Friday 2 July 2010

Shrek Forever After review

Shrek Forever After (U, 93 mins)
Director: Mike Mitchell
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

The first film ever to win the Oscar for best animated feature returns for its fourth and supposedly final cinema outing, and it’s probably fair to say that it’s time to let the sun set gracefully on the adventures of the big green ogre with the soft Scottish brogue.

What began as fresh and subversive almost a decade ago had become stale and money-driven by the time of the atrocious Shrek the Third three years ago. All signs were pointing to a series that was experiencing its death rattle, one that long ago abandoned storytelling ambition for fleeting pop culture recognition and the easiest of kid-pleasing devices. Compared to what Pixar was doing, it had become little more than an embarrassment.

Shrek Forever After reverses the slide to a certain extent even if early signs are not good that this fourth entry will be anything other than ogre poo jokes. But it takes an unexpected early turn with a flashback in which the king and queen of Far Far Away (John Cleese and Julie Andrews) are about to hand their kingdom over to the treacherous Rumpelstiltskin in exchange for the curse on their daughter, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), being lifted.

But just as they're about to sign the contract, they learn that Fiona has been saved by Shrek (Mike Myers), as happened in the original movie, leaving Rumpel with a grudge against Shrek. Back in the present, Shrek and Fiona are living happily ever after with their babies. But Shrek is discontented with domestic bliss and longs for the days when he a terrifying ogre instead of a tourist attraction.

So when he’s tricked by Rumpelstiltskin into signing a contract that allows him to be a proper ogre for a day, he has to give Rumpel a day of his life in return and the ‘curly-toed weirdo’ takes the day he was born. If Shrek never existed, Princess Fiona was never saved and so Rumpelstiltskin inherited the kingdom, and Shrek has only until sunrise the next day to find Fiona and have her fall in love with him or he’ll cease to exist.

Though it borrows liberally from It’s a Wonderful Life and Back to the Future, at least with a recognisable plot there’s something to hold on to here. By not relying too heavily on references and in-jokes, Shrek Forever After is free to tell a proper story, even if the real laughs dried up long ago.

But there are some nice visual jokes and throwaway lines and the fine animation is good for making the most of facial expressions and well timed gags, while the always strong voice cast that also sees the return of Eddie Murphy as Donkey and Antonio Banderas as a well-fed Puss In Boots.

It all makes for an agreeable effort that falls somewhere between cynical cash-in and genuine attempt to send the franchise out on a dignified note. Don’t expect any Oscars this time round, but at least Shrek leaves the stage with his head held high.

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