NEW YORK (CNS) — The green ogre and his princess bride come full circle in "Shrek Forever After" (Paramount), a more conventionally heartwarming and less raucous animated riff on fairy tales than its three predecessors. Those relishing the cheeky idiom that helped the franchise achieve blockbuster status (and occasionally push the PG envelope) might be disappointed to learn its swan song has so much in common with the Disney canon it began by parodying.
On the other hand, though less amusing absent so many snarky pop-culture references, "Shrek Forever After" affirms the values of love and fidelity in a way that should gladden parents. Director Mike Mitchell and company opt for the sweeter, more traditional charms of "It’s A Wonderful Life," which their slightly convoluted plot mimics. The story begins before the action of the first film. Just before Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) rescued Fiona (voice of Cameron Diaz) from the tower in which she was imprisoned by a dragon, her royal parents (voiced by Julie Andrews and John Cleese) were about to sign a Faustian bargain with Rumpelstiltskin (voice of Walt Dohrn). By forfeiting the kingdom of Far Far Away, they would save their daughter. Thankfully, Shrek’s heroics made the transaction unnecessary. Fast-forward to the present and the swamp where Shrek and Fiona have settled down with their cuddly triplets.
Although being a peace-loving father has its rewards, Shrek finds domesticity lacking: No one fears him, and his daily routine is exhausting. He yearns for a little freedom and the excitement of his previous line of work terrorizing villages and wreaking havoc. During their children’s first birthday party, Shrek has a panic attack-cum-meltdown and argues with Fiona. Rumpelstiltskin overhears and proposes a magical deal that will allow Shrek to experience his old life for one day in exchange for another day in his life. Rumpelstiltskin chooses to take the day Shrek was born. Since Shrek never existed, Fiona was never rescued and thus the kingdom of Far Far Away falls into Rumpelstiltskin’s devious hands after all.
Shrek is just another ogre in this scenario, while Fiona leads the ogres’ underground resistance against Rumpelstiltskin and his witch minions. She has no idea who Shrek is and, as they try to overthrow Rumpelstiltskin together, Shrek must steal True Love’s Kiss, thus breaking the spell and allowing everyone to live happily ever after.
Donkey (voice of Eddie Murphy) and a portly Puss in Boots (voice of Antonio Banderas) lob wisecracks and otherwise help reunite the lovebirds to end tyranny’s reign. Shrek falls for Fiona all over again and becomes keenly aware of his good fortune.
The franchise’s high production values are in evidence, with the actors’ strong characterizations matched by expressive animation featuring a vibrant palette and many creative perspectives. Whether there’s any good reason (other than higher ticket prices) to project the movie in 3-D as well as conventional format is debatable. As before, an array of pop music ballads and rock ‘n’ roll songs are engagingly deployed.
Because the film contains nothing edgier than the elements listed below, adults deciding whether it’s suitable for children can err on the side of being inclusive.
The film contains a few mild action sequences and occasional toilet-related humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
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McCarthy is a guest reviewer for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film & Broadcasting. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.