While the first two Shrek films scored high praise from both critics and audiences the third installment of the animated saga 2007’s Shrek the Third was widely considered a letdown a signal that Dreamworks’ wildly successful franchise had finally jumped the shark. But that didn’t deter the studio from greenlighting a fourth Shrek film Shrek Forever After with the somewhat dubious assurance that it would be the last to feature the titular green ogre.
The plot of Shrek Forever After in many ways reflects the creative fatigue the filmmakers clearly feel: After fathering triplets with his wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz) Shrek (Mike Myers) has settled into a wearisome domestic routine of morning feedings clogged bathrooms and neighborhood pot lucks. But a domesticated Shrek is a boring Shrek and he soon longs to escape the tedium of family life and return to the carefree days when all the creatures of the forest feared his roar. But how? He's stuck.
Or so it seems until a lispy local charlatan Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn doing a solid Paul Reubens impression) offers Shrek a magical “deal” enabling him to turn back the clock for a day and spend 24 hours without the oppressive dictates of family life which the beleaguered ogre eagerly accepts. But fairytale contracts rarely come without hidden caveats and Shrek soon awakens in a nightmarish bizarro world where his family and friends have vanished and ogres are hunted by vicious gangs of witches. Worst of all Rumpelstiltskin has managed to install himself as Far Far Away’s decadent dictator turning the castle into some sort of crazy lesbian nightclub where his witchy subordinates gyrate to pounding techno music.
Call it It’s a Wonderful Shrek — or even Shrek to the Future if you will. It’s not the most original storytelling scheme but it allows the filmmakers to essentially hit the reset button on the Shrek canon and re-introduce familiar faces like Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) in slightly tweaked form. Fiona is no longer a dainty princess awaiting her savior but the butched-out (this emerges as a trend in the film) leader of an underground ogre resistance plotting to free Far Far Away from its effete Napoleon and his haggish minions. In order to avoid vanishing from history entirely Shrek has to woo her all over again — a task made harder by her newfound independent streak.
Fans of Shrek will be happy to know that Shrek Forever After — its weird butch/femme dynamic notwithstanding — marks a definite improvement over its predecessor. That said it won’t likely inspire any grassroots campaign to convince Dreamworks to reconsider its supposed decision to retire the character for good. The film works partly because it carries more modest aspirations largely shunning the laugh-a-minute pace and copious pop-culture humor that characterized the first three installments. The franchise is clearly running on fumes but this film has just enough laughter in the tank to make it to the finish line intact.
One final note: The 3D aspect of Shrek Forever After is surprisingly mundane adding little to the overall viewing experience. It’s disappointing considering that Dreamworks just recently did such terrific work on the 3D sequences in How to Train Your Dragon. Save your cash and hit a 2D showing instead.
Poor Shrek (Mike Myers). The irascible ogre just can’t catch a break. First he has to leave his beloved swamp to rescue Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz). Then he marries her and has to go meet the in-laws. NOW he’s stuck in Far Far Away as its de facto ruler after the frog king croaks. Oh and he finds out Fiona is pregnant too. All this throws the great green one into a tailspin because 1) impending fatherhood scares the bejeezus out him and 2) he believes he has no business being king. So Shrek sets out with his pals Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) to fetch Artie aka Arthur (Justin Timberlake) Fiona’s cousin and next in line for the throne. Thing is Artie’s just a teenager—and kind of a loser one at that; he really doesn’t want to be king either. Meanwhile on the home front Fiona and her merry band of princesses have to defend the castle against the vain Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) who’s hell bent on getting revenge and taking over Far Far Away. And so the high jinks ensure. But it’s OK it all works out in the end. Certainly part of Shrek’s charm is its vocal talent. Myers Diaz and Murphy are all old pros by now—which is actually a good and bad thing. They are definitely more comfortable with their roles but Shrek isn’t nearly as charmingly irritable as he once was and Fiona not as feisty. Guess they are growing up. And Murphy used to get all the best lines as the jittery Donkey. Now that job has been delegated to the likes of Banderas as Puss as well as