Film of the week

Shrek Forever After (U)


A wonderful life, warts and all. Leave your thoughts on the last film in the series below.

The fourth and, we are assured, final instalment of the Shrek saga finds the ogre-hero in pin-sharp 3-D but suffering a loss of mojo. The first three films were about personal insecurity: Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) began by feeling unworthy of love, then unworthy of royalty, then unworthy of fatherhood. Now he's sitting pretty, in a manner of speaking, a husband to Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), father to three cute ogrelings and a celebrity to the tourists of Far Far Away. But far from being contented, he's just "a jolly green joke", and not all that jolly if his boorish behaviour at his daughter's birthday party is anything to go by. He wants to go back to a time "when the world made sense", when his life was his own and people were frightened of him.

In short, Shrek Forever After addresses a midlife crisis, which will perhaps have a deeper resonance for parents than it does for children. The series has always been canny in its cross-generational appeal, treating kids to a robust repertoire of slobbishness (farting, belching, mud-bathing) and grown-ups to a more sophisticated brand of cultural and cinematic in-jokes. So try and spot what's being referenced here: Shrek happens upon a shifty-eyed stranger, name of Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), who offers him the chance to have his old life back. On signing a contract, the ogre exchanges a day from his past for one in which he can revert to being a scary, unregenerate, child-free gadabout. Too late does Shrek realise that the day he has surrendered is the very day he was born, thus creating a parallel world in which Rumpelstiltskin is a tyrant king and Shrek himself doesn't actually exist. Yes, you've guessed it – we are in a digimated version of It's a Wonderful Life, where the hero discovers how life would have been without him; as it were, Shrekless.

It essentially enables the film-makers to replay Shrek from the start, in a world where nobody recognises him. He now finds that Donkey (Eddie Murphy) is enslaved to the ogre-hunting witches who boss things in Rumpelstiltskin's regime, and Puss (Antonio Banderas) has ballooned into a pampered fat cat who can no longer fit into his boots. These and other transformations license a range of visual gags that put the sly into silly, like the sight of Puss awkwardly shinnying down a rope on his claws, or of Cookie the gingerbread man engaged in gladiatorial combat with a bunch of animal biscuits. It's not quite the gaudy horror that James Stewart found when he returned to his hometown in the Capra movie, but it's bad enough. I half-expected Princess Fiona to have turned into Paris Hilton, or Miss Piggy; instead, she's a warrior queen leading an ogre resistance movement. The catch is that Shrek can annul his disastrous contract with Rumpelstiltskin only if he gains "True Love's Kiss" and thus undoes the mischief he has set in train. But feisty Fiona has eyes only for the revolution, not for a love-sick lummox she doesn't know.

While these twists of characterisation are well-handled, and the pacing of the story is spot-on, there is not the joyful verve that drove along the early Shrek. Its pastiche of fairytale figures, including the Three Little Pigs, Pinocchio and the Pied Piper, blend with throwbacks to Hollywood's golden era, such as the malevolent witches from The Wizard of Oz and the castle-bound derring-do from The Adventures of Robin Hood. In the villainous Rumpelstiltskin you may discern a cross between Uriah Heep and the carrot-topped Syndrome from The Incredibles. Punctuated by Donkey's frequent song contributions – The Carpenters, Lionel Richie, The Monkees – and the Pied Piper's mesmeric flute-playing (he dances them into submission) the movie becomes a virtual echo-chamber of myth and pop culture. The downside of all this magpie borrowing is that it has mostly lost its power to surprise. It is always competent, but it is seldom thrilling.

The film-makers have tried to freshen the formula by hiring cult names to do vocal work, though in truth the characters voiced by Jon Hamm (from Mad Men) and Jane Lynch (from Glee) were so minor I barely noticed them. Walt Dohrn, a storyboard artist and writer on the film, did the test voicing for Rumpelstiltskin until someone realised he was good enough to do the real thing. Of the regulars, Eddie Murphy nails most of the best lines in motormouth style, and one lightning exchange with the gingerbread man ("What you talkin' about, cracker?") is so subtly clever I was initially unsure if it was deliberate or not. You get the feeling, though, that the characters have been taken as far as they can go. Shrek has run the gamut of personal crises, and disaffection with family life is a blind alley that only the parallel-universe flip can allow him to escape. There is a recurring appearance in this movie of an outsize goose, pet of Rumpelstiltskin – presumably the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg. That's pretty much what Shrek has done for DreamWorks; now the studio should do the sensible thing and crack it before the whole thing goes rotten.

This week's Culture Club is looking for your opinions on Shrek Forever After; leave your thoughts below.

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'