Shrek Forever After
Bourgeoisie Critics are Opposed
By Cole Smithey
The fourth installment in the animated Shrek franchise is the most polished example of the series. There's a dearth of children's films to which parents can take their little ones before repeatedly watching the DVD until the kids incorporate every line of dialogue into their daily speech patterns. Fortunately, "Shrek Forever After" is on target, filling the void. Even audiences new to the franchise will enjoy the slapstick tone and comic timing of these easily likable characters. The premise is simple enough. Finally and happily settled down with his ogre wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and their three babies, Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) starts to yearn for his bachelor days, when every person and animal in the community feared his brutish gaze and stone-rattling roar. Shrek's ennui presents a perfect opportunity for Rumpelstiltskin (wonderfully voiced by Walt Dohrn), the kooky little fantasy–maker and con man. Mr. R convinces Shrek to sign away a day of his childhood in exchange for living a day free of all familial constraints. Naturally, the deal is a dirty trick played by the conniving Rumpelstiltskin, who plots to take over as king of the Far Far Away kingdom forever after. The film's theme--appreciating what you have while you have it--is supported, if only half-knowingly, by Shrek's loyal pals Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and a considerably chubbier Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas). Although the film's 3D effects seem extraneous, the spunky vocal characterizations are enjoyably spot-on and the jokes funny enough to elicit laughs from kids of all ages.
There's a tendency among elitist film critics to pooh-pooh the Shrek franchise based on its longevity. They're ready to put the final nail in the coffin of a successful children's series ostensibly because they're embarrassed to have loved it so much when they were younger, and now feel obliged to distance themselves from it.
Shrek's status as a workaday dad who pines for his more vigorous youth must surely signal a disconnect between the filmmakers and the young souls these kind of movies typically cater to. It's an instance where post-modern meets retro reality. There's a supreme satisfaction in hearing the returning cast members' voices. Mike Myers underplays his current incarnation of Shrek, while Eddie Murphy lets loose at every opportunity. Cameron Diaz gives a more throaty delivery, and Antonio Banderas injects little comic touches into every word that Puss speaks.
It's possible that co-screenwriters Josh Klausner (writer on "Shrek the Third") and Darren Lemke have elevated the franchise into a territory of maturity beyond a threshold that bourgeoisie critics can stand. "Unnecessary" is a word used to describe a children's movie that by definition is quite necessary if you, well, have children. Which brings us to the film's broader appeal. Here is a Shrek movie with barely a fart or poop joke that speaks to a universal theme of appreciating the friends and family you have. When Shrek convinces the oblivious Donkey that he's his best friend, we feel recognized in the same way. When the fat little Puss drags sideways down his scratching post to greet Shrek, it's all the more funny because we know he's showing off for his pal. And when Fiona drops her she-warrior act long enough to allow a kiss from the ogre she was destined to be with forever after, we get that special kind of romantic charge that reminds us about why and how intimate relationships are important.
Rated PG. 95 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)
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