Shrek Forever After – Review

Yeah I'm not sure why the posters called it Shrek: The Final Chapter either. Maybe it's a promise?

Things the writers of Shrek are adamant are funny:

Eddie Murphy singing modern songs in an anachronistic setting

Things that have been run into the ground and are no longer funny and on retrospect were only a little funny to begin with and it all depends on context anyway you can’t just have him burst into song in any scene:

Eddie Murphy singing modern songs in an anachronistic setting

The Shrek series began as just a surprisingly smart and funny animated satire of fairy tale clichés. But now over four films DreamWorks have managed to evolve the series into a redundant, mediocre cliché of itself. Yes it’s all the way up there now with other such mediocre delights like Shark Tale, Over the Hedge and Madagascar. Whilst Pixar wallowed in telling new and innovative stories, DreamWorks saw that true talent is taking a successful film, reducing it to its base elements, sapping the life out of any unique aspects by just repeating them, and then slapping that together around a semi-coherent story.

Shrek Forever After is the fourth and hopefully final film about a Scottish ogre living near Disney World. Our title character begins the film in the “happily ever after” part of fairy tales; he’s got the wife, the kids, the friend, the swamp. What more could an ogre want? But as the early montage shows us blissful happiness gets pretty repetitive and sometimes the crappier moments outshine the good parts. Shrek starts to pine for his younger years, when life was easier; when children were scared of him and farmers chased him with pitchforks; when he was a real ogre.

I kinda like this angle, I know it’s far from original and the idea of “the American dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be” is just as cliché as the “they get together, get married and everything from then on is blissful!” but it’s just weird to see it in an animated kids film that amuses me.

Although why is it the woman that’s always happy in the married life and the man who has the mid- life crisis? I can’t decide if that is positively painting the woman as more mature; or negatively saying they’re naturally meant to be in the mother role so happy with her lot in life. I mean Fiona spent a lot of her life locked up, maybe she’d enjoy going out adventuring? Alternate dimension Fiona seems to enjoy the adventuring and fighting. Oh, though it does then present her as secretly wanting to find her true love. So I guess that’s the important moral message of this Shrek film: even powerful and strong women just want their true love to come save them. Wait, did I say moral? I meant perpetuating an old and misogynistic image of women in a film series that tried to combat those old ideas often presented in fairy tales by satirising them. Ho hum.

Oh yeah the alternate dimension thing. So it turns out that off screen during Shrek 1 (or 2? Not that it matters) Fiona’s parents went to Rumpelstiltskin to make a deal; their kingdom for Fiona to be saved from the tower. But as we know from the first film, Shrek saved her, and so they don’t bother to sign the deal, and Stiltskin feels like Shrek took away his chance to be ruler. This is presented in a fairy tale book at the beginning of the film that Stiltskin is reading venomously, again I like this stuff. I’m a sucker for film sequels that spiral out from events in the first film, that events in it were more important than we thought, another character was doing something we didn’t know about etc. When Rumple finds Shrek unhappy with his current situation he convinces him to sign a contract that, unbeknownst to Shrek, signs away the day he was born, and creating an “It’s a Wonderful Life” alternative reality where Rumple rules the kingdom and ogres are freedom fighters. It’s no Back to the Future II, but the plotting of the film is definitely a lot tighter than Shrek the Third and even Shrek 2. There’s a clear mission, no meandering around like the third film – it suffers from some solution stalling (just show alt-Fiona the contract and explain what happened from the beginning ffs) but other than that it’s competently structured.

The real killer is that Shrek Forever After feels like someone made bullet points on ‘things people remember about the first film’ then just filmed that. There’s action beats at the same moments, wistful pop tunes play in the background to many of these, Donkey sings, Shrek has a melodramatic touchy feely moment where he realises his mistake, characters return and have variations on jokes they were in from the first two films etc. Shrek has an emotional realisation scene about 8 times during the film, and that’s no exaggeration. And it’s the same thing each time “yeah I didn’t realise what I’d got till it’s gone”, just done over and over in different ways. It’s boring and reduces Shrek’s character to being kind of whiney and it really unbalances the film. Where there should be jokes we have more lame attempts at cheap emotion. Where there should be a more serious moment we have lame jokes.

