Friday, May 21, 2010

Shrek Forever After

Nine years ago almost to the day, the first Shrek unexpectedly delighted the world, and me-- with it's twisted mash-up of fairy tale folklore mixed with anachronistic pop culture wit. The film firmly established DreamWorks Animation as a powerhouse, for better or worse (with them for every Kung Fu Panda delight, there must be a Shark Tale bitter aftertaste), as well as being the first recipient of the animated feature Academy Award. Thinking back, the first films brilliance still resonates, but it hasn't aged well thanks to three sequels that couldn't replicate the first movies magic. Shrek 2 had its moments, and I remember at the time enjoying it, but I can't honestly say I remember anything about it; the less said about the ill-advised Shrek the Third the better. What those films lacked was any nugget of a plot-- it was all self-referencial parody, not just of fairy tales, but of anything. Both films were a combined three hours of filler.

And now we come to the final chapter, as touted by it's marketing team-- I'm sure the real story of that will be decided after opening weekend grosses. Aside from that it's also in 3-D, for not much other reason, than the oppurtunity to milk an extra three to five dollars per ticket, I perhaps cynically, but not altogether disingeniously presume. For the 3-D doesn't particularly add anything visually. The technology is displayed competantly, even playfully in a few choice sequences, but as is the case with most third-dimension motion picture PA (Post-Avatar), it's not exactly revelatory. Honestly, I got a headache about forty-five minutes in.

While all that sounds nasty and bitter, I admit I actually kinda dug Shrek Forever After, because it's the first film since the first that has a fully conceived plot; it's a rather lazy one, but it works for the most part because it has a bit less of the smug self referencial humor of the last two, and a lot more of the heart and joy of the first film. We start with the happy ogre family: Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers), living harmoniously with his princess wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz), and three ogre children; while pesty, scene-stealing Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) and Donkey (Eddie Murphy) along the side for mayhem. The familial bliss and predictability of domestic life (as well as national celebrity) start to get to our favorite ogre, whose mid-life crisis makes him long for the old days where he was feared and left alone. Enter Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohm), a mischievious conjurer, with Napoleonic tendancies, who grants Shrek his wish: one day of ogre solitude, in exchange for another day of his life.

Of course it goes awry, as Shrek goes the George Bailey route from It's a Wonderful Life (or more of Hot Tub Time Machine, perhaps), and the rest of the film is him trying to right the very stupid wrong he made; the old don't know what you've got till it's gone routine. In the parallel Shrek universe; Fiona is an Amazonian ogre fighting, Xena style, and Rumpelstiltskin in the king of Far Far Away. Like I said, the plot is lazy, but I couldn't help being gently touched by the climax; I can be a softie too. And the voice-work is solid: Murphy and Banderas still manage to make their irritating pests as cute and cuddly as possible. Observant audience members will be able to spot the vocal work of Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Jane Lynch (Glee), Craig Robinson (Hot Tub Time Machine) and Kathy Griffin.

And while I can never necessarily claim to support the Shrek empire: the great first film never needed sequels to justify or further explore anything in the slightest, I can't entirely dismiss it either. As much as these four films have lampooned everything in pop culture sight, and as little subtlty as expressed, Shrek with it's pop song soundtrack and simple non-judgemental message, does have a big heart, and sometimes that is taken for granted. B-

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