"Shrek Forever After" Lacks Heart

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Many people consider Dreamworks an extremely hot/cold animation studio. One that flew out of the gates, sure, but whether it be Spirit, Flushed Away, Shark Tale, Kung Fu Panda, or Madagascar, everyone seems to have their titles of love, and those of utter disinterest. I’ve had my ups and downs with them as well, but the last few months have been a strange ride even for them.

Shrek is itself an odd entity by now, but the first film was a rare treat. A spark of inventiveness, with a bolder aim, and put together by people who wanted everything just so. I was never the biggest fan of Shrek, but it was a lot of fun, had brilliant moments, and it was rather refreshing to see things thrown together from a completely new perspective. The second and third films were pretty solid as well, and while the debate may live on for quite a while about where they stand in relation to the first, they still had much of that spark about them.

Though the kids will still probably love it, the magic has left Shrek.

Shrek Forever After, aka Shrek The Final Chapter, finds the lovable ogre at his wit’s end now that he’s settled into Happily Ever After. When Rumplestiltskin offers him the chance to have a day to himself, and moreover to get back to some good, old ogreness, he jumps at it. Of course, that wily Rumplestiltskin doesn’t offer up square deals, and Shrek suddenly finds himself in a world in which he was never born.

Now Shrek has to find a way to restore order, but that’s going to be a tough job, because Rumplestiltskin has taken over Far Far Away, and none of Shrek’s friends know who he is.

There are clever moments here and there, and something about a coven of witches wreaking havoc is bound to provide a laugh or two, but there just isn’t that much effort here. There’s a lack of heart that can’t be covered up by the film’s best attempts at getting a laugh, and none of them are especially notable anyway.

An all gimmick affair, there is little to bind things together, and Rumplestiltskin never quite becomes interesting as a nemesis. Shrek’s quest is really situational, rather than something that sets him up against Rumplestiltskin, and that leaves the film to try to draw its interest from the state of our other characters. While a Puss in Boots who has let himself go, or a Gingerbread Man reduced some odd version of alleyway cock fighting are amusing tidbits, they don’t fill a lot of screentime.

I rather thought Dreamworks had turned a corner with the release of How to Train Your Dragon. A decent Shrek effort, I thought, and then we would be left to hope for a good showing with Megamind. A single year hat trick could have forced a new direction in expectations. It would have been hard to guess that Shrek was going to provide us with such a serious letdown, and it makes you wonder how productions come together.

After Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson directed Shrek with a large number of credited writers, and Adamson, Kelly Asbury, and Conrad Vernon directed Shrek 2 (again with a team of writers on the screenplay), things were handed over to Chris Miller and Raman Hui (and a lot of writers) for the third film. Suddenly, Shrek Forever After is directed by Mike Mitchell (Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo, Surviving Christmas, and Sky High) and written by Josh Klausner (additional screenplay material Shrek 3, Date Night) and Darren Lemke (Flashpoint, and the 2004 film Lost). What happened there?

Shrek Forever After is a story about the lovable green lug not knowing what he has until he loses it, and it’s a crazy irony. With laughter a decided rarity, and hardly a cute or clever morsel to keep you going to the end, the film feels like a television special bloated up to feature-length on a bet. In fact, Shrek the Halls has a lot more going for it.

The kids will like it, but you won’t care.

Rating: ★½☆☆☆

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