Despite his seemingly content life, Shrek (Myers) finds himself in a rut, pining for the days when locals cowered in fear. When shady magical wheeler-dealer Rumpelstiltskin (Dohrn) offers him the chance of one day of pure, scare-full ogre fun, Shrek agre
After the overstuffed, underwritten Shrek The Third highlighted everything that was wrong about DreamWorks’ answer to Mickey Mouse, it’s a relief to discover that the fourth film shucks the usual franchise fatigue and takes the story back to basics. In spinning an It’s A Wonderful Life-esque yarn that sees Shrek (Mike Myers) plunged into an alternative universe where he never existed, Forever After has found a way to return to what made the first two films sing. Shrek and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) get plenty to do, and the script allows them to fall in love all over again for a satisfying emotional kick. But while Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas) and Donkey (Eddie Murphy) enjoy a little less screen time than in recent outings, their storylines are more than just sideshow gag-fests. Here, they’re given character arcs alongside their scene-stealing schtick. We get to meet the chatterbox ass suffering under the yoke of Rumpelstiltskin’s rule (literally — he’s pulling a cart when we meet him) and flash back to the early buddy comedy where our hero hasn’t yet learned to (mostly) put up with the loudmouth loon. Similarly, the Puss of this world has long since thrown off his boots for a life of tubby luxury as Fiona’s spoiled pet.
All this works because director Mike Mitchell and his team focus on characters over strings of sight gags and dial back on stunt casting (no Justin Timberlake), choosing to just find talented actors like John Hamm and Apatow regular Craig Robinson to provide voices. Kudos also to Walt Dohrn, a storyboard artist and writer at the studio, who did such a sterling job on Rumpelstiltskin’s test vocals that he was picked to play the final role — he’s a charisma dynamo, turning the weaselly little guy into a sneaky delight. Though the main plot falls back on Shrek’s confronting of some personal fear (the worry that he’s not cut out to be a family man), it does so in a way that allows everything to feel fresher, and without relying on the tired string of fairy-tale parody that was the last movie’s downfall. There are still some clever moments (one of Rumpel’s army of witches is dispatched with a goblet of water, and goes out in true Wizard Of Oz style), but it’s in service to the story, not slapped on like Polyfilla in the hope of covering over plot-holes. Similarly, the 3D isn’t treated as a cure-all spectacle — the effect is largely limited to a healthy feeling of depth and scope, with just one or two quick gimmicky moments of flying objects. If, as the marketing trumpets, this is the final chapter, it’s nice to see Shrek going out on a high.
DreamWorks could be entering a period of fresh creativity. With How To Train Your Dragon and a balanced, darker-hued and very funny Shrek finale, theyve found the magic again.