Synopsis: The further adventures of the giant green ogre, Shrek, living in the land of Far, Far Away.
Why We're Excited: Insiders have let us know they think Forever After is a fitting end for the franchise, and much better than they expected. Perhaps the mighty ogre will successfully spin off the adventures of Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), which is due on November 4, 2011.
Why We're Not: DreamWorks Animation has creatively outgrown the Shrek franchise; the four-quel seems more like an apology for its tepidly received-predecessor, which should have ushered out all ogres, princesses, and donkeys for good. Truthfully, we were more excited for this final chapter when it was rumored that Paul McCartney would voice Rumpelstiltskin.
At first, it looks like things will be Shrek as usual. Now a harried father who doesn't have time to wallow in the excesses of his ogre past, our big green goof (voiced again by Mike Myers) is forced to feed and diaper his flatulent children, put up with Donkey's (Eddie Murphy) daily shenanigans, and suffer his wife Fiona's (Cameron Diaz) scowls and disapproval. After an incident at a birthday party, Shrek runs into "magic contract expert" Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) who promises him 24 hours of pre-marriage fun for one day from the monster's past. Needing a break, Shrek signs the lengthy parchment. Within moments, he is transferred to a version of Far Far Away where anarchy rules, ogres are hunted and used as slaves, and no one remembers our hulking hero. It is up to the beast to find a way of reversing the spell and getting his henpecked but happy reality back.
It is during these moments of reinvention and revision that Shrek: The Final Chapter starts to work. Before then, it's all baby farts and repetitive running gags. Between Donkey's jukebox referencing of '70s soul classics or the citizenry's obsession with Shrek's roar, there's enough to remind you of how irritating this franchise can be. After the transformation, however, we get a chance to reinvest in all the characters. Sure, Antonio Banderas's Puss in Boots is reduced to an often unfunny fat joke, and a certain burro still loves to sing, but when balanced against Fiona's newfound heft as the Brunhilde-like leader of the Ogre Resistance, we enjoy the contrast.
Indeed, as Rumpelstiltskin obsesses over his looks, or covens of his airborne witch assistants attack the countryside with metal skull restraints and pumpkin bombs, Shrek: The Final Chapter appears ready to make up for all its previous inadequacies. But what doesn't change are the rat-a-tat vocal attack of Murphy (if possible, he's even more hyper and prone to ad-libbing here) and the lack of any really interesting characters outside the main cast.
And then there is the addition of 3D. Like the oppressive Hollywood gimmick it's become, the use of the new "dimension" requires the action scenes to zip and zing around the frame without rhyme, reason, or a sense of realism. One moment we are sailing up and around the Dragon's aloft head and tail, the next we are trapped inside a clockwork castle where floors fall out and structure shifts, all in the name of a pair of polarized glasses. Much of this unnecessary material is meant to up the "wow" factor for the audience. But with a story that allows you to easily fall into the often manipulative emotional beats, do you really need all the unnecessary flash?
For those who abandoned the series around the time Shrek and Fiona said "I Do", The Final Chapter will be a wonderful, if slightly worn out, surprise. While it can't match the consistently clever classics created by others, Shrek: The Final Chapter certainly ends everything on a better than expected high note.