Shrek Forever After
I've never been able to muster up much love for the Shrek franchise, but now I can no longer muster up much hate, either. Perhaps this is what indifference feels like. The popular movie series about a green ogre who befriends a donkey, saves a princess, watches her transform into an ogre, marries her, has a family with her, and is all-round domesticated in his unlikely rise to superstardom has always been a scattered, mostly irritating, occasionally funny spoof of famous fairytale narratives.
The first two movies were loaded with dated pop culture references (the first Shrek movie arrived very late to the party of Matrix spinning camera parodies), while the last two have toned that aspect down a bit. All four movies have given washed-up comedians Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy an excuse to hang around Hollywood a bit longer. They all feature decent animation that has always been bested by rival Pixar's work and has now been beat by fellow DreamWorks production How to Train Your Dragon. And each movie blares an embarrassing play list of songs that feel unnecessary and out of place.
As a franchise, Shrek never seems to evolve in any department other than visual complexity. For me, as a non-fan outsider looking in, the movies are relatively interchangeable and there's little to specifically praise in any of the movies that isn't present in its franchise siblings. It's all fluffy and forgettable, with each movie suffering from the same problems (annoying characters, blandly uninspired references) and featuring the same few positive attributes (a couple chuckle-worthy gags, some pretty pictures).
The fourth instalment offers nothing new, except for the increased visual prowess (the latest sequel is presented in decently executed 3D), so it really is just more of the same. Titled Shrek Forever After in the movie's credits and Shrek: The Final Chapter in the promotional materials, this sequel could very well be the final big-screen Shrek adventure. Of course, box office always dictates these things in the end and The Final Chapter doesn't count for much in Hollywood (Friday the 13th Part IV was also subtitled The Final Chapter and that franchise went on to spawn six more sequels, a crossover extension, and a remake), so we'll have to wait and see if DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg keeps his word or not.
Either way, what has finally become clear to me is that I simply do not like the Shrek franchise, but at the same time, I no longer care to hurl insults at the movies. Any movie that features the Pied Piper playing his magically enhanced flute in order to force a trio of witches to break-dance is not a movie for me. But on the opposite side of things, any movie that features a colossal, angry white duck as the villain's scurrilous sidekick can't be all bad. It is this push-and-pull mentality that prevents Shrek Forever After from sinking or swimming, leaving it to tread water just beneath the surface.
During the movie, I cringed (due to the break-dancing sequences), I chuckled, I rolled my eyes, and I swallowed the gooey syrup that is used to communicate the movie's emotional moments. I wasn't bored and, even if what I experienced couldn't quite be called entertainment, it certainly wasn't dreadful. But it wasn't particularly good, either. The characters haven't grown any less annoying or any more endearing and the subversion of well-known fairytales is as stale as ever. The peripheral mainstays of the franchise, such as the Wolf in Grandma's Clothing, the Gingerbread Man, and Pinnochio, are really just here to indulge a gag or two.
Then again, that's mostly the point of everyone involved in this franchise. Jokes and references are often pushed to the forefront in an attempt to upstage everything else, which is one of the many reasons this franchise has never caught on with me. But at least this time around, the plot that is present actually has some nice ideas at its core. Shrek's latest adventure begins in an entirely unassuming way, as most adventures do. He has settled into a cozy life in his swamp with his wife and kids. Each day is filled with a routine that involves waking up, feeding the children, unclogging the outhouse, and being admired by tourists.
It's a good life, but the monotony is beginning to wear Shrek down, who starts to resent his domesticated lifestyle and yearn for the good old days when he was a feared ogre and not a celebrity. In other words, Shrek is having a mid-life crisis. When a not-so-chance encounter with slimy little Rumpelstiltskin produces the offer of returning to his scary ogre ways for a single day, Shrek unwittingly signs a contract that hurls him into an alternate reality where he was never born. From here, he must find his old pals and try to undo the mistake he has made. To make matters worse, Rumpelstiltskin is now the ruler of the whole land thanks to Shrek's signature.
This twist presents a challenging conundrum for the hero to deal with and the alternate reality provides eerie imagery. The whole land of Far, Far Away has turned decrepit and diseased and director Mike Mitchell does a good job of balancing the darkness in a way that should surprise and intrigue children, rather than simply terrify them. The plot mainly revolves around Shrek's need to find his wife Fiona, who is on the verge of leading an ogre revolution. This satisfies both the desire for adventure and the need for some sappy romance. The movie never achieves much in the way of emotional energy, but it is nice that, four movies into the franchise, this kid's story hasn't lost its attention to marital commitment.
Perhaps this franchise has finally wore me down or perhaps its manner of moving in circles prevents each movie from being any more painful than the previous instalment. But either way, Shrek Forever After is almost tolerable at times. I'm not saying I liked it (the movie's best asset, the giant, ornery duck, isn't as good as the break-dancing sequences are bad), but I am saying I didn't feel much in the way of passionate hatred. Whether or not Shrek Forever After really is The Final Chapter, this franchise will continue to find fans and baffle people like me who were never in on the joke to begin with. But I no longer care where Shrek goes from here or what the green ogre does next. My franchise frustration has officially dissipated, because this series has outlasted my disappointment. After all these years, I've finally been slain by the ogre and the biggest surprise is that I really don't care.