side characters such as the Gingerbread Man (Conrad Vernon) Pinocchio (Cody Cameron) and the Three Little Pigs (also Cameron). Also adding to the humor are the various princesses especially SNL alums Amy Poehler as the sardonic Snow White and Maya Rudolph as turncoat Rapunzel plus Amy Sedaris as the dimwitted Cinderella. Timberlake is sweetly goofy as Artie while Brit comic legend Eric Idle voices the New Age-y on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown Merlin the magician with aplomb. It’s these characterizations that make Shrek the Third zing. Much like Shrek 2 this third installment ultimately comes off as a retread. They just haven’t been able to recapture the magic created in the original. Instead the filmmakers regurgitate the same comic set ups and in some cases the same jokes. Maybe they won’t ever be able to reach that same plateau. But you’ve still got to give the Shrek franchise props for being the granddaddy of fairy-tale spoofs. Even if the sequels don’t measure up the Shrek phenomenon on the whole has set the bar creating a certain charisma in the let’s-make-fun-of-traditional-lore milieu. Shrek the Third highlights include: Worcestershire High School where Artie goes to school which is full of John Hughes teenagers talking in medieval oh-thou-di’nt-just-say-that speak; Charming being relegated to doing third-rate dinner theater; Pinocchio trying to talk his way around not lying and more. Oh who cares what us dumb critics say anyway. Kids are going to love Shrek the Third regardless of whether it hits the mark or not.
DreamWorks Pictures has announced plans for a sequel to Shrek, Variety reports, with Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio at the helm. The duo co-wrote and co-produced the first project, which has grossed $114 million since its May 16 opening. Shrek is based on a children's book by William Steig. Rossio and Elliott have collaborated on various projects in the past, including Disney's Aladdin and DreamWorks' The Road to El Dorado. Production on the sequel will be quicker than the original, which took five years to make.
Based on a book by William Steig the deliriously warped Shrek unfolds as a vividly rendered computer-animated romp with a heart as big as its hero. It also lovingly evokes the spirit of traditional fairy tales while spoofing such contemporary cultural cornerstones as The Matrix and Babe. Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) longs for peace and solitude but the likes of Goldilocks and the Three Pigs seek solace in Shrek's swamp after being expelled from a fiefdom run by the diminutive Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). Farquaad agrees to remove the fairy-tale characters from Shrek's land should the ogre rescue Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from a tower guarded by a dragon. With the trusty but jabbering Donkey (Eddie Murphy) by his side Shrek saves Fiona. He soon falls for her but fearing rejection dares not tell her of his love. Fiona meanwhile harbors a dark secret that could ruin her impending marriage to Farquaad.
Imagine a kinder gentler version of Myers' Fat Bastard from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. That's Shrek. Myers' Scottish brogue brings out the charm in an ogre emotionally crippled by a severe lack of self-esteem. Myers restrains himself but that's because Shrek plays the straight monster to Murphy's loud-mouthed Donkey. (Yes expect plenty of ass jokes at Donkey's expense.) Murphy's a riot as he lets loose firing off one zinger after another or bursting into song. A spunky Diaz ensures that her Princess Fiona could teach Charlie's Angels a lesson or two in romance and survival skills. As Farquaad--avoid saying his name too fast when in the company of children--Lithgow is suitably Napoleonic. He also claims some of Shrek's funniest moments including a priceless Dating Game take-off with Farquaad picking out his princess via selections put forth by a stolen Magic Mirror.
Shrek immediately sets aside any notions that this is a grand Disney-ified fairy tale plump with Broadway-style tunes. The first glimpse of Shrek comes when the ogre dashes out of an outhouse having employed a page torn from a book of fairy tales for hygienic purposes. Other bodily functions--executed with childish delight--soon follow. Shrek also tickles a parent's funny bone most notably with its song parodies (pity the bluebird that sings a duet with Fiona). Yet the film's strange and twisted ways do not prevent Shrek from being an enchanting paean to the power of love and friendship. Shrek does harbor a less benevolent agenda one which playfully skewers all things Disney. Producer Jeffrey Katzenberg--who left Disney under bad terms--pokes gentle fun at the company's canon of fairy-tale characters and the sterile environment of its theme parks. Disney execs may not laugh but everyone else will.