Shrek loses his edge as franchise drags on
By Bill Goodykoontz
Gannett Chief Film Critic
If you found "Shrek the Third," the third film in the Shrek franchise, tired — and it was — it will probably come as no surprise that "Shrek Forever After" is downright exhausted.
The spark of the original film, released nine years ago, a gleeful skewering of Disneyfied fairytale characters spiced with contemporary pop-culture references, was so refreshing and inspired it seemed it could go on forever.
Isn't that always the way in fairytales? Alas, as with King Midas' touch, there's always a catch. "Shrek the Third" made more than $322 million. Why kill the goose that laid the golden egg?
Because it's time.
"Shrek Forever After" is billed as the final installment, and it should be, while we still have warm feelings for Shrek and Donkey and the rest.
Shrek (voice of Mike Myers) is by this time a fully domesticated ogre, living in the Land of Far, Far Away with his wife, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and their triplets. The grind of waking up with the kids and sliding into the routine of feeding, burping and changing, combined with domestic chores and the lack of a life of his own, is starting to weigh on him. (Points for realism on that front.) Hey, the villagers say, didn't you used to be a proper ogre? Now his fearsome roar is a party trick, nothing more.
If only there was some way he could go back to being a mean ogre, if only for a day. Enter Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), who we've met in a framing device. He's a scheming little cuss, happy to grant Shrek's wish, for reasons of his own. And remember, there's always a catch (see above).
What follows is a sort of twisted take on "It's a Wonderful Life," but not really. What if the Shrek we know and love had never been born?
Would the Land of Far, Far Away be a different place?
While he gets his ogre groove back, he's not the same old Shrek. No one knows who he is, he's just another in a line of hated, feared creatures.
So his best friend Donkey (Eddie Murphy) doesn't know him. Certainly Fiona doesn't. Not rotting away in the castle tower, she's a freedom fighter, leading a resistance movement against ... eh, better not to say too much about how and why things have changed. Just know that they have, a lot. For Shrek to make things right, he must again share True Love's Kiss with her, but it's a tall order. (Isn't it always?)
It's an interesting idea, the alternate universe, one that requires a base knowledge of the characters. After all this time, we've got that. But to remain relevant it also requires a continuing level of wit and social commentary — which is, in reality, what the first "Shrek" was engaging in beneath the clever, funny jabs — and by this time that's pretty played out.
Dohrn is good as Rumpelstiltskin ("Get me my angry wig!").
Donkey is still funny and cute, and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) is now fat, which is good for a couple of laughs.
But we've probably got more than all the "Shrek" we need already.
Better to let this one make its fortune, as it surely will, and let the franchise reside henceforth in our memories.