Once upon a time, in 2001, a green ogre named Shrek lumbered on to screens, bringing with him a different kind of animated story. The original “Shrek” was a fairy tale that mixed family friendly characters with a edgy sense of humor—like a Gingerbread Man tortured with a milk dunking. It was a monumental hit, so it wasn’t long before “Shrek 2” and “Shrek the Third” came along, each time with diminishing results. Luckily, the new “Shrek Forever After,” the fourth and final installment takes us off into that fairy tale happily-ever-after on a high note.
The 3D “Shrek Forever After” sees the giant green ogre (voiced by Mike Myers) in the midst of a mid-life crisis. He’s feeling bogged down by the responsibilities of marriage to Fiona (Cameron Diaz), raising his three kids and trapped by his newfound celebrity as the friendliest ogre on the block. “I used to be an ogre,” he says, “but now I’m a jolly green joke.” Longing for the days when life was simple he strikes a deal with an evil magician (voiced in an apparent tribute to Pee Wee Herman by story editor Walt Dohrn. In exchange for one day of freedom he will give the magician one day from his life. In a prime example of “be careful what you wish for because you just might get it” the unsuspecting Shrek signs the deal and begins a nightmarish “It’s a Wonderful Life” journey into a world completely different than any he could have imagined. Only the kiss of his true love—Fiona—can break the spell, but does she love him anymore?
Call this “Shrek the Metaphysical” if you like, one thing is for sure, it is darker than the preceding “Shreks”—although dark is still a relative term in the world of kid’s entertainment. The “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” message isn’t much different from anything you’d see in a regular children’s flick, but the journey to get there is.
In its opening moments this grim fairy features a tour-de-force sequence illustrating how snowed under Shrek feels by his new responsibilities. It’s a scene that will likely seem familiar to some of the parents in the audience, what follows—the well worn puns both vocal and visual, classic rock music cues and pop culture references—will seem familiar to anyone else who’s seen “Shrek” one through three. Even the bodily function jokes make an appearance—Shrek is described as “a lovable lug who showed that you don’t have to change your undies to change the world”—but instead of the been there, done that feel of “Shrek the Third” the new film weaves the familiar elements together into something resembling a large helping of comfort food. It doesn’t have the sparkling freshness of the first installment, but it has heart, some good jokes for both kids and adults and is a fitting send off to the series.