As first adapted to the screen in 2001 from William Steig's popular children's book, Shrek was an enchanting fairy tale with a marvelous moral about appreciating each other's inner beauty. While delivering that heartwarming message, the picture kept you in stitches via the hilarious antics of the title character (Mike Myers) and his trash-talking companion, Donkey (Eddie Murphy). Although that animated adventure spawned a couple of engaging-enough sequels, judging by Shrek Forever After it is clear that the scriptwriters have run out of ideas for the expiring franchise.
This uninspired finale is set soon after the conclusion of the original film, thereby inexplicably ignoring the developments of Shreks 2 and 3. At the point of departure, we find the once-feared, ugly green ogre presently living in the swamp with Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and their three kids. However, he's already grown discontent with married life and with the fact that he's beloved rather than feared by the local villagers.
So he enters a pact with Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), a diminutive con man who promises to transform him back into his former scary self for a day. But Shrek signs without read the contract's fine print first, which says that after the 24-hour period expires he will disappear as if he had never even existed. Consequently, Shrek is suddenly transported back in time to but before he ever met Donkey and his other pals, or even his wife. Saddled with overwhelming regret, Shrek learns that his only hope to reverse the curse rests in the agreement's escape clause is triggered only if he kisses Princess Fiona.
Of course, this proves easier said than done, since he must first locate and then convince her that he's not a stranger but already her husband in a parallel reality. Furthermore, Rumpelstiltskin, just like the villain of Shrek 1, is a dwarf with designs on the throne of the land of Far, Far Away. Another similarity has Shrek again befriending Donkey before embarking on a quest to rescue both the fair maiden and her family's peaceable kingdom.
Unfortunately, the dialogue, which was formerly marked by witty repartee and clever allusions to classic cartons and nursery rhymes, has been replaced by unimaginative exchanges lifted out of the hack screenplay handbook. In particular, Ebonics-accented Donkey has become an offensive caricature trading in a number of best-forgotten stereotypes.
Besides being afraid practically of his own shadow, ala Stepin' Fetchit, the cowardly creature trades in malapropisms that would make Pigmeat Markham and Kingfish sound like they were speaking the Queen's English. To top it off, he is an irresponsible baby-daddy who is either so dumb or so irresponsible that he doesn't know whether or not he's a father. And then, when he belatedly acknowledges paternity, he apologizes that his offspring might be so ugly as to make other people feel uncomfortable.
It's no surprise that Dreamworks Animation has reportedly already cancelled plans to shoot a planned spinoff revolving around Antonio Banderas' character Puss in Boots. A dumbed-down ripoff strictly for the tyke demographic too young to notice that the flick's a thinly-veiled retread.
Fair (1 star)
Rated PG for crude humor, action and brief mild epithets.
Running time: 93 Minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures