Nine years after the first installment solidified DreamWorks as an animation powerhouse, the final chapter of the Shrek series is here. The first film, though not a favorite of mine, stuck a chord with the public and made parodying fairy tales the “next big thing”. The second film topped the first in every way, even unexpectedly winning me over. The third film proved the ogre not invincible in a wretched outing that may have helped make the determination to end the franchise. Luckily for Shrek fanatics and those like me that have been less than fans of the films, Shrek Forever After is a nice and fitting end to the story.

Shrek, the wife, and kids are now living happily ever after back in the swamp, exactly where the big guy has wanted to be since leaving his home in the second film. He has everything anyone could want — family, friends, fame. But not everyone is an ogre. And Shrek misses the old days when he was feared and hated and everything wasn’t all smiles and laughs. During a nauseatingly sweet birthday party, Shrek finally loses it. Rumpelstiltskin, a huckster with a grudge who specializes in magical transactions that always come with strings attached, offers to let Shrek experience one day just like things used to be. Unfortunately for Shrek, the unexpected cost ends up being Rumpelstiltskin in charge of the kingdom and his wife and friends not knowing who he is.

The first third of Shrek Forever After feature some of the tightest writing DreamWorks has done. It all starts off impressively with a nicely done retcon which adds Rumpelstiltskin into the story told in the first film. Then we get a montage of Shrek’s new life that, worryingly, starts off as what appears to be some bad dialogue and sappy writing before morphing into a deliciously funny sequence getting us to the point where we see why Shrek might pine for the old days. It all tops off with the meeting of Rumpelstiltskin and Shrek, in a scene well written and well played. The setup for the film was masterfully done and it is obvious a lot of thought went into how to get the characters from the happy ending of the last film to the main conflict of this one.

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t match the buildup. That’s not to say it is bad necessarily. In fact, I’d say it is the second best of the franchise. But with such a clever setup it’s disappointing the rest of the film is a bit too predictable. Another fairly minor complaint I had about the story was Shrek’s wooing of Fiona. Yes, I understand that they were probably intending for him to be playing towards the princess side of her personality when everyone else in her life only knew her as an ogre. But it seemed out of character and a bit too sappy. Shrek isn’t a sentimental kind of guy and it felt like he too easily found his “feminine side”.

Completely in character for the writers, Rumpelstiltskin continues the tradition (only soiled in the third film) of great villains. The beauty of Shrek bad guys is that they are not the bad guy because they are pure evil. It’s some human foilable that gets them into trouble. Farquaad had a complex because of his height, the Godmother was an overprotective mother, and Rumpelstiltskin was a guy with a grudge. They then take those foibles to an to an extreme — and hilarious — degree! Except for a funny bit with a bounty hunter, everything else plays out pretty much by the book. Not only was the ending fairly rote, it also seemed to come quicker than expected. I admit I really thought there was going to be something else coming when the credits started to roll. Perhaps disappointing to longtime fans is the fact that a lot of the zaniness and pop culture references have been toned down in this outing. For others this may be a big plus!

While the animation is a well done, there is nothing new here and that is basically par for the course in a sequel like this. Nothing to complain about, nothing to get excited over. As I mentioned in the review of Shrek the Third, “one of the downsides to sequels is someone has already created the style of the world and most of the characters” and no one wants to stray from that in later films.

As with the writing, the voice acting of the film is a story of highs and not-quite-so-highs-but-not-really-low-either. Top marks go to Walt Dohrn as Rumpelstiltskin. I was shocked to learn that Dohrn is actually a writer/animator and not a professional actor. He gives an unforgettable performance as the trickster dwarf and I would not be surprised to see an Annie in his future. As for the star himself, there were parts where it seemed like Mike Myers himself was getting tired of voicing Shrek. At other times he sounded like his old self. I almost want to chalk it up to acting the part of an ogre in a mid-life crisis. But in the end I think it was just an inconsistent performance. Luckily the rest of the regular cast was solid in their roles.

As usual, I’ve taken a film I actually liked and been a little too critical of it. Shrek Forever After showed some of the spark that made the second film so great and it would have been nice for the series to go out at that level. In fact, this is the film they shold have followed up Shrek 2 with. But even so, things have wrapped up pretty happily ever after for fans of the franchise and DreamWorks.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

Shrek Forever After
DreamWorks Animation
May 21, 2010
93 minutes
Rated PG
directed by Mike Mitchell