Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Movie Review: Shrek Forever After

Shrek Forever After ***
Directed by:
Mike Mitchell.
Written By: Josh Klausner & Darren Lemke.
Starring: Mike Myers (Shrek), Eddie Murphy (Donkey), Cameron Diaz (Princess Fiona), Antonio Banderas (Puss in Boots), Walt Dohrn (Rumpelstiltskin / Priest / Krekraw Ogre), Julie Andrews (Queen), Jon Hamm (Brogan), John Cleese (King Harold), Craig Robinson (Cookie), Jane Lynch (Gretched), Conrad Vernon (Gingerbread Man).

The first Shrek movie worked as well as it did because it was original, clever and funny in the way it skewered fairy tales and Disney animated movies with an irreverent style that worked on one level for kids and another for adults. The second film was more of the same - still fun and clever - but rather forgettable after you left the theater. The third film was simply lazy - it felt like they rushed it into production to capitalize on the series popularity, and didn’t care if the film was good at all. The less said about the forgettable Christmas special the better. Before watching Shrek Forever After, I thought that the filmmakers had gone as far as they could with these characters, and it was time to put them behind them and move on. But I am happy to report that Shrek Forever After is the best of the series since the first film. It seems that this time, the filmmakers actually cared about the story and the characters, and came up with a fine film for the whole family. Yes, the originality of the first film has worn off, but this film is as good as a fourth in a series can be expected to be.

When the film opens, Shrek is getting worn down by family life. He has no time for himself, is tired of the same routine day after day, and is sick of being looked on as a hero. He is an ogre, and wishes that he could go back and be treated like that again - feared and hated, and most of all left alone. After a fight with Fiona, he meets Rumpelstiltskin, who is angry at Shrek because when he rescued Fiona from that tower, he screwed up his plan to take over the kingdom of Far, Far Away. Shrek doesn’t know this, so he allows himself to be talked into signing a contract where Shrek can spend a day like he used to before he got married and had kids. The only catch is he has to give up a day from his past in exchange. He agrees, but finds out the day that Rumpelstiltskin took was the day Shrek was born. So now, everything has been completely changed - Shrek never met Donkey, never rescued Fiona, never did anything, because he never existed. If he cannot put things right in 24 hours, he will disappear forever. In effect, this is a version of It’s a Wonderful Life, with Shrek looking at the mess the world becomes when he was never born.

The film is clever and fun pretty much beginning to end. The voice actors have always been good in this series - even in the third installment - and the slip into their roles like slipping into an old shoe. Myers is always amusing as Shrek - even if he isn’t in most of his other roles. Murphy has made Donkey into one of his definitive characters. Diaz is fine, if the least of the three main characters as always. Banderas does his best work of the series as Puss in Boots - who has become fat and lazy. The main new addition is Walt Dorhan as Rumpelstiltskin, who is wonderful doing a Jack Black impression (I was convinced it was Black until I saw the credits).

As with seemingly all animated films these days, Shrek Forever After is in 3-D. The effects are fine, but I’m starting to get a little tired of having to wear the glasses, especially since they don’t really add much to the visual look. The effects here are seamless - which is much better than something like Clash of the Titans where the effects were a distraction - but doesn’t add anything either. If I didn’t get in for free, I’m not sure I would pay extra for the privilege of seeing these effects.

Shrek Forever After is far from groundbreaking, but what it does it does well. The movie is fun pretty much from beginning to end. If you liked Shrek, but like me started to believe that the series had lost all its steam, then I think you’ll enjoy Shrek Forever After. That doesn’t mean I hope there is a fifth installment however. They have advertised this as the final Shrek adventure - and I think it is time to give up while they are ahead.

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