The magic is back. SHREK FOREVER AFTER has recaptured everything that made the original so great, including the attitude of William Steig, the author of the original Shrek book, while keeping those elements that worked in the subsequent installments. Which is to say, there is nothing of the third to be found here.
Shrek (Mike Myers), as the title implies, is living his happily ever after with Fiona (Cameron Diaz) in a cozy cottage in his beloved swamp. Woken every day to the antics of his triplets, greeted by the tour bus on whose route he is a star, enjoying an eyeball-tini at the close of the day just before dinner with best friends the swashbuckling Puss-In-Boots (Antonio Banderas), endlessly chattering Donkey (Eddie Murphy), and Donkey’s only slightly disturbing brood of donkey-dragon hybrids. The joy, after a while, gets to be too much for even the mightiest of ogres, and the big green guy begins to long wistfully for the days when the townsfolk ran in terror instead of asking for autographs, and diapers didnt figure so prominently in his routine. Being a fairy tale, the film will waste little time in granting him his wish. Being faithful to the Steig version of a fairy tale, it will use the usual idioms while at the same time showing a hearty irreverence for those same idioms.
New villain is Rumpelstiltskin (Walter Dohrn), frequently and aptly described by his fellows as a tiny freak with curly toes, and he offers Shrek a magical contract and several eyeball-tinis. One day of being an ogre again like in the old days in return for one day from Shrek’s past, any day from his childhood. For Shrek, it seems heaven sent. For Rumpelstiltskin, it’s a second chance for domination of Far Far Away, the land where they all live.
Shrek is once again the terror of all he meets. It’s a good feeling that doesnt last when the reality of what hes signed away for even a day comes home. That home with Fiona, for one. For another, a land ruled by Rumpelstiltskin and his bevy of pumpkin-wielding, broomstick-riding witches, where orgres are outlaws, Donkey is a glorified FM radio station, and Puss has embraced his inner glutton to become a pampered, furry melon with flexibility issues and a pink bow instead of boots.
As for Fiona, shes a warrior princess who gave up waiting for her prince to rescue her from the dragon-guarded tower where her royal parents had hidden her. She got her self-actualization on, made a break for it, and is currently leading the ogre revolution against Rumpelstiltskins reign of terror. The only way Shrek can restore order is to, once again, deliver true loves kiss, a problem considering that this Fiona is not interested in romance of the conventional sort, and Shrek only has one day to win her over before he and the Far Far Away he knew, disappear forever.
The look, aside from the 3-D-ness, keeps the look of the original, tweaking the technology rather than going for a complete overhaul that would ruin the continuity. The story is a clever reworking of the original, with fresh twists to accommodate the alternate universe Shreks unfortunate bargain has created. From Shrek desperately trying to make friends with a reluctant Donkey, even more desperately wooing Fiona and making a hash of it even though he knows everything about her, at least the Fiona of his universe, to minor details, such as Donkey’s passion for waffles instead of parfaits, a passion that will prove both a treacherous lure and the key to saving the day, to another tiny villain. That would be Rumpelstiltskin, with his diminutive form and outsized peeves, he makes for a formidable opponent. Expressing himself with a wardrome of emotive wigs and tantrums, he makes up in evil what he lacks in stature, nicely counterbalanced by his pet goose, Fifi, twice his size with hisses of pure vitriol.
With its overtones of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE and THE WIZARD OF OZ (those witches with their fear of water look awfully familiar), SHREK FOREVER AFTER is a sweet close to the Shrek story. The action, 3-D or not, is soaring without being overwhelming, with a Pied Piper providing the enchanted music that forces everyone to break out into perfectly delightful Busby Berkeley-style production numbers of death. The writing is clever rather than raucous, full of sly humor and strong, deeply moving emotions, underscored with a puckish use of 80s pop songs.
Dreamworks has insisted that this will be the last SHREK film in the franchise and, if they are smart, they will stick to that. The last one was a disgrace, and to go out on such a high note almost makes up for that mis-step.