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|Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience.|
The Shrek Trilogy
(Discounted DVD from Amazon)
"Shrek Forever After"
When the studio anounced this as the last we'll ever see of Shrek, that lovable ogre with his endearing retinue of animals, wife, in-laws and swamp life, it pretty much preordained a negative critical reception. Ah, well, it's over, so how good can it be? some people seem to be saying. So why was I so amused? Obviously, it's a failure on my part. Maybe for expecting so little.
The treacherous one takes the form of one Rumpelstiltskin (voiced by Walt Dohrn), a consort in waiting for "Alice in Wonderland's" big-headed sour-mooded Queen. This guy's heart is nothing more than a repository for hatred and evil as he targets our chartreuse hero who isn't realizing the joys he's supposed to be feeling while living the good life with wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz), changing diapers for his brood of kids, dealing with the over-adoring creatures of the swamp, etc. Shrek (Mike Myers), unsettled and unhappy, makes a perfect victim to take down with promises loaded with deception.
Rump stalks, until Shrek's despondency makes him downright nasty and petulant. In conformity with the age-old formulation, old Rump's got to have his victim's signature on a contract, and he proposes a deal Shrek can't refuse. Just give me a day in your life, he proposes, and I'll give you the comfort you seek. Shrek steps into the trap.
Suddenly, the bright fantasy that so many of us loved goes dark. The forest is now a hellish place with flying witches keeping their eye on Shrek for their boss, old Rump. The ogre's old friends show up, but tainted, as in a bad dream. Donkey (Eddie Murphy) has no memory of his old pal and must be won over all over again. Similarly with Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) who is bloated with fat almost beyond recognition. Shrek is starting over in a land he's never known.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is Fiona who, in this new wrinkle of time and space, is an Amazonian warrior leading her band of ogre resistance fighters against the witches and other forces of Mr. Evil, old Rump. As for Shrek, he remembers her but she's never seen the lightweight before. And so, as a means to kiss the series off with a final take on an ogre's universe, the whole palette of life in the forest changes and old alliances have to start from a new beginning.
But there's nothing old about the visual mastery here. It permeates every frame, in set designs, character creation, mood and, most of all, in the 3-D animation expressiveness. These animator do not miss a beat or a nuance of human-like expression, one of the principal delights of the series. But, that's not all.
Something else that hasn't been lost by the acting team that remains together and intact like few other third sequels, is the humor that so defined the series from the git go. Yes, Donkey's raffish incorrigibility is well known to us and, yes, Puss in Boots' smooth narcissism has tickled us over and over. But what's been achieved here, which some view as samo, samo, is still highly hilarious. The original concepts are that solid.
Case in point is that scene when Donkey spots a fresh dish of waffles and syrup in the middle of the forest. Despite Shrek's attempt with logic to make his buddy understand it as a trap, Donkey, bereft of any kind of discipline to temper his animal instinct for a meal, heeds not, and suffers the consequences. Hey, he's hungry.
With director Mike Mitchell ("Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo") riding herd on screenwriters Josh Klausner ("Shrek the Third" additional material) and Darren Lemke's ("Lost") inventiveness, one thing that's not missing is the level and consistency of this marvel of invention and mirth. This is just plain fun, in a style of irony and adventure that entertains and satisfies. "Shrek Forever After" is no lightweight and, certainly, no sell-out.
I've never said it before: the merits of this film experience is better indicated by its ongoing performance at the boxoffice and not by crusty critical attitude.
~~ Jules Brenner