The revitalized Shrek Forever After tosses our ogre friend and his Far Far Away pals into another homage to It’s a Wonderful Life. Fuming once more about being domesticated and forced to deal with husband/dad responsibilities, Shrek (voice of Mike Myers) wonders what it would be like to be his old, fearsome self again. And he finds an obliging assistant in that speculation — the devious elf Rumplestiltskin (Walt Dohrn), who once lost his chance to steal the kingdom of Far Far Away thanks to Shrek’s rescue of Fiona (Cameron Diaz).
Rumplestiltskin offers Shrek one day from his carefree past, but of course there’s a catch: Once that day is over, it will be as though Shrek had never been born. And the world in which Shrek never before encountered all the other regular characters has its intrigues.
Rumplestiltskin is now the despotic king; Fiona, never freed from her curse by “true love’s kiss,” has become the freedom-fighter leader of the kingdom’s ogres; Donkey (Eddie Murphy) … well, he’s still annoying; and Puss, in the most amusingly handled development, has become Fiona’s obese house-tabby.
Naturally, Shrek will come to realize that he has been liberated not just from the entanglements generated in the first three movies, but also from their pleasures. Shrek Forever After, on the other hand, definitely benefits from that liberation, particularly after 2007’s lumbering third installment. This is a friskier, less bombastic Shrek, one that has fun with concepts like Shrek having become such a predictable celebrity that annoying kids ask him to “do the roar.”
Fiona’s hardened personality — one formed by not having been rescued, and being required to rescue herself — works as well, providing nice tension to Shrek’s attempts to re-woo her for a saving kiss. And there’s a lot of good stuff involving Rumplestiltskin, a fuming would-be Napoleon voiced by animator Dohrn with an enthusiasm that reminds you how many great supporting characters in contemporary animation have been brought to life by non-actors.
But mostly Shrek Forever After eases back on the smug referential humor that has always driven the series. From day one it was built on swipes at Disney’s fanciful fairy tales, and that inferiority complex always felt more sad than clever. Though there are still a few of the expected anachronisms, the humor here generally isn’t about heavy-elbowed pop-culture nudging. I can’t even recall a single fart gag. Grade: B-
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