It goes without saying that the first Shrek film is the best of the bunch. It was, at the time, a fresh take on fairy tales that hit at the height of Sarcasm’s popularity. The sense of humor was relevant and the references were ripe for a different take. What I find so interesting is that Shrek (or perhaps more accurately, the first half-hour of Shrek) could feel so fresh while its sequels, Shrek 2 and Shrek the Third, could be such boring retreads that never came close to topping the predecessor.
Maybe it’s because of this, a feeling that all of Shrek‘s sequels were stagnant curses to the genre of animation, that I walked into the supposedly final installment of the Shrek series with such low hopes. But maybe it’s because of those expectations for the worst that made Shrek Forever After not just a non-annoying film to sit through, but one that I even kind of liked.
The plot is hardly a fresh one. Taking the idea of what would Shrek’s world have been like if he had never been born doesn’t just borrow from It’s a Wonderful Life, but also approximately 50% of all television series. But that doesn’t stop Shrek Forever After (being referred to in some advertisements as Shrek: The Final Chapter) from exploring the concept, and they frankly could have done worse.
Whereas Shrek the Third felt like nothing more than an overlong episode of children’s show, Forever After has some cinematic appeal that justifies its existence on the big screen.
While the character designs have always bugged me (why does everybody have to be so damn ugly in this world?), the sets are more playful this time around. One sequence, in which we follow a flying broomstick chase throughout an open, towering cartoon castle has huge scale and energy. It’s a film that takes advantage of being 3D without going over the top – framing allows characters to jump in and out of planes and feel tangible.
But, guys, I’ll be honest. The fact that there is a fat cat in this movie is like, to me, amazing. In this alternate reality of the Shrek universe, it turns out that Puss-in-Boots weighs something like forty pounds, too massive to do anything but sit on his massive ass and drink milk. In real life, I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot whenever I run into a fatty cat, and that Forever After is the first movie (that I know of) to seriously involve one is a huge advantage it holds over any other movie ever (I’m looking at you, Paul Thomas Anderson). This might be an unimportant strength to the film (actually, it absolutely is); but I’m just telling you that fat cats are awesome. That is all.
It’s difficult to say what Forever After does that keeps it from feeling as devoid as the middle two chapters in the Shrek movies, but I’d point to the sense of humor. It used to be that the franchise relied totally on twisting some story we grew up with into something a darkly ironic. Parts two and three kept this up, but couldn’t figure out that just adapting classic stories into sarcastic scenarios does not funny make.
And guys I’m not saying that Shrek Forever After is that good a film. It’s about half-and-half, and is totally pointless (other than that it is sure to make an easy $200 million). But this time around, the humor comes from the characters as opposed to stupid references, and the writers are more focused on story than satire, even if the story is stupid.
I’m not telling you to go out and see Shrek Forever After. But I will say that we can no longer totally disown the Shrek sequels.