Fourth movies in a franchise are generally put forth with the intent to reinvent and revitalize but, sadly, usually only betray the filmmakers’ inability to not take advantage of one last box-office grab. In doing so, studios often kill the very spirit that brought audiences to their knees in the first place. To wit, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull abandoned suspense and logic for CGI; Live Free or Die Hard went PG-13 on our asses; A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master turned Freddy into the veritable game-show host of horror villains; Terminator Salvation made damn certain that we were all finished, professionally; and, presumably, Breaking Dawn’s cesarean-by-vampire-teeth will blow the glitter from the rest of the Twilight franchise. As to the case at hand, Shrek Forever After abandons its rollicking and adventuresome spirit in favor of going the existential route.
Rest assured, however, that those notorious burps and farts are still present. Because those are important.
Shrek Forever After, by its very nature, illustrates its own lack of necessity. Since the franchise had already exhausted the thin premise upon which the previous three movies managed to subsist, this sequel didn’t have many possible directions in which to turn. So, the filmmakers returned to the very beginning to revise the (fairy tale) revisionism, so to speak. When the fourth film commences, Shrek (Mike Myers) is feeling the inertia of
this drawn-out franchise daily life, which he finds to be awfully boring compared to the excitement of doing what an ogre does best; that is, generally scaring the crap out of people. Also, he’s feeling the weight of inertia after the first three movies worth of wooing his true love, breaking curses, and dealing with various obstacles on the way to his own “happily ever after.” Quite simply, Shrek has quickly grown disenchanted with his relatively peaceful family life with Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), which mostly revolves around caring for their infant triplets. Since it wouldn’t be much of a movie to watch an emasculated Shrek spend most of his time changing diapers — instead of being his former fearsome self and throwing his own poop at the audience — the movie turns to the only possible plot device by figuratively deleting Shrek, placing him in an alternate reality, and making him fight his way back into dreadfully boring domesticated life. Ooh, good plan.
So, the story introduces Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), who offers Shrek a one-day pass, during which he shall be free from domesticity. In exchange, Stiltz only asks for a mere day of the ogre’s childhood. Naturally, Shrek jumps at the chance, but Stiltz antes up by claming the day Shrek was born, effectively erasing the titular ogre from existence and leaving him with a mere 24 hours to put things back where they should be, or he shall be erased completely. Now, Shrek is recognized by none of his former comrades, including his best friend, Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), who has transformed into a fattie. Stiltz now runs the kingdom of Far Far Away (this is rationalized through a flashback, which presumes that Stilz lost a power struggle towards the beginning of the franchise and has yearned for revenge against Shrek all along) and has placed ogres into slavery. As such Fiona has become the leader of the freedom-fighting resistance (which is the closest Diaz will ever get to playing that sort of role). When Stiltz describes Shrek’s dilemma as a “metaphysical paradox,” the semi-enchanted spellbound audience of the first three Shrek films finally breaks free from the ridiculous hold that this franchise formerly held over the box office.
To further emphasize the cash-grab aspect of this sequel, DreamWorks Animation has made a huge deal of making the transformation to 3-D. This is a self-defeating move, and the visual results pale in comparison to the studio’s recent How to Train Your Dragon. Not to mention the fact that Dragon dealt with more mature themes while still maintaining an adventuresome spirit. Still, it’s not for lack of halfheartedly trying because, technically speaking, Shrek Forever After does attempt to deal with more “adult” themes. Still, imagine how It’s a Wonderful Life would have been if directed by the guy who gave us Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (Mike Mitchell), and you’ve essentially figured out how this sequel fares. After tossing in countless expected pop culture riffs to The Wizard of Oz , Groundhog Day, and Deliverance (just to name a few), yet still managing to lose all the whimsical enjoyment of the other Shrek movies, and we’ve got one dead franchise. Skip this movie at all costs.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.