“Shrek Forever After” – Quoth the Critic, Nevermore

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By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic

You could save a bunch of money by shunning “Shrek Forever After”—even more if it’s the 3-D version you’re evading—and renting a DVD of  “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) for Junior to view instead. Explain that the fourth iteration of the friendly monster is but a primer for this classic study in what if? And no offspring of yours needs training wheels.

He’ll understand. I did when I found a pair of brown corduroy pants and a bag of M&M’s under the Christmas tree instead of the Jerry Lewis comedy album I wanted. Yep, I had a tree until I was seven, but that’s a whole other story. Hmm…maybe you should take the kid.

[smartads]

But Taylor and Brittney ought to know right out of the box that, although it isn’t a total disappointment, this isn’t their older sister’s “Shrek.” Its moral lesson about appreciating life’s simple treasures is nicely put. Nonetheless, when I was little I preferred some laughs with my ethics, the kind you got from a Jerry Lewis record. Just saying.

The fact is, director Mike Mitchell’s delve into an alternate universe created to teach a bored Shrek the error of his jadedness is a tad too solemn for its own good. Just as Shrek has taken life’s little blessings for granted, the filmmaker seems to have forgotten what was comically creative about the big galoot in the first place.

Still, you have to give writers Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke credit for making almost understandable to kiddies the potentially confusing concept. As in the aforementioned movie starring James Stewart, the disenchanted protagonist gets to see what life would be like without his presence.

But in this permutation, instead of guardian angel Clarence providing the devastating peek, the perspective Shrek gains is a byproduct of the power-hungry Rumpelstiltskin’s attempt to wrest away the kingdom. Time-appropriate to our current concern with finance reform, the fairy tale villain is pretty slick with a contract.

Here’s the deal. In return for making him his once feared, bad self of old, Shrek must relinquish unto Rumpelstiltskin a day from his past. While not quite as convoluted as derivatives, the ensuing chicanery results in Shrek having never been born. Hence, he wasn’t there to kiss Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and break the curse, etc., etc., etc.

And so the kingdom of Far, Far Away goes the way of Pottersville, a decadent, uncaring realm ruled by a greedy minority of one instead of the idyllic, socially conscious land that, alas, was so perfect it lulled the self-absorbed Shrek into complacency. The poor dude forgot what was important. Selfish, selfish, selfish. Aesop would approve.

But the ancient storyteller wouldn’t have laughed. Woven into a series of lacklustre action scenes, a listless string of puns aims at gosh knows whose funny bone. While mainstay Donkey, again voiced by Eddie Murphy, resumes his bantering friendship with Mike Myers’s title ogre, it’s obvious this comedy team needs to freshen up its material.

Granted, it is no easy task to populate a film ostensibly intended for moppets with jokes that will also be appreciated by their adult accompaniers. However, instead of chancing in favor of one sense of humor or the other, the writers seek the sanctuary of an unremarkable middle ground. The references are weak, the punch lines paltry.

Curiously, it is not entirely impossible that the film’s major impetus is subconsciously driven by a nagging suspicion that the franchise has run its course. Like its hero, “Shrek Forever After” is suffering from a midlife crisis. While grownups might commiserate, you can hardly expect children to appreciate the dilemma.

Although little consolation, viewers at both ends of the spectrum will agree that the technological attributes of the film aren’t as compromised as the script. Things go whiz-bang at regular intervals; the landscape and appurtenances are colorful; and the music is lively if not as ironically complementary as the director might have thought.

But now the big question: To see it in 3-D or plain old 2-D? From this fuddy-duddy’s angle, the choice isn’t too unlike what the salesperson offers you at the car dealership: Do you want the fancy-shmancy rims or these dull stock wheels? Both get you to the same place. It’s just a matter of how much you need things to pop out at you.

Belaboring the automotive analogy, whether seen in stock form or with all the bells and whistles, it’s all show and no go. So the advice to parents who’d like to skip this bonding opportunity but still please their own little monster(s) is to invoke a variation on an old Civil War practice: Hire a substitute escort and shirk “Shrek Forever After.”

“Shrek Forever After,” rated PG, is a Paramount Pictures release directed by Mike Mitchell and stars the voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy. Running time: 93 minutes


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