Saturday, April 1, 2023

Shrek Forever After - The Years Start Coming and They Don't Stop Coming


Following the release of Shrek 2, I will admit I originally didn’t have much of a desire to invest in the series any further, mainly due to overexposure of the second film and the ads making the third look bad. After watching Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, however, I decided to go back and fill in some story gaps. While I would normally continue with Shrek the Third, I was convinced that I could easily skip it and not miss anything, and so jumped straight to Shrek Forever After, which was originally billed as the final chapter of Shrek’s story prior to the announcement of the elusive Shrek 5. Not only did Shrek Forever After prove to be far better than I anticipated, it seemed to confirm that DreamWorks Animation’s change in story direction was ultimately for the better.

Sometime after his marriage to Fiona (Cameron Diaz), Shrek (Mike Myers) becomes a father of three kids. While he and Fiona live a happy life, it eventually becomes repetitive for Shrek due to people no longer taking him seriously, which culminates in him losing his temper at his children’s first birthday party and snap at Fiona. Upon overhearing that Shrek wishes he could go back to his old life, Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) lures Shrek and offers to make him a deal to give him a taste of the old life for a day in exchange for erasing a day in his life. Once Shrek takes the deal, he realizes too late that he unknowingly signed away a very important day in his life and must now cancel the deal before the day runs out.

Frustrated with his current life, Shrek (Mike Myers) is tricked into making a deal with
Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) that comes at a heavy price.

As I alluded to previously, it is actually possible to watch this film directly after Shrek 2 without feeling like you’ve missed anything. While Shrek the Third does feature the first appearance of Shrek’s children, this event is reestablished at the beginning of this installment, with the preceding film’s events otherwise going completely unmentioned.

Under these circumstances, Shrek Forever After feels like a natural extension of Shrek’s character arc from the events of Shrek 2, and by the end feels like a fitting conclusion to his story. Parallels can easily be drawn with the film It’s a Wonderful Life in terms of the basic plot and structure, however it works well enough for Shrek’s development and enough is done with the plot it to set it apart from that of the aforementioned work. Next to “Big” Jack Horner in Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, Rumpelstiltskin is one of the best villains in the Shrek universe and a fantastic one in his own right, with a motivation and personality that cleverly expands upon the original fairy tale and ties in very well with Shrek’s own motivations and development.

While the influence of Kung Fu Panda, released two years prior, is evident in the writing taking itself a bit more seriously, some elements of prior Shrek films are still present. While the series is no stranger to anachronisms, they have thankfully been heavily downplayed here when compared with Shrek 2, which was practically drowning in them. Similarly, the story is no longer held back by the infamous pop culture humor that plagued earlier films, enabling this one to have a more timeless quality in spite of the anachronisms. While the fairy tale references are still spelled out to some extent, they are implemented in far more clever ways, particularly Rumpelstiltskin’s role in his namesake tale and the sand of his hourglass being represented by straw spun into gold.


Rumpelstiltskin (right) is easily one of the Shrek franchise's best villains.


Visually, this film improves over its predecessors, with impressive attention to detail in the backgrounds and character designs. Although the visuals are starting to show their age after more than 10 years, they still impress in a number of areas, including the hair, cloth and liquid physics, as well as Rumpelstiltskin’s aforementioned hourglass and physics involving a birthday cake. While many of the plethora of ogres introduced in this movie during the second act don’t get much screen time, a lot of effort clearly went into making each of the more important members look and feel unique from each other, allowing their appearances to stand out more even if you don’t remember all of their names.

While the returning voice actors give solid performances, this film features one of Mike Myers’ best and most nuanced performances as Shrek, along with Eddie Murphy providing great and well-timed comic relief as Donkey. Walt Dohrn’s take on Rumpelstiltskin is another standout, expertly portraying a manipulative con artist whose contracts always come at a higher price than he initially lets on. Although pop culture is not used as the basis for humor here, it is still present all over the soundtrack, featuring a large number of licensed songs, including the return of “I’m A Believer” by The Monkees (performed by Weezer) from the original Shrek, albeit used in appropriate moments.

Of the original Shrek films prior to the shift in focus to Puss in Boots, Shrek Forever After is easily the best, with a far more serious plot and great character writing that culminate in an emotional finale. Should you choose to watch this film as a newcomer to the franchise, it is also recommended you watch the first two Shrek films first, while optionally skipping The Third, to get the most out of the story and Shrek’s character arc.

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