A housebroken monster wrestles with complacency in ‘Shrek Forever After,’ a tale for kids and adults

I could write three reviews of “Shrek Forever After“: one about the animated movie for kids, one about the subtext, and one about the even deeper, more subversive sub-subtext, but the Gazette would never go for it, so I’ll mash all three up together.

What’s on the surface is the fourth ” and, they tell us, last ” film in this quartet of tales about an ogre who finds his inner nice guy and saves the land of Far, Far Away. You don’t have to have seen the previous three pictures, as this one opens with enough backstory to allow you to follow what’s going on.

Shrek’s (Mike Myers, “Inglourious Basterds“) domestic life is starting to wear on him. He has three kids and an obnoxious best friend in the form of a talking Donkey (Eddie Murphy, “Imagine That“), so it’s no wonder that he feels the need to let his inner monster run loose for a day.

He makes a deal with Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn, “Shrek the Third“): In exchange for a single useless day from his past, he will receive one day during which he can relive the old joys of terrifying townsfolk and being chased by an angry mob with pitchforks.

But Rump is still the nasty little con man he’s always been and what Shrek actually gets is one day in the world as it would exist if he’d never been born. It’s “Groundhog Day” blended with “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Shrek has to become reacquainted with Donkey, Fiona (Cameron Diaz, “The Box“) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas, “Take the Lead“) to save Far, Far Away and return life to normal, all within 24 hours.

It’s a perfectly serviceable burlesque, fairly tale plot. Director Mike Mitchell (“Sky High“), a former University of Oklahoma student, fills in the gaps with the usual Shrekian pop-culture references, anachronisms and gags based on the tunes that litter the soundtrack.

I liked the subtext, subtle commentary for adults on what happens when you sign a contract that seems too good to be true without reading the fine print. Subprime lending, anyone? Of course, the contractor turns out to be a weasel ” you were expecting Santa Claus?

The sub-subtext may hit husbands and fathers a little close to home. Ever since the first film in this series, Shrek has been moving away from the freedom of his basic nature and becoming tamed by his wife and by civilization in general. By the beginning of this chapter, the play-nice-with-others lifestyle he finds himself stuck in causes him to pop his cork. It’s midlife crisis, ogre-style. Has he become domesticated because he wanted to be or because civilized conformity convinced him, against his instincts, that he should be?

I’d like to see one more Shrek movie, one in which the green guy lights out for the territory because he’s tasted both civilization and freedom, and finds the latter more to his liking. Huck Finn as ogre. “Doug Bentin

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Doug Bentin

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