From the moment that DreamWorks unleashed its jolly green animated franchise in 2001, the adaptation of William Steig’s popular children’s book found that sweet spot of appeal to both parents and kids. Children got ogre-fart jokes and Eddie Murphy’s manic jackassery; adults chuckled knowingly at pomo references and the subtleties of the Gingerbread Man screaming “Eat me!” Four chapters later, any attempts at satisfying both the prepubescent and the postcollegiate mind-sets have been shrugged aside, but what’s truly head-scratching is which way the series ended up skewing.
Shrek Forever After (is that a threat?) kicks off with a montage of our hero (Myers) in a domesticated rut: feed and change the brood, go about the daily routine of middle-class indignities, have dinner with the same group of friends, rinse and repeat—ad infinitum. Finally, Shrek suffers a nervous breakdown—what else would you call a rage spiral that ends with smashing your fist into a birthday cake?—and is suckered into a Faustian bargain with Rumpelstiltskin (Dohrn). It’s one thing to sell scatological gags to grown-ups, but pitching kids a toon version of It’s a Wonderful Life? Seriously?
Such a sideways move toward maturity might be applaudable if the rest of the film weren’t just desperately beating a dead cash cow. Third times are rarely charms in the movies, much less fourth go-rounds, and it takes more than ho-hum 3-D and video-game-ready action sequences to liven up diminishing returns. When a chubby tabby is given the best lines, alienating the 12-and-under set with midlife crises might be the least of your problems.—David Fear
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