DreamWorks’ cash cow known as Shrek last left us with a bad taste in our mouths. Shrek the Third, while incredibly profitable to the tune of almost $800 million worldwide, was a critical dud. The fun and charm of the first two films were lost at the expense of recycled themes and stale storytelling, and by all counts, DreamWorks probably should have let the storybook end with this weak entry.
But hey, $800 million is hard to walk away from, and in a franchise that lost its soul after the second film, you might as well milk that cow for all it’s worth. This weekend, the supposedly final chapter in the Shrek saga has been released. Shrek Forever After, with a title mirroring ‘happily ever after’, almost blatantly says to parents, “Hey guys, remember me? I know we have our differences after that last movie, but this one is called ‘forever after’. In other words, this is totally going to be the last one, so you should bring your little ankle-biters to see how it all ends! You don’t want to deprive your kids of seeing their favourite characters one last time, do you? Bring money.”
Shrek has settled into his new role of husband and father. However, he begins to find the monotony of his new life to be unbearable, and like some sort of fairytale version mid-life crisis, he longs for the good ‘ol days when people feared his terrifying, rampaging ogreness. As ‘luck’ would have it, he stumbles across Rumplestiltskin, a pint-sized, deal-making, sociopath, who offers Shrek the chance to have one day as the ogre he remembers. The catch? You’ve got to give a day to get a day, and the day Rumplestiltskin takes changes the face of Far Far Away forever.
The majority of the story takes place in this parallel timeline, where familiar characters never met, and in some cases, have changed drastically because of it. However, these drastic changes amount to little more than minor gags and ultimately serve no greater purpose from a character development point of view. Every character reverts to their usual selves within moments of meeting Shrek, and with little consequence. But hell, character development is irrelevant in a world where donkeys talk and have sex with dragons, anyway. Still, it would have been interesting to have some meaningful insights or permanent changes, like heroes becoming villains, villains becoming heroes, and all sorts of other interesting avenues a parallel universe allows.
Speaking of villains, Shrek Forever After really got things right in this department. Rumplestiltskin easily makes this whole movie, and without him, the whole thing would be fairly unwatchable. His evil, nasally voice shrieking about metaphysical paradoxes makes my nerd-heart happy and solidifies him as the best villain in the series. He’s hilarious to watch, and injects some much needed personality into scenes with the otherwise drab and predictable cast.
But despite Rumpelstiltskin (a paragraph starter I never thought I would use), the movie has very little to offer. By the time the film is all said and done, the only thing that has changed is that about ten to fifteen dollars have gone from your pocket to Dreamworks’ bank account. The storyline is no better off or better developed because of this entry – which really only leaves money as the motivation behind this final chapter. Shocking, I know.
Shrek 4 is much better than the third in the series, but still fails to live up to the charm and edgy wit of the first two. Kids under 12 will probably still have a blast, but adults should probably just wait to rent this fairy tale.