We have come a long way since the lemon lime tones of the Mike Myers ogre first inverted our favorite Fairy Tales. At the same time we've seen other animation franchises born and blossom. Perhaps it is the extreme brilliance of the Pixar stable and their triumph with Toy Story 3 that makes and Dreamworks Shrek Forever somewhat disappointing. Perhaps it is the downer opening that is hard to escape - or the slightly tedious re-living of past episodes.
IMDB describes it thus: Rumpelstiltskin tricks a mid-life crisis burdened Shrek into allowing himself to be erased from existence and cast in a dark alternate timeline. At first glance it seems deliciously imaginative and full of possibility. Of course on paper it might sound like fun, but on screen the mid-life crisis burden and everything associated with it [screaming, complaining, chores, responsibilities] is exactly the stuff modern audiences are desperate to get away from.
And in that I found a strange mirror. The ruin of Far Far Away provides a disturbing metaphor for what may well be the imminent ruin for swathes of suburbia where pensions and unemployment insurance is slowing to a trickle, then nothing. But all is not lost.
Puss in Boots: Feed me, if you dare.
I won't trouble you with the plot. It's a little too convoluted for my liking, but it's still fun, and it's certainly more busy than other episodes. Does that make it better? I'm not sure it does. But you probably need to miss the other episodes in order for this one to meet or exceed your expectations.
What is interesting to observe is that the centre of Shrek really revolves around the friendship between the ogre and Donkey. Left of centre is the Shrek and Fiona subplot, but the core is how Shrek and Donkey find their way together through Far Far Away. And so in this episode the writers have contrived to remove Fiona for a spell, long enough to allow for another compelling parable involving these strange companions. It works, I believe, because Shrek represents a certain type of anti-social personality that many can identify with, while Donkey represents the opposite, the loud, extrovert but somehow still friendless but well meaning lunatic. It is the loyalty that exists between this flux of personalities that is the golden thread sewn through the Shrek yarn.
Donkey: Please eat my face last and send my hoofs to my momma!
You're not going to like this, but I think one of the lessons we learn from watching Shrek Forever After is that audiences today have become entirely too spoilt for choice and hard to please. For this reason the creators have tried very hard, too hard, to dance to what they think is the audience's tune. They've added a lot of new characters and the story has some interesting elements, but the non-verbal villain - Peter Piper - is hard to hate, and Shrek's conundrum is hard to appreciate since it's not really real.
Donkey: Man, you are a cat-tastrophe.
Puss in Boots: And you, are ri-donk-ulous.
Of course the whole fairy tale thing is fictional, so why not pile one fiction over another? Well, just because. If you want to go to the trouble to make a flick, then make sure your story is sound, and doesn't violate too many laws of the universe. Do that and you're simply creating an elaborate fireworks display. Pretty colors on the screen that catch your eye, but for some reason, you can't connect with.
That doesn't mean you should avoid Shrek. It's good enough to watch despite having below average laughs, and it's definitely an option to consider on a bad TV night. But chances are there is something better out there that you haven't seen. Toy Story 3, or Inception. If not, you'll enjoy this if you're able to keep your expectations on the low side, and you can cut this flick - and yourself - a little slack.