by Mel Valentin
Attempting to disprove the assertion that you can literally run a franchise into the ground, DreamWorks Animation is back with the third sequel to the ever-popular "Shrek" franchise, "Shrek Forever After." Originally titled "Shrek: The Final Chapter in 3D," the third sequel received a late-spring name change to "Shrek Forever After," presumably to give DreamWorks Animation wiggle room to make another sequel if "Shrek Forever After" performs strongly at the box office this summer. Given the dearth of kid-friendly entries (with the noticeable exception of "Toy Story 3" next month, that’s all but guaranteed. That’s a pity since "Shrek Forever After" closes out the "Shrek" franchise on a strong note.Shrek Forever After picks up soon after the end of Shrek the Third. The peace Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) once enjoyed as a fearsome ogre disappeared long ago. He lives in over-busy domesticity with Fiona (Cameron Diaz), the ex-princess and one-time heir to the kingdom of Far Far Away, and their three rambunctious toddlers. Shrek’s best friend, Donkey (Eddie Murphy), stops by with his own brood for another in a seemingly endless series of play dates. Even his visits to the outhouse don’t give him the peace he craves. As the one-time savior of Far Far Away, he’s become a local celebrity, his house, a stop on a bus tour.
"The second-best sequel in the Shrek franchise? Possibly."
At the birthday party for his children, a harried, hurried Shrek voices his displeasure at the current state of his life. A down-and-out Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) sees the perfect opportunity to gain control over Far Far Away. He proposes to give Shrek a day away from his current life in exchange for a day from Shrek’s childhood. Shrek soon learns the errors of his ways and longs for a return to his former life, It’s a Wonderful Life-style. After Shrek awakes into his new, temporary life, he realizes no one recognizes him. Worse, Rumpelstiltskin rules Far Far Away with the help of an army of witches (c.f., The Wizard of Oz). Luckily for Shrek, every contract in Far Far Away has an exit clause: if he finds and kisses his “one true love,” Fiona, before sunrise, he’ll return to his former life. If he doesn’t, he’ll cease to exist.
Borrowing the well-worn, oft-used It’s a Wonderful Life premise serves to reinvigorate a franchise that seemed all-but-exhausted with Shrek the Third, a film made with little imagination and little inventiveness and, thus, completely forgettable. If you dispute that assertion, try to recall what actually happened in Shrek the Third. Nothing of consequence happened. Although a similar argument could be made about Shrek Forever After, since, ultimately, Shrek, Fiona, and the other characters are left exactly where they began, the screenwriters behind Shrek Forever After, Josh Klausner (Date Night) and Darren Lemke (Lost, Flashpoint), and the director, Mike Mitchell (Sky High, Surviving Christmas, Greg the Bunny), gave Shrek an emotional journey with a non-ironic payoff.That might not sound like much, but it does in comparison to the sequels where pop-culture references and sight gags were mashed up with a bland, frozen-in-time animation style and weak, underwritten stories. Here, at least, the animation, especially the backgrounds, where Mitchell and his animators added varying textures and colors, and the set pieces, specifically the climactic scene, show an energy and inventiveness missing from the last two films in the franchise. The pop culture references are still there, but they’re few and far between. We get more character-based humor from Shrek, Fiona, Donkey, and in another scene-stealing turn, Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), who, in the alternate timeline, has really let himself go. Not surprisingly, plans are in place to spin off Puss in Boots into his own, standalone feature.
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originally posted: 05/21/10 09:00:00