Shrek Forever After

Shrek Forever After Shrek Forever After Shrek Forever After Shrek Forever After Shrek Forever After

Artistically speaking, three may be the "magic" number for successful franchises, as it is now demonstrated by "Shrek Forever After," the fourth and reportedly final chapter in the smash hit DreamWorks series that began almost a decade ago.

Though boasting 3D technology, the new installment shows signs of fatigue, if not total exhaustion. In this chapter, the characters go through midlife crisis–what else can they experience after three adventures? But it's legitimate to ask: Do children, the primary target audience for the animated series, want to follow a tale about tedious, adventureless lives at an age when the whole world is ahead of them.
 
No doubt, of the four segments, "Shrek Forever After" is the weakest in terms of entertainment values, wit, fun, playfulness—it smacks too much of a coldly calculated corporate product, designed to cash in quickly. Gone are the more sophisticated, campy, self-reflexive qualities of the earlier segments.
 
 
Some context is in order for those unfamiliar with the series. The “Shrek” franchise has amassed an impressive $2 billion in box-office receipts and has sold over 100 million DVDs to date. The original “Shrek” tallied $479 million in global box-office receipts and sold over 50 million DVDs. The first film capped off its triumph by winning the first-ever Oscar for Best Animated Feature.  
 
When “Shrek 2” was released, on May 19, 2004, it posted the best 5-day opening ever, and became the third highest- grossing animated film of all time, with a worldwide box office of $920 million. The subsequent “Shrek 2” DVD registered record 12.1 million units in the first 3 days and a total of 40 million copies to date.
 
The third one, which divided critics, opened on May 18, 2007 and grossed $320,706, 665 at the box-office. I mention those figures to indicate that while the second "Shrek" outdid the first, the performance of the third one showed that the audiences might have gotten tired of the concept and its variations.
 
Surprisingly, "Shrek Forever After" was the opening night selection of the Tribeca Film Fest, shown four weeks before its theatrical release, on May 21, which leads me to believe that the execs and filmmakers are confident about their product.  I have no doubts that, despite mixed to negative reviews, "Shrek 4" will score at the box-office.
 
As noted, by now, "Shrek" is a global product, a film that has outlived its freshness and usefulness, serving as a pale echo to the attributes that had marked the first lovely episodes.  As penned by Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke, the movie is based on a dubious premise for a children-driven, entertaining fantasy-fable. After challenging an evil dragon, rescuing a beautiful princess, and saving your in-laws kingdom, what’s an ogre to do? The solution is to turn Shrek (Mike Myers) into a tamer, domesticated family man, facing an existential crisis on the order of "to be or not be."
 
Indeed, if in the first films, we went through the motions of a swamp recovery, curse removal, in-law fights, we are now in the land of crying (and farting) babies, actually broods of infants, three of whom belong to Shrek and Fiona (Cameron Diaz), while the others are taken care of (sort of) by Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas).
 
Early on, we witness various scenes of domestic disorder, including one in which Shrek smashes the cake at his kids' party, scares the obnoxious little child, and then storms off with anger into the woods. Not unlike George Clooney's patrirach in Wes Anderson's   "The Fantastic Mr. Fox," the patrirachal Shrek faces middle-age and the routine responsibilities that come with raising three children. 
 
What's an older ogre to do?  He becomes melancholy and nostalgic for the good ol' days, when he was energetic, fiesty, and dominant. Instead of scaring villagers away as he used to, a reluctant Shrek now agrees to autograph pitchforks.  Longing for the glorious times when he felt like a “real ogre,” Shrek is now duped into signing a pact with a smooth-talking dealmaker named Rumpelstiltskin  (Walt Dohrn).
 
Among other deficiences, this "Shrek" does not have a good villain, which always adds color to the proceedings.  Here, the evil incrante Rumpelstiltskin made a deal with Fiona's parents when they were courting, according to which they would give him their kingdom if he would free their daughter. That deal collapsed, but Rumpelstiltskin sees new possibilities. He asks for one day (any day) out of Shrek's life, in return of which the latter will get some peace. Rumpelstiltskin takes Shrek's birthday, leaving the ogre in a world where he has never been born.  (With this premise, most viewers will make the connection to Frank Capra's 1946 fable, "It's a Wonderful Life," featuring Jimmy Stewart in the same dilemma).
 
Thus, Shrek suddenly finds himself in a twisted, alternate version of Far Far Away, where ogres are hunted, Rumpelstiltskin is king, and Shrek and Fiona have never met. The new world is depicted as a forest full of flying witches. It's in these sequences that the 3D techniques are the most imporessive, turning objects and creatures into something both scarier and funnier than would have been the case in a 2D picture. 
 
The saga then rushes quickly to the last chapter, in which Shrek faces the task of undoing all that he’s done in the hopes of saving his friends, restoring his world, and reclaiming his one True Love.

Like its predecessors, "Shrek Forever After" is self-reflexive, containing some good sight gags, literaryle asides, and allusions to classic fairy-tales. Among the highlights are a nod to MGM's classic fable, "The Wizard of Oz" and musical montages set to classic pop songs such as the Carpenters' "Top of the World."  However, there are not many of those, and ultimately the whole enterprise feels stale, a result of being produced in a decade that's marked by revolutionary technology and ultra-sophistcated CGI effects.    
 
Not helping matters is the pedsetrian approach taken by director Mike Mitchell, who had served as a story artist for "Shrek 3." Having helmed trivila fare on the order of "Sky High" and "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo," Mitchell lacks the skills to enleaven the narrative, though I doubt if a more talented director could have rescued the tale as written. 
 
Unfortunately, comparisons with DreamWorks's current animation hit, "How to Train Your Dragon," which takes full advantage of the new 3D technology and innovative storytelling, are not only inevitable but will also make the various dramatic shortcomings of "Shrek Forever After" all the more apparent.
 
Cast

Shrek – Mike Myers
Donkey – Eddie Murphy
Princess Fiona – Cameron Diaz
Puss in Boots – Antonio Banderas
Queen – Julie Andrews
King – John Cleese
Rumpelstiltskin – Walt Dohrn
 
Credits
 
A Paramount release of a DreamWorks Animation presentation.
Produced by Gina Shay, Teresa Cheng. Executive producers, Aron Warner, Andrew Adamson, John H. Williams.
Directed by Mike Mitchell.
Screenplay, Josh Klausner, Darren Lemke, based on the book by William Steig.
Editor, Nick Fletcher.
Music, Harry Gregson-Williams.
Production designer, Peter Zaslav.
Art directors, Max Boas, Michael Andrew Hernandez.
Sound, Andy Nelson, Anna Behlmer; supervising sound editors, Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl.
Visual effects supervisor, Doug Cooper.
Head of character animation, Jason Reisig.
Head of story, Walt Dohrn.
Head of layout, Yong Duk-jhun.
Associate producer, Patty Kaku-Bueb.
Casting, Leslee Feldman.
 
MPAA Rating: PG.

Running time: 93 Minutes