Shrek Forever After -- Film Review

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You know that a film franchise is beginning to tire when its central character is in the throes of a midlife crisis. Such is the case with the lovable ogre in "Shrek Forever After," the fourth and promised final film in the animated series that has proven a moneymaking machine in its last three incarnations. Receiving its world premiere as the opening-night film at the Tribeca Film Festival, this installment should prove equally lucrative -- especially considering the extra coin that 3D and IMAX bring to the table -- but it also reveals a definite been-there, done-that feeling.

The film wastes no time in reintroducing its beloved characters, including the sassy Donkey (Eddie Murphy), the adorable Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), the suave Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) and, ever so briefly, Fiona's royal parents (John Cleese, Julie Andrews). Shrek (Mike Myers) is now a staid married ogre with three adorable ogre offspring who finds himself chafing at his rigid domesticity and his being embraced by the very villagers who once feared him.

In an effort to shake things up, he enters into an unfortunate pact with the devil or, more precisely, new villain Rumpelstiltskin (borrowed for the occasion from the Brothers Grimm and voiced by story editor Walt Dohrn). Suddenly, he finds himself in an alternate Far Far Away in which he was never born: Rumpel is king, Fiona is the fierce warrior leader of a band of rebel ogres, Donkey is in the employ of a band of cackling witches, and Puss, well, Puss has really let himself go -- he's now a pampered housecat with a serious eating disorder.

Desperate to reclaim his former life, Shrek attempts to woo back Fiona and extract a kiss from his "one true love" that will undo the effects of the spell.

Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke's screenplay creates some fun with the personality and visual changes the familiar characters have undergone, but as with so many sequels to sequels, "Shrek Forever After" has lost much of the simple charm, humor and heart that marked its predecessors. No doubt looking to exploit the sensory stimulation offered by 3D, the filmmakers have ramped up the action, most notably in a high-flying broom chase featuring Shrek and Donkey and the witches and an elaborate climactic battle sequence. (Tellingly, this is the first in the series to be presented in widescreen.)

The 3D effects are undeniably impressive, but like many other examples of this increasingly popular form, some of the visual quality is sacrificed with the inevitable image darkening. The fact that much of the story is set in a literally bleaker landscape doesn't help matters.

As per usual with the series, this edition includes numerous pop cultures references -- a nod to "The Wizard of Oz" got a big laugh -- and several musical montages set to classic pop songs, including the Carpenters' "Top of the World."

By this point, the estimable voice talents have their acts down cold, with each once again providing invaluable contributions (especially Banderas, whose hilarious Puss steals scenes with abandon). Newcomers include Dohrn, whose Rumpelstiltskin displays an amusingly hysterical edge; Jon Hamm, lending his stern baritone to his role as an ogre who makes Shrek look wimpy; and Jane Lynch and Craig Robinson as ogre rebels (the latter particularly funny as a chef whose specialty is chimichangas).

Tribeca Film Festival (Paramount Pictures)
Production: Intru 3D, Dreamworks Animation SKG
Cast: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, John Cleese, Walt Dohrn, Jon Hamm, Jane Lynch, Craig Robinson, Lake Bell, Kathy Griffin, Mary Kay Place, Kristen Schall
Director: Mike Mitchell
Screenwriters: Josh Klausner, Darren Lemke
Producers: Gina Shay, Teresa Cheng
Executive producers: Aron Warner, Andrew Adamson, John H. Williams
Editor: Nick Fletcher
Production designer: Peter Zaslav
Music: Harry Gregson-Williams
Rated PG, 90 minutes