Monday, May 31, 2010

REVIEW: Shrek Forever After

One of the greatest pleasures movies give me is when a film turns out to be much better than I had expected. Shrek Forever After rates as the year's most pleasant surprise. 

As I wrote earlier in the month, I had not been looking forward to the movie. I had always found the series overrated. I wasn't even planning on seeing the fourth film. However, when a friend I don't get to see very often suggested it, I changed my mind - and I'm very glad I did. 

As Shrek the Third had made woefully clear, DreamWorks had run out of ideas when it came to their cash cow ogre. Really, the only thing left to do was to start over - a fact the filmmakers recognized when they came up with the idea for this story - basically, Shrek's version of It's a Wonderful Life.

Feeling stifled by the monotony of domesticity, Shrek misses the days when the populace feared him - when he was free to growl and grouse. That the writers used this storyline, I think, is a canny recognition of the fact that Shrek was always more interesting when he was more of an ogre.

Shrek's feelings make him live bait for the devious Rumpelstiltskin, who wants to rule Far Far Away - and the only way he can do so is by making sure Shrek never rescues Fiona from the tower. So Rumpelstiltskin tells Shrek the ogre can have one day of his old life back in exchange for one day of his early life. However, the day Rumpelstiltskin takes is the day Shrek was born - leaving Shrek truly friendless. Nothing is as he remembers it. The only way to break the curse, is of course, true love's kiss - and that's never as easy as it sounds.

Thus wiping the slate clean, the filmmakers are free to reinvent Shrek's world, and they have a lot of fun doing so, breathing life back into the franchise. It's especially heartening to see Shrek trying to make Fiona fall for him all over again, and that's the key to this movie's success. The Shrek/Fiona romance has always been the heart of these movies, and having them start from scratch gives this movie an emotional pull that had faded from the series.

Not everything works. Donkey is given too little to do, and DreamWorks still falls back on its lazy, tired habit of making their soundtracks into a K-Tel record. But the pros outweigh the cons. Rumpelstiltskin,  terrifically voiced by DreamWorks story artist Walt Dohrn, makes for a great villain, plus it's fun to see Puss in Boots as a lethargic blob - and darn it all, that "big sad eyes" gag still works.

Perhaps the film worked for me because I went in with such low expectations. Maybe it worked because director Mike Mitchell has a way of taking stale material and making it fresh, as he did with Disney's Sky High. Whatever the reasons, Shrek Forever After allows the series to go out on a high note. To say it's better than the lifeless third movie is to damn it with faint praise - but is is the best film in the series since the first.


NOTE: I saw the film in 3D and liked the effects but didn't find them integral to movie, as I did with How to Train Your Dragon. If you can swing the 3D, great - if you can't, no great loss.


Anonymous said...

Eric, thanks for the review! I was apprehensive to see it in theaters but given your review I'm going to check it out. Thanks!

Allison M. Dickson said...

I agree with all of this. I skipped the 3D, as I plan to for most theater releases these days. I didn't miss it.