Rated PG for mild action, some rude humor and brief language, 93 minutes
More of the same old schtick in the tired but mildly enjoyable "Shrek Forever After"
You've seen "Shrek Forever After" before, in the previous three "Shrek" movies. The same mixture of fairy tale themes and contemporary pop-culture humor. Shrek, Fiona, Donkey and Puss-n-Boots are all back too. In spite of a few fun moments and a memorable villain, the mildly enjoyable but overly familiar "Shrek Forever After" mines the same tired formula and jokes that should've been stopped after the second one; as a result, it's the weakest of the "Shrek" movies.
Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are living happily ever after with their three kids in Far, Far, Away. Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and the Dragon have some kiddoes too and the brave Puss-n-Boots (Antonio Banderas) remains a close pal. But Shrek, tired and annoyed by family life and the fact he can't enjoy the life he once has as a "real" Ogre, makes a deadly pact with the evil magician Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) to have one day of his former life back, but little does Shrek know that in the process Rumpelstiltskin gets everything and Shrek loses everything, which can only be reversed by love's true kiss with Fiona.
"Shrek Forever After" is moderately entertaining and amusing animated film, though it considerably lacks the cleverness of the first two films, relying heavily on the same schtick as before. With an uneven, forced story, the franchise is showing its age, particularly with the addition of 3-D, which doesn't add much, and by needlessly filling the movie with an all-star cast of voices and mediocre '80s tunes. It doesn't help that much of the regular cast, especially Myers and Diaz, seem to phone it in. Murphy, who's garnered most of the laughs so far, is upstaged by Banderas' Puss-n-Boots, who in Shrek's revisionist alternate universe is a very overweight, lazy housecat who doesn't chase mice and can't reach his feet.
Even better, this "Shrek" features the franchise's most memorable villain since John Lithgrow with the troll-like Rumpelstiltskin, voiced with energy and kick by an unknown, "Shrek" animator and writer Walt Dohrn, who nearly walks off with the movie. Without Dohrn and Banderas providing some much-needed laughs, the film would've been mostly a bore; it doesn't help that its beguiling plot lags considerably in the second act, when Shrek is transported to a different universe filled with more Ogre's and some mouthy witches.
With the addition of those characters comes the addition of a bevy of voices from first-rate actors, most of whom get lost in the proceedings. Listen closely for Jane Lynch, Jon Hamm and Craig Robinson (who does get in a couple of decent lines) as the new Ogres and Kathy Griffin, Meredith Viera (yes, the "Today" show host), Kristen Schaal, Lake Bell and Mary Kay Place as some of the witches. Heck, if you listen close enough at the beginning you'll also hear "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest. When the writers have to rely upon Seacrest for laughs, you know you're in trouble.
Much like the other "Shrek's," "Forever After" ends predictably and happily enough to please the masses and the young ones. Producers of the film have told us that this will be the final installment, but if it's successful enough, it would be of no surprise if they somehow managed a fifth one. Even better will be the new Puss-n-Boots movie next year, which will be far more entertaining than another "Shrek" installment.
As it is, if this the true end of the "Shrek" series, "Shrek Forever After" goes out with a nice smile instead of a huge guffaw.