Shrek Forever After is being touted as the final installment in the Shrek franchise, which feels about right. Forever After is a decided improvement over the uninspired Shrek the Third, and while it doesn’t reach the heights of the first two films, it at least returns the series to a modestly entertaining level for a fitting farewell.
From the outset, though, things don’t look so good. The big green ogre (voiced by Mike Myers) finds himself in the throes of a mid-life crisis, bored by the routine of day-to-day life in Far Far Away; even his loving wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz), three ogre infants, and Donkey sidekick (Eddie Murphy) grind on his nerves with each repetitious day. He longs for the time when he was a free ogre, roaming the land and scaring the villagers with his great roar.
This is what sank the last movie, which focused on the internal conflict and Big Decisions the titular ogre had to make rather than, y’know, a more proactive plot. Yeah, it relates contemporary problems to the madcap fairy tale setting. Clever. But I might be more inclined to care if this were a Tennessee Williams drama rather than an animated feature aimed mostly at a pre-teen audience.
Enter Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), whom you may remember as the magical dwarf who made a deal for a queen’s first-born child unless she guessed his name. Well, now everybody knows his name, but that hasn’t stopped him from making similarly devious deals; he was set to inherit the Kingdom from Fiona’s royal parents until Shrek rescued her during events that occurred in the first movie.
And now, with Shrek longing for the time before he rescued Fiona and became a family man, well, you can see where this is going. The ogre makes a deal with the deceptive Rumpelstiltskin, and Shrek Forever After becomes a What If? movie as he’s transported to a time where he never met his true love.
A sign of a tired franchise, yes, but the film finds a balance about halfway through, and delivers at a steady pace while Shrek attempts to find the out clause in his contract. One blemish: the climactic battle scene, which is entirely perfunctory and just feels out of place here.
As with the previous films, a lot of the fun comes in the small details: the obnoxious W.C. Fields “do the roar” kid, the unfortunate gingerbread man, warrior-Fiona’s ogre sidekick voiced by Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm. Of course, Murphy and Antonio Banderas steal the film (yet again) as Donkey and Puss-in-Boots; Puss is an overweight blob in the alternate reality, but that doesn’t hamper his adorable “sad eyes” routine.
Shrek Forever After has been competently put together by director Mike Mitchell (Deuce Bigalow Male Gigolo), and while it never reaches the heights of the first two films, it’s an entirely satisfactory finale that should please fans of the series.