The final instalment in the increasingly meandering and confusing fairytale parody saga sees Shrek experience a mid-life crisis. Yes seriously. But instead of buying a leather jacket and having an affair with a younger, sexier ogre than Fiona he makes a bargain with Rumplestiltskin (Walt Dohrn) for a chance to experience his life if he’d never got married and had kids – stayed a “real ogre”.
This is the point when Shrek has truly stopped being subversive and descends into soap opera territory. The tightly focused plots of 1 and 2 are replaced by a story which revolves around Shrek’s marital insecurities – which threaten the ruination of the world, apparently. This is the fourth time Shrek’s pursued his “Happily Ever After”, and the third film that’s ended with “true love’s kiss”. It’s basically the same plot as 2, but with a contract instead of a potion (gripping stuff!), and Shrek still hasn’t learnt to read the small print.
It turns out that the switch is all part of Stiltskin’s evil plan to take over the throne of Far Far Away , due to a bargain made with Fiona’s parents in the past. So what is at stake here is preventing Far Far Away being taken over by a tyrannical dictator, rather than the presumably more benevolent dictatorship of Fiona’s parents (or Arthur, who is in charge now, although never seen).
There was I thinking that the point of the Shrek franchise was to flip expectations on their heads, but here Rumplestiltskin is the villain and has witches working for him. Whatever happened to the good looking and successful characters like Prince Charming and the Fairy Godmother being the villains? It’s possible this is some meta-satire where they subvert our expectation of subversion, and the declining quality of the films is a parody of lacklustre sequels. But if so this will be lost on children who will just see a lousy film.
At least it’s more clear what type of film this is than 3. Following Stiltskin’s spell, Shrek gets to see what the world would be like without him – so it’s basically It’s a Wonderful Life with ogres. In the parallel world, Stiltskin runs Far Far Away with his witches, and hunts down ogres for sport, but also apparently seems to remember the deal made with Shrek in the original world.
Only Shrek and Stiltskin have memories from the original universe, I guess for plot reasons, but it does raise questions about how Stiltskin has lived two separate lives simultaneously. It would actually make quite a good sci-fi. X-Men Days of Future Past eat your heart out.
In this timeline Fiona has never been rescued by Shrek, so still turns into an ogre at night. Riskily she’s decided to lead the ogre resistance against Stiltskin – risky because she presumably can’t be seen by any of her ogre friends during daylight. What does she do in June when it doesn’t get dark till 10? There’s only one way Shrek can return to his normal life, and that’s to have true love’s kiss by midnight. Unfortunately Boudiccia-Fiona, let’s call her Boudiona, has higher standards in this universe meaning she has no interest in Shrek.
Donkey still has the best lines, which is tacitly acknowledged by the film makers, who have created another comedy sidekick with a black voice in the form of Cookie (Craig Robinson), an ogre who isn’t at all funny. Even the music is bad. Where Shrek 2 had I Need a Hero by Bonnie Tyler, 4 has Orinoco Flow by Enya. Seriously.
The best thing about it is the animation, which is the highest quality in the franchise, particularly in the texture of the characters’ surroundings. The human characters are still firmly within the ‘uncanny valley’ of not-quite-realness that have proved a staple of the saga. It’s also more memorable that Shrek the Third, even if Stiltskin feels like a second rate villain with the first non-famous voice of any major character in the series.
Much like Batman Forever before it, the presence of ‘ever’ in the title of a film of this standard fills us with dread rather than anticipation. Luckily this title refers to Shrek finally receiving his Happily Ever After (for the fourth time) rather than Batman, where Joel Schumacher appears to genuinely have planned to have kept making the films for ever. Well let Shrek Forever an After be more like Batman and Robin and bring an overdue end to Shrek’s run. Until Christopher Nolan reboots it in 10 years.