Thursday, May 13, 2010

Shrek Forever After (2010)

The Shrek franchise has never quite felt like a through-line series to me. The first Shrek (2001) was dubbed masterful for its clever fairytale lampooning and its (at the time) warming animation. The second film expanded the Shrek world of memorable characters and increasingly hilarious scenarios, introducing the great Puss in Boots and proving its mettle as the rare sequel to arguably one-up the original. Then the folks at Dreamworks intituted a directorial change, pulling out the Andrew Adamson/Vicky Jenson team behind the congenial and coherent first flicks, and installing Chris Miller at the helm for Shrek the Third (2007). The result was a poorly animated, poorly paced three-quel. Its title character, Shrek the ogre, spent that film whining about growing up, shedding his fears of royal responsibility and bemoaning his future as a family man. It was dull and irritating and only occasionally rescued by comedic support.

Not much has changed in Shrek Forever After, although the latest effort (directed by Mike Mitchel) is indeed better than the last. Shrek’s still moping and feeling sorry for himself, and he still needs to learn the same life lessons. Except now it’s in 3-D!

I’m no advocator of 3-D technology. Frankly, I can’t wait for this phase to pass. But if your movie’s gonna be a technology gimmick, it might as well be a kids flick. And as such, Shrek 4 is a fine neato waste of a Saturday afternoon.

I saw the latest (and hopefully last) edition to the Shrek series at a special American Idol screening, so I know I watched it with the right crowd. And the crowd loved it. They enjoyed seeing familiar friends in (theoretically) different dimensions but still cracking the same jokes and living out the same adventures. Shrek has fallen into nesting territory, as a film and a character, and he’s producing quality familiarity at best. In addition to the same old characters (and voice talent, from Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy et al) we get the same old ogre concerns, an unwavering pop-friendly sensibility, and the steady acceptance of a novel idea turned ordinary. Shrek's reached the point where it feels more like a reunion than a film, with a few winks and nudges at pop present and past sprinkled in for effect.

Characterwise, the big newcomer is Rumpelstiltskin, a grumpy little misfit hellbent on (what else) ruling the kingdom. He finds an opportunity in a forlorn Shrek who’s wishing for just one day where he can shuck his ever-increasing responsibilities. So Stiltskin gives him that day, It’s a Wonderful Life style, and Shrek wakes up in a world where he never existed.

The faintest hint of freshness can be found in this alternative reality approach. Donkey’s more mellow. Puss in Boots is more lazy, and housecat fat. The two of them provide the only real comic punch to the flick, per norm, so of course the film feels most alive when in their hands. But it still feels like an aging hero trying to recapture the magic that one last time, and failing, with poise but also with inevitability.

Will the kids like it? Sure, why not? But the fairytale pixie dust has run out on this franchise, even in 3-D.

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