Following on the heels of the narratively jumbled Shrek the Third, it comes as a relief to find Shrek Forever After (a.k.a. The Final Chapter) streamlining its plot, not to mention doing away with its typical pop-culture pandering, save for a few Donkey-crooned songs. If less grating than its antecedents, however, this fourth saga proves a needless endeavor, with director Mike Mitchell and writers Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke resorting to a tired gimmick (aside from the perfunctory 3D) in order to breathe life into a depleted franchise: an alternate reality story!
Still married to Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and celebrating his tykes’ first birthday, Shrek (Mike Myers) is surprisingly miserable, frustrated by the monotony of his routine domestic existence and the resultant loss of his independence. When he meets the magical Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), who blames the ogre for foiling his years-earlier plot to take over the kingdom of Far Far Away, he convinces Shrek to make a deal to enjoy one blissful 24-hour stretch as his old carefree, townsfolk-scaring self. That pact turns out to be a trick, stranding Shrek in a bizarro world where Donkey (Eddie Murphy) doesn’t know him, Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) has grown fat and lazy, and Fiona is the warrior leader of a covert resistance force against king Rumpelstiltskin. What follows is little more than a pointless variation on the first film, with Shrek once again asked to create relationships with trusty comrades and battle a despotic pipsqueak ruler.
The tale’s overriding message about learning to view parenthood as a blessing rather than a curse seems targeted at those adults unhappy about having to accompany their kids to yet another Shrek film, and the sweetly juvenile humor feels more tepid and staid than ever, albeit mercifully free of the usual fart and poop gags. While its prime conceit offers little insight into, or development of, its main characters or their relationships (as well as doesn’t flirt with the Shrek saga’s typical inversion of Disney animation’s outer beauty=inner beauty paradigm), at least the devilish Rumpelstiltskin delivers some unique manic-twerp energy to the otherwise ho-hum proceedings. Shrek Forever After isn’t offensive, just innocuous and unnecessary, a supposed final chapter to a series that should have ended two installments ago.