Finally, after a solid month of miserable movie going, I saw a new movie that is entertaining non-stop, start to finish. Shrek Forever After was such a pleasant surprise.
The first movie in the series is a classic. Its first sequel was feeling a bit tired. Shrek the Third felt wearier still. So, I had low expectations for this fourth movie in the franchise, especially since the marketing was promising it to be the last, as if begging us to forgive this one last trespass.
Happily, this Shrek may be my favorite in the series.
I’ve always loved fairy tales. They appear so simple on the surface, but flow so deeply in young imaginations. And they can keep older imaginations from drying up and withering away. My volumes of Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen live on my nightstand and Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is my favorite book – so delightfully different from the movie.
Because of this, the first Shrek felt like a movie made to order. It had such an irreverent and bouncy attitude as it merrily stuffed as many fairy tale characters as possible into its crazy-quilt story. And they were all welcome. That movie felt like a party where all my friends came crashing in – even ones I’d long forgotten.
That party atmosphere is still happening with Shrek Forever After, but it’s a bit more subdued this time. That first movie – and to some extent the first two sequels – did all the heavy lifting and created an indelible world and characters. This movie has faith in that creation and relaxes into a gentler groove. It never feels like it is trying too hard to please, which would’ve been fatal.
What we get instead is a terrific little story, essentially Shrek having a midlife crisis crossed with that greatest of all Hollywood tearjerkers, It’s a Wonderful Life. That movie had George Bailey deciding his life was a waste. And, about to jump from a bridge, he’s rescued by an angel who sets him straight.
Shrek Forever After opens with Shrek at wit's end, having to deal with three demanding kids, nearby townsfolk who won’t allow him a moment’s peace in his mud pond, and a funny little boy who keeps insisting he “do the roar.” Like a little boy himself, he runs away from home.
Now, he doesn’t contemplate anything as dramatic as suicide and there’s nothing as whimsical as an angel or cute as Zuzu and her petals, but, with the help of a sinister little guy named Rumpelstiltskin, Shrek is forced to experience a world into which he was never born.
What I most loved about this alternative take on Shrek’s reality is its conception of Fiona. Last year we had Avatar and now we get another strong female action hero. The times have sure changed since George’s wife was reduced to a skittish schoolmarm of a librarian without him in her life. Once upon a time, Shrek saved Fiona; now she’s the one doing the saving.
By turning Shrek into a fantasy version of Bailey, the movie gives us an opportunity to relive two events from Shrek’s life in humorous new ways – his forming a friendship with the Donkey (Eddie Murphy still as funny as ever) and his falling in love with Fiona. What a great way to close out the series. I actually hope this is forever after.
And now Shrek, once more with feeling, “Do the roar!”