last part in a series, why would you devise a premise that requires ninety percent of the running time be akin to a dream? Seems rather worthless to me. If Dreamworks Animation actually sticks to their guns and this is, indeed, the final chapter of "Shrek," it has regrettably come not a moment too soon.