Shrek started out as an alternative to the fairytale universes we were used to. At its best Shrek was a satire of Disney and Disney fairytale culture, a biting criticism of the singing dancing, princess and Prince Charming fantasies we’d all grown up on. With Shrek Forever After the franchise has come full circle and become not an alternative to fairytales, but an alternative to itself. Set in an alternate universe where Shrek never existed and everything we’ve seen in the last three movies never occurred, the ogre franchise appears to be so out of ideas that now it’s forced to make fun of itself. Or maybe this is their way of finding closure.
This is supposed to be the last entry in DreamWorks’ Shrek series and they would almost certainly say that in re-examining where it all started they’ve found the perfect place to end. To me it seems more likely that the Shrek franchise has become so greedy and desperate for attention that at last it’s turned on itself, like a snake eating its own tail. Shrek has become the pandering, predictable, fairytale franchises it loathed; and while this entry is a better note to end on than the last one, Shrek the Third, the important thing here is that this franchise ends before it does any more damage to itself.
Before it can end, we have to get through Shrek Forever After, and maybe that’s not as bad as I’ve just made it sound. The premise is kind of terrible but compared to the last movie it’s put together in an entertaining way. Shrek is a father now, much like his franchise, he’s feeling burned out. Stuck spending his days with crying kids and playing the responsible family man, he starts to long for the good old days of ogre rampages and chases involving villagers waving torches and pitchforks. Enter Rumpelstiltskin, who offers Shrek the deal of a lifetime. He’ll give Shrek one magical day to live as a rampaging ogre in exchange for something he won’t miss. Shrek agrees before reading the fine print, later discovers that what Rumpelstiltskin took was his life, and now the world has been remade into a place where Shrek never existed.
Everything that was done in the previous three movies has been undone. Shrek and donkey never became friends, Fiona was never rescued from the castle, and somehow Rumpel has managed to manipulate all of this into a grab for power. Now he rules the kingdom of Far Far Away with the help of an army of evil witches, and Shrek has to set things right. Along the way you can bet he’ll learn a lesson about how lucky he was to have all the things he’d grown tired of before signing Rumpel’s contract. Not that it matters, the truth is Shrek Forever After exists mainly as a way to have another romp with characters whom DreamWorks ran out of things to do with two movies ago.
The premise is weak, it’s basically a limp-wristed, It’s a Wonderful Life, but at least it’s well executed. Director Mike Mitchell has as much fun as there is to be had with whatever energy’s left in these characters and manages to squeeze out a few laughs here and there, even when the movie drifts into its most mundane moments. As always the Ginger Bread man steals scenes, his cameo is the movie’s biggest laugh, and new characters like the Pied Piper and a chimichonga obsessed ogre warrior help keep this thing from feeling as worn out as it really is.
But even the movie’s highs are really just momentary one-liners or secondary sight gags, and those will be forgotten as quickly as the rest of the film once you leave the theater. Shrek Forever After is just worn out. It’s no one’s fault (except perhaps the studio executive who insisted on making it), and it’s not that Shrek Forever After is a bad movie exactly, I just don’t know why it was made. The original Shrek movie presented an alternate fairytale universe because it had something to say about the real one. So what does this alternative to the Shrek universe say about its ogre? Nothing except to confirm that, yep, they did it right the first time around and this way definitely is not any better. It’s as if the script acknowledges this is an inferior version of the movie they’ve already made, in the process denying its own right to exist. You’ve seen Shrek and it was good. If you want to know what Shrek would be like if it wasn’t good, then see Shrek Forever After.
Wondering if you should see Shrek Forever After in 2D or 3D? Check out our complete breakdown in To 3D Or Not To 3D: Buy The Right Shrek Forever After Ticket.