Continuing the trend of re-interpretations of fairy tale characters we’re introduced to The Pied Piper half way into the film. In the Shrek universe he’s a bounty hunter who can use his pipe to control nearly any creature. It’s a cool concept and I really like the character’s design but he’s really underused. Being able to completely control someone’s body movements is a scary power, but it’s only ever presented for laughs as he makes ogres dance to flute-y versions of pop songs. (What is the Shrek films obsession with characters signing or dancing to modern songs? 90% of Donkey’s dialogue consists of that, it’s not funny anymore, you’ve run that joke into the ground around the time Shrek 3 began) The film isn’t exactly brimmed full of jokes so maybe I shouldn’t be dismissing them for actually trying to include some but when there’s meant to be so much at stake (Shrek’s very existence ffs!) the films feels way too safe and threat-less. They could have made something of the Piper, had him as the physical threat, but instead he disappears towards the end of the film (and his actions earlier in the film are undone within minutes so entirely pointless) which again seems to miss a really obvious chance to use him as a more threatening villain. I kept expecting some dramatic scene of Shrek having to break free of the Piper’s power but it never came and the ending they did provide just kind of splutters as it clumsily arrives at its conclusion.

There’s no real charm to it, no craft, it’s just repetition of the surface stuff. People want the same thing right? Shrek 2 got away with repeating ideas and humour from the first film because it still felt like they were trying to make a proper film. The story was involving, the set pieces exciting, the expanded cast were hilarious and the finale was epic. In Shrek Forever After there’s far more at stake plot-wise than in previous Shrek films, but it’s never presented like that on film, it’s just going through the motions.

It’s not abysmal, I laughed a few times and the story idea is interesting. But if there’s one word to describe the film it’s lazy. Everything about the film feels lazily executed, the plot might be trying something different but everything else in it is just a lazy retread of jokes, characters, situations of the previous Shrek films, but lacking any of the excitement, inventiveness, talent or humour of Shrek 1 and 2. It’s still better than Shrek the Third, but that ain’t saying much.



Filed under Animated, Fantasy, Film Reviews

4 responses to “Shrek Forever After – Review

  1. Am I meant to be confused? Well, I’m certainly confused!

    A fab review. It did make me giggle, if confuse me, a little. I’m sure my confusion would be remedied by seeing the film, but I’m not sure I’d want to see it, now.

    Keep it up. 🙂

    • Thanks for the reply Aris. 🙂

      Ha, and erm, yes and no. Which bit were you confused by? If it’s the plot stuff then yeah, the plot is a bit convoluted and so difficult to explain succinctly so the confusion in explaining it was meant to at least get across that it’s rather complex.

      Though at the same time I hoped it was clear enough for people who hadn’t seen the film, reading back through it I can see that it is a little disjointed. I do struggle linking the plot description in with criticising the film, the other option is to just dedicate a paragraph to plot synopsis but I find that deathly boring and uneconomical writing. I started to get over 1000 words and just decided to wrap it up as writing all those words on a film I’m not particularly fond of seemed a bit silly.

      Glad you were amused though! That’s what I try to do at the least heh.

      • I was a little confused by the alternative reality stuff, but having read through the review a second time, it all makes a lot more sense.

        I agree it’s best to mix things up in terms of structuring your reviews. Indeed, my hatred for the commonplace ‘review’ has pushed me to create my own hybrid form of rating and aggregating films, as interesting as that sounds.

        I try to focus mainly on textualising the experience of watching a film. Plot synopses for me are unnecessary. If you’re going to see a film, what’s the point of knowing what happens? Not everyone’s cup of tea, but it keeps me happy. I notice you didn’t comment on the film’s 3D. Was it, ‘look at me, I’m in your face, I’m totally 3D’, or was it something more subtle?

        All food for thought. Suffice to say, I enjoyed the review, and look forward to your future writings.

  2. GoodBadGroovy

    “hybrid form of rating and aggregating films, as interesting as that sounds.”

    That does sound interesting! heh In textualising the “experience” do you find yourself more concerned with your emotional reaction to the film? Do you read any of Roger Ebert’s reviews? I think sometimes he spends too much time telling you the plot, but he often (and self admittedly) gives a more emotional reaction to films. For example he hated Kick-Ass because he found having a little girl committing acts of violence to be morally reprehensible. Whereas I found the film really interesting because of that, and thought the film was looking at how we deal with violence in films and rationalise it as “ok”. (Despite the fact I’m pretty sure the film director/writer just thought the idea was ‘kewl’ heh) But yes I agree, far too many reviews are structured with synopsis opening paragraph, it’s not massively engaging.

    Ah the 3D, I actually saw it in 2D! Didn’t want to pay extra for something I’m not bothered about. It’s funny actually there’s a bit right at the start where you realise that was clearly a “something coming out of the screen at your face” moment if we were watching it in 3D, but once into the film I didn’t notice any moments that looked like they had been designed with 3D in mind, or would have been improved by it.

    I’m rather cynical of 3D and think the argument that it’s more “immersive” is as backwards as nintendo/microsoft/sony arguing that waving my arms and body around is more “immersive” gaming.

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