I have an odd relationship with Shrek. I love the characters, I love the universe and I love the idea, but I wouldn’t say I love any of the movies. After revisiting the previous three entries to prepare for Shrek Forever After, I would say the first two films are equally good in their own different ways, but neither reach the greatness of, say, a Pixar film. The third has its moments, but is not recommendable. This installment picks up a bit of the slack from the previous film and, though still only mediocre, it’s enjoyable enough for a view.
The last time we saw our hero (voiced by Mike Myers), he was preparing for fatherhood with his wife Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz), understandably hesitant, but nevertheless excited. Now it’s been a year since his children came into the world and his humdrum daily routine is starting to wear thin. Every day he is woken up at the crack of dawn by his kids, Donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy) bursts through the door uninvited with his dragon/donkey hybrid children and a celebrity tour bus cruises his swamp in the hopes of getting a glimpse at the newly minted hero of Far, Far Away. But Shrek selfishly wants to be himself again before all of this happened. He wants people to fear him when he walks into town, not cheer him. Rumpelstiltskin (voiced by Walt Dohrn) learns of his wish and makes him a deal: give up one day of his past in exchange for 24 hours of being his old self again. Shrek agrees, but Rumpelstiltskin, being the master manipulator he is, takes away the most important day of Shrek’s life: his birth. This means when the 24 hour period is up he will disappear forever.
When Shrek originally debuted back in 2001, it was like a breath of fresh air. The fairy tale spoof had never been done before, or at least done as well. It took all of the beloved tales we grew up with and twisted them to fit their story, making fun of their tropes while using them to craft a thrilling adventure. It worked like magic and Shrek became a hit. But as the series went on, its originality began to dwindle. It became too bogged down by pop culture references and began to distance itself from its once unique parody. Shrek Forever After continues the tradition. The fun it had with fairy tales is all but gone in this iteration, replacing it with a fairly traditional story of love and enlightenment, proving that one doesn’t know what one has until it’s gone.
I would argue that the absence of parody hurts the picture, but truth be told, it doesn’t. It may drop the spoof, but it also drops the pop culture references, not entirely, but enough that they hold no real impact. The story exists in and of itself. It stays in its fairy tale world and rarely ventures out into our territory and it works, even if only slightly.
Shrek Forever After isn’t particularly funny, but it has heart and its characters are as charming and likable as ever. Donkey in particular has always been, and still is, awesome thanks in large part to the exceptional voice acting from Eddie Murphy, but it’s Mike Myers who shines as Shrek here. Despite his name adorning the title, Shrek has never had much to do outside of scream and roar at his annoying cohorts, but here he is forced to confront his own demons and make a decision that will affect not only him, but the entire kingdom of Far, Far Away. Myers voices him in a hardened, yet sympathetic way that finally, after many failed attempts, shows the beauty on the inside of the character rather than the ugly on the out.
I wouldn’t say this is a return to form, but it’s a fitting send off to the beloved ogre that has been around for nearly 10 years now. Assuming this is the last entry, it looks like Shrek might get his “happily ever after” after all.
Shrek Forever After receives 3/5