Saturday night with little else to do, Divi and I decided to do a double movie marathon. One of these was Kites, a movie I have already discussed. The second one was the latest addition to the Shrek franchise: Shrek Forever After. Shrek was a great animated film, a landmark of sorts in the fairytale genre which poked fun at its origins without losing any of their warmth and charm. Shrek 2 was a decent follow up saved by some golden moments (“I Need a Hero” anyone?) while staying true to the core ideas of the original. However, with Shrek the Third, the standards have fallen considerably. The latest addition does little to salvage the franchise.
The plot is as follows: Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and their three little ones are living their hard earned happily ever after. Unfortunately, Shrek misses the old action packed days and is bored by the monotony. He decides to sign a deal with Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) to trade a day of his life for a day as a feared ogre again. The plan backfires and he finds himself in an alternate reality where he never existed and Far Far Away is being ruled by Rumpelstiltskin and his bitches. I’m sorry, I meant witches. Anyway, Shrek must find a way to make things right again and get back his happily ever after.
There are moments in the film where we see the magic that made us fall in love with the series: in the first place the emotional moments between Shrek and Fiona in the alternate reality really do strike home and seem very real and touching. They made me care for them and even managed to move me in places. Also, the humour sparkles in places thanks to the impeccable performances of Walt Dohrn as Rumpelstiltskin and Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots. These do set the film well above Shrek the Third. However, these are a few intermittent moments hardly worth the time spent to see the rest of the movie.
My problem with Shrek Forever After is twofold: first, the story is too sad. It truly feels tired, dreary and miserable in places. While the Shrek-Fiona moments really resonate romantically, they are too serious for kids to sit through. I can see children either yawning out of boredom or crying out of trauma. There is just not enough humour to make the themes enjoyable. Also, the supporting characters seem to annoy more than endear. The jokes fall flat in several places and the story seems jaded and familiar. This makes the film too dull for adults and in places, too serious for kids.
Secondly, the Shrek series seems to have slowly become what it once ridiculed; an ordinary typical fairytale. There is no creativity; no freshness in the film. The plot borrows copiously from other better movies like Beauty and the Beast and It’s a Wonderful Life. However, the trademark humour of Shrek is lost in a sea of cynicism. Pop culture references to U2, the Wizard of Oz and others seem forced and are unable to salvage the situation in any way.Vocal talents like those of Jane Lynch, Julie Andrews and John Cleese are entirely wasted. And King Artie (Justin Timberlake) is oddly absent from the film with no explanations offered.
Overall, Shrek Forever After is an improvement over Shrek the Third but that isn’t saying much. There are moments when the movie truly moved me. But these moments were few and far between. As a whole, the film is extremely underwhelming. It is too banal, dull, erratic and inconsistent in tone. It fails to live up to the standard that the series set itself to by the first (and to some extent, even the second) film. Ultimately, it is not only an unnecessarily film but also a mediocre one. And for Shrek, that just won't do. I believe it is time we give these characters their well deserved happily ever after.