Three times now, lovable ogres Shrek and Fiona have lived happily ever after, and twice their marital bliss has been interrupted by contrivance in the name of profitable sequels. Now the fairy-tale figures voiced by Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz are being torn asunder for the allegedly final time in Shrek Forever After, once again for no particular reason other than to milk a little more cash out of the franchise’s long-suffering fans.
Forever After isn’t as jumbled and irritating as 2007’s Shrek the Third, but it’s still decidedly pointless, a story that starts and ends in pretty much the same place and doesn’t do much interesting in between. Clearly out of ideas for what to do with Shrek and his pals, the filmmakers go all It’s a Wonderful Life on Shrek and whisk him away to a world in which he was never born, so that he has to re-do a bunch of stuff he already did in the first movie, including wooing Fiona (now a badass ogre warrior) and befriending the annoying Donkey (Eddie Murphy).
Antonio Banderas returns as the voice of swashbuckling cat Puss in Boots (now fat and lazy), but thankfully most of the other extraneous characters from the last two movies have disappeared. Forever After has a more streamlined narrative and a stronger villain (Rumpelstiltskin, entertainingly voiced by animator Walt Dohrn), and that makes it more fun to watch than Shrek’s last adventure. But it’s also full of tired pop-culture gags and lame puns, and its central dilemma (Shrek doesn’t appreciate his wonderful life, and longs for the days when he was feared instead of loved) lacks substance, and is too ponderous for the movie’s bright, simplistic style. At the end of the movie, nothing’s changed and no one’s really learned anything, but we get another happily ever after anyway. At least maybe this time, the folks at DreamWorks will have the courtesy to leave well enough alone.