Shrek Forever After

How do you put the lid on a successful cartoon franchise? If you’re Dreamworks, wringing the last few bucks out of the billion-dollar Shrek, you take all the stuff that worked in the first three films, juggle it around for a while, add a few time-swallowing song and dance numbers and call it a finale. Oh, and make it in 3D.

The resulting Shrek Forever After, unsurprisingly, lacks the comic energy of the first two films but is still a vast improvement on the hopeless third iteration. From the novelty and fun of dragon-slaying and damsel-rescuing, the ogre Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) has been reduced to suffering a premature mid-life crisis. After just a year of married bliss with Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and their flatulent triplets, the ogre has lost his mojo. “I’m just a jolly green joke,’’ he whines.

Desperate to unshackle himself from responsibility, Shrek signs an ill-fated magical contract with the conniving Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dorn), who promises him a single halcyon day of being a monstrous ogre. But there’s a twist, which sees Shrek removed from history unless he can fulfil a clause in the contract before the sun goes down. The clock is ticking, so Shrek undertakes a quest to re-connect with Fiona, now leader of a gang of renegade ogres, the downtrodden Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), now a fat cat living the high life on a silken cushion, and get his life back.

The 3D work adds a few moments of head-ducking diversion, but the overall effect is not worth the extra effort involved. The audience is not watching the effects, they are there to laugh and although there are a few decent jokes, it is not nearly enough for comic satisfaction. Instead, the thin material is padded out with over-long chases, tiresome repetitions and the already mentioned and altogether tedious montages of awkward song-and-dance numbers. All too briefly, the film sketches out a couple of potentially interesting sidebars, (including yet another take on the central notion in It’s A Wonderful Life) considering the fates of the people Shrek cares about, if he had never been born. But these avenues remain mostly unexplored, blockaded by the franchise’s requirement to insert a poop joke or another dizzying pursuit.

It might not be fair to make comparisons between Dreamworks animated output (which consists of Shrek and not much else) and the vastly superior and prolific Pixar, but there is a glaring gulf between the two. Pixar, who will release Toy Story 3 in a couple of weeks, develop their own characters and write their own scripts. All four Shreks are distantly related to characters in William Steig’s children’s book, written twenty years ago. With the Shrek films, Dreamworks have proven themselves to be more interested in hit-or-miss one-liners, celebrity cameos and pop-culture references than telling a story. The story is all Pixar care about. It shows: Dreamworks films are forgotten by the time you strap the kids back in the car, Pixar make films that will be enjoyed for as long as there are people to watch.

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