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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Film Review | Shrek Forever After



Ogre and Out

by Thomas Delapa


Once upon a time in a strange, make-believe land also known as Hollywood, there was Shrek, a fractured fairy-tale cartoon about a big green ogre with a heart of gold. It made a king-sized pile of green for the DreamWorks studio and so did its two sequels. But in 2010, the franchise came under the spell of a neo-1950s fad called “3D,” which tricked audiences by whisking them to a weird alternate kingdom where one-dimensional storylines rule.

When it comes to the latest screen technology, 3D may be the clearest case of the tail (instead of the tale) wagging the dog. After the animators finished with Shrek Forever After, whatever script that director Mike Mitchell started with had been forever changed by the gimmicky, in-your-face 3D effects. Conjuring the illusion of depth, DreamWorks turns shallow.

Virtual cotton candy with a saccharine flavor, Shrek 4 goes retro in plot, too. Now married with children, our not-so-jolly green giant (voiced by Mike Myers) is settling into domestic life with his true love, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz). But Shrek is suffering post-ogre remorse. He yearns for the good old days of yore when he could behave badly, bellow and terrify villagers. Curiously like the bored and bratty newlywed Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City 2, Shrek discovers that “happily ever after” is a fairy tale.

Shrek’s supernatural solution to his mid-life crisis? He naively signs an “ogre for a day” contract with the runty, double-dealing Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), who’s scheming for regime change in the land of Far Far Away. Shrek wakes up in a dark, topsy-turvy world where Rumpelstiltskin leads an axis of evil with a coven of witches, and ogres are slaves.

Like its digitally drawn predecessors, Shrek 4.0 is uploaded with a witches’ brew of pop-culture jokes, but they’re largely charmless. Even if the characters’ life-like expressions are magical, the spell wears off the deeper Mitchell gets into this sickly green riff on It’s a Wonderful Life. A la George Bailey, Shrek has the misfortune of seeing what happens had he never been born (and never rescued Fiona), thus making him appreciate the wonders of middle-class married life. In vapid storybook fashion, life without true love and marriage is a curse.

Writers Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke are willy-nilly pillagers, raiding everything from The Wizard of Oz to Deliverance and old Carpenters’ songs. At Rumpel’s seedy palace, a horde of hook-nosed, rave-happy witches do his bidding on broomsticks. When Shrek finally finds Fiona, she’s been made over into the chilly, no-nonsense leader of the underground ogre resistance. (You could say that it’s at least a better fate than poor Donna Reed in the noir side of It’s a Wonderful Life, transfigured into a spinster librarian since Jimmy Stewart wasn’t there to sweep her off her feet.)

Movie technology should be ruled by story and character, but in Shrek Forever it’s the other way around. Between such oddball scenes as an ogre fandango, Mitchell launches a made-for-3D centerpiece that pits Shrek against a squadron of flying witches hurling (and smashing) flaming pumpkins.

It’s not easy being green, but in this virtually recycled Shrek, DreamWorks forgot to take out the trash.

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Originally published in Conducive Chronicle, 6/7/10

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