As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.
You'll be surprised how easy it is to pretend Shrek the Third didn't happen while watching the new one. That works in the favour of Shrek Forever After. Without much of the invention that made the first one a hit, this latest trip to Far Far Away finds Shrek in the throes of a mid-life crisis. No, really. Enter Rumpelstiltskin, an odious little dickhead who has a grudge against Shrek, with a promise to make everything better, It's A Wonderful Life-style. As per usual, the world isn't so good when our hero was never born, and Shrek has 24 hours to put things right.
If it needs saying for animation fans, then no, this isn't anywhere near as good as Dreamworks' critical darling of 2010, How To Train Your Dragon. Nor is it as good as Shrek or even the slight step-down of the first sequel. Being a series for kids, its target audience probably love all of these films, but it still falls to nuts like me to review this kind of thing.
At four films, we're now in the territory where the film's resorting to Rumpelstiltskin and the Pied Piper as new characters. With Humpty Dumpty and the Golden Goose slated for the upcoming Puss in Boots spin-off, there's definitely a whiff of shoving whatever they can think of into this one and saving the good stuff for the film that actually shows promise. With 3D attached too, it definitely feels like Dreamworks is capitalising on their brand rather than telling a new story.
As I've already said, the film is best enjoyed if you forget Shrek the Third happened, because Shrek Forever After is thankfully a better film and one that might just as easily have followed Shrek 2, and made the series a round trilogy. While Rumpelstiltskin is a bit of a stretch, he makes a pretty effective villain. His nasally tones, provided by Dreamworks animator Walt Dohrn, set him firmly as a pretty desperate character rather than as the uber-cool Dr. Facilier from The Princess and the Frog or the mentally damaged villain in the upcoming Toy Story 3. Disney has gotten better at this stuff than they were around the time Shrek came out.
Our jolly green hero on the other hand is as irascible as ever, and takes centre stage in the plot development for a change. But Shrek has never been the funniest character in his own films, and the appearances of Donkey, Puss in Boots et al makes the film feel sketchy in a way that the first two in the series didn't. Not to mention that this is essentially a spoof of It's A Wonderful Life, the one plot arc that many TV series have resorted to when they simply run out of steam.
The BBFC report makes an interesting point on this as well. The film has been rated U despite having mild fight scenes. The report expands upon this to say that the fight scenes involve "knife threat", but because this violence is "directed at Shrek, it conveys little sense of real danger and fits within the 'U' allowance". Doesn't that sum up the series at this point? Audiences have actually stopped caring about the ogre. The character who made a splash back in 2001 has become symbolic of the very thing that Dreamworks began by taking the piss out of. This series is now a commercial machine, devoid of much emotional investment, resorting to cliché and the same old deus ex machina as earlier instalments.
In listing any grievances with this sequel, I'm inevitably going to sound like I want you all out of my swamp. Don't get me wrong- I imagine kids and die-hard fans of all the films will love this one too, but my not entirely grumpy point is that I can't imagine it holding much cross-generational appeal. Remember how great the first Shrek was because it appealed to everyone, kids and adults alike? When the funniest new gag comes courtesy of a fat little boy with a catchphrase, something's gone awry with the script.
It's not saying much to buzz that Shrek Forever After is better than the last outing, as I'm still not particularly sorry to see this series conclude. This one is a diverting film that's not nearly as crass as some of Dreamworks' other output, but after seeing How To Train Your Dragon this year, you could really hope for better. The best joke the series has to offer after the first film is getting its own spin-off film at the end of next year anyway, so to finally close the book on Shrek isn't particularly premature.
Shrek Forever After is showing in cinemas nationwide in 2D and 3D from July 1st.
If you've seen Shrek Forever After, why not share your comments on the films and/or my reviews below? If you're waiting for a more satisfying animated sequel, keep waiting for Toy Story 3. You're going to love it.
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.