It’s been more than a month since I saw Shrek Forever After, the fourth film in the lucrative Shrek franchise, and as I’ve put off writing this review the details have receded in my mind. And that’s sort of a given, I guess, with a film like this. It’s not meant to stick with you.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Mindless escapism is often just what the doctor ordered. And when it comes to childrens’ movies, you can do far worse than the Shrek films, which at least serve up some legitimate laughs for the grown-ups in the audience.
Still, in a summer movie season that has given us Toy Story 3, it’s hard to accept the premise that animated movies (or kids’ movies in general) should be judged on a different scale.
2007’s Shrek the Third was a real turkey. I actually dozed off watching it in the theater with my daughter, something I never do. So the good news is that Shrek Forever After redeems the franchise following that mishap. And it does so by focusing on story.
Rather than overload the audience with tongue-in-cheek pop culture references, Shrek Forever After plays it pretty straight. It’s a simple take on It’s a Wonderful Life in which bored husband and father Shrek gets a taste of what life would be like had he never been born.
Along for the ride are Cameron Diaz as Fiona, a fierce warrior ogre in the alternate universe; Eddie Murphy as Donkey, unchanged but funny as ever; and a scene-stealing Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots, now a literal fat cat spoiled into lethargy by his owner.
The biggest infusion of new energy comes in the form of acting novice Walt Dohrn, a storyboard artist who won the plum role of the villainous Rumpelstiltskin. His manic, darkly comic portrayal is the most original thing in the movie.
Despite being billed as “the final chapter,” I suspect that the box office grosses of Shrek Forever After will lead to a fifth film. Following the third installment, I would have found that prospect depressing. Now, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. And if that ain’t exactly a pull quote for the poster, at least it’s progress.