By Roxana Hadadi
As a franchise, the “Shrek” films have always been a solid go-to for children and parents alike: The kids giggle at the bright green ogre, the adults chuckle at the numerous pop culture references, everyone walks away happy. But with the series’ latest – and supposedly, but not definitely, last – film, “Shrek Forever After,” there’s too much of a focus on appealing to the older demographic, leaving much of the film over kids’ heads.
“Shrek Forever After” takes place a few months after “Shrek the Third,” with the triplets nearing their first birthday and Shrek and Fiona planning a party for them. But while Fiona seems happy in their domestic life, Shrek grows more and more unfulfilled: He’s sick of burping babies and throwing away diapers, cleaning things around the house and chasing off autograph-seekers; he longs for the day when he was just a monster terrifying villagers and wasn’t bogged down by family or friends. In the middle of a mid-life crisis, Shrek takes it out on everyone at his children’s birthday party, angering partygoers, ruining the triplets’ cake and frustrating Fiona, who is deeply offended by his claim that he wants to go “back when the world made sense” – basically, before he saved her and the two were married.
And just when Shrek is at his most vulnerable and confused is when manipulative trickster Rumplestilskin (Walt Dohrn) recognizes an opportunity and goes for it. A schemer who had tried to swindle the land of Far Far Away from Fiona’s parents years earlier, he has harbored a grudge against Shrek for saving the princess and robbing him of the chance to become ruler. Now, seeing the ogre in need, Rumplestilskin cons him into a contract: If Shrek will give him a day of his youth, Rumplestilskin will give him a day of his life before he met Fiona and his best friend Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and became so grown-up. Intrigued by the idea of the simple switch, Shrek signs the contract without reading all the inches of fine print – and is immediately thrust into an alternate reality where Rumplestilskin, who stole the day Shrek was born, is the tyrannical ruler of Far Far Away, ogres are hunted and collected by witches and no one knows who Shrek is.
What happens next is your typical “It’s a Wonderful Life” tale: Shrek must find a way to get his life back, even though Donkey doesn’t recognize him and Fiona, who is still under her curse but now a leader of the ogre resistance, is too busy training and planning ways to free her people to believe Shrek’s tale that they’re actually married. Even though Shrek eventually learns the contract will be rendered null and void if he shares True Love’s Kiss with Fiona before sunrise the next day, he can’t figure out how to make that happen – Fiona’s “Xena: Warrior Princess” act is far too intimidating – and time rapidly begins to run out.
“Shrek Forever After” has its share of laughs, but the film follows too much of a formula to really get anyone wondering about what could happen if Shrek and Fiona didn’t end up together. The sentimental, forever-Christmas-special film “It’s a Wonderful Life” took its unsettled main character and made him suffer through an alternate reality without his family to fully understand the impact he had made on the world, and “Shrek Forever After” does the exact same thing: Shrek gloats while horrifying villagers and jumping into their mud pits, but everyone knows he’ll eventually miss his wife and children and regret his decision, so there’s no surprise there.
Instead, much of the film’s charm comes from the cheesy villain Rumplestilskin, whose shiny outfits, numerous wigs (organized by categories like “speech,” “business” and “angry”) and abuse of the witches he uses to do his bidding – such as threatening them with water until they give him good ideas about how to defeat Shrek – are pretty hilarious. As voiced by Dorn, Rumplestilskin’s sneering smugness, best evidenced in lines like “How’s that for a metaphysical paradox?” when Shrek wonders how he could be alive in this alternate Far Far Away without ever having been born, works perfectly.
And though children won’t get a lot of the jokes in the film, which reference things like “The Wizard of Oz” and various popular songs in the past few decades, they won’t be offended by much, either. The final fight between the witches and ogres is as graphic as the film gets, and even in that, hot chimichangas – yes, the deep-fried burrito – flying through the air is the extent of the violence.
Yet the rest of “Shrek Forever After” lacks the kind of absurdist appeal that worked so well in the series’ previous three installments, and though the 3-D scenes – including when the witches first chase down and capture Shrek and a fight later on in Rumplestilskin’s castle – are well-crafted, there aren’t enough of them to merit the higher ticket price. It’s not like the film is a totally disappointing end to the “Shrek” series, but if “Shrek Forever After” makes enough money, hopefully the next one (there has to be another, right?), will be better. Give it a few years.
Roxana Hadadi last reviewed “Iron Man 2.”
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