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Movie Review

Shrek Forever After

Fairy tale ending; In ‘Forever After,’ Shrek and his merry cast of characters have run out of ideas

Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) deals with toddler triplets and midlife woes in “Shrek Forever After.’’ Cameron Diaz returns to give voice to his wife, Fiona. Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) deals with toddler triplets and midlife woes in “Shrek Forever After.’’ Cameron Diaz returns to give voice to his wife, Fiona. (Paramount Pictures)
By Janice Page
Globe Staff / May 21, 2010

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They say it’s the end. They say the Shrek empire is done making movies, if not lunchboxes and Pez dispensers. “Shrek Forever After’’ is being billed as the last of four big-screen romps featuring the lovable slime-green ogre with the cheesy Scottish accent. And to see this final installment is to know: It’s time.

When “Shrek’’ debuted in 2001, it captivated audiences with its sly sendups of conventional fairy tales. Inspired by William Steig’s illustrated children’s book, the spirited animated comedy delivered a Happy Meal-ready title character (voiced by Mike Myers) who rose from a swamp to win the hand of his cursed, half-human soul mate, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), with help from a mouthy singing donkey (Eddie Murphy). The result was a fresh and fearlessly twisted take on “Beauty and the Beast’’ (Fiona converts to full-time ogre-ing when she finds her one true love), full of endearing winks and nods to a variety of storybook favorites. Above all, it was funny.

Then in 2004, Andrew Adamson, who codirected the original, led a team of writers and directors credited with giving us “Shrek 2.’’ Like most sequels, it couldn’t recapture all of the magic, but it did manage to entertain with the expected barrage of pop-culture in-jokes and the introduction of Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots. In this one, Shrek and Fiona were husband and wife, and Shrek had to out-charm Prince Charming to keep it that way.

“Shrek the Third’’ managed little magic. Handed off to a pair of first-time directors, the ridiculous 2007 sequel found Charming rallying assorted fairy tale “losers’’ in hopes of seizing the kingdom of Far Far Away once ruled by Fiona’s father. Good trumped evil again — it’s not a high bar when Justin Timberlake ascends to the throne — and as soon as proper order was restored, Shrek and Fiona retreated to their beloved swamp to raise a family.

That’s where “Shrek Forever After’’ picks up the torch.

Now famous and fully domesticated, Shrek seems ripe for a midlife crisis. He’s discovering that fatherhood and celebrity can be a tiresome mix: The Star Tours Chariot regularly drives by his home. His toddler triplets demand full attention, which leaves him no time even to wallow in the mud. And his once fearsome roar? It’s become a birthday party crowd-pleaser.

“I’m just a jolly green joke,’’ he whines.

Enter the movie’s designated bad guy, a manic, wig-wearing Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), who proposes to make Shrek “Ogre for a Day’’ — free to frolic and terrorize with no lasting repercussions — in exchange for one other day from his life. What Shrek doesn’t know is that his nemesis will choose to take away the day the ogre was born, thereby erasing any trace of Shrek’s existence.

When our unsuspecting hero returns home to the swamp after his day off, he finds only emptiness and ominous signs. Witches on broomsticks fill the dark skies. Donkey and Shrek’s other pals don’t recognize him. Fiona is a wanted outlaw trying to mobilize an ogre rebellion.

Since all Shrek movies have a quest, it’s no surprise that this one drags its veteran characters through a variety of adventures on their way to finding the exit clause in Rumpelstiltskin’s dastardly contract. What’s amazing is how flat and modestly funny those adventures are, even in 3-D.

Where once this DreamWorks franchise was about goosing convention, it now seems all about pandering to the lowest expectations. There isn’t anything in “Shrek Forever After’’ that rises much above formulaic family fare.

“You are a cat-tastrophe’’ Donkey remarks to a flabby Puss in Boots, who has let himself go considerably since his last on-camera outing. “And you are re-donk-ulous,’’ replies the cat.

C’mon folks; this is some of the film’s best material!

“Shrek Forever After’’ is directed by Mike Mitchell (“Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo’’) and written by Josh Klausner (a co-writer on “Shrek the Third’’) and Darren Lemke. They appear to have taken the assignment of crafting a final chapter seriously. Too seriously, one might argue. Their movie brings back nearly every character in the series — Julie Andrews as the queen, John Cleese as the king, Cody Cameron as Pinocchio, Regis Philbin as Mabel, etc., etc. — but it is so busy reprising your favorite comic bits and references (how many times can they rip off “The Wizard of Oz’’?) that it forgets to add anything of lasting value.

The film’s special effects are just as disposable. In the post-“How to Train Your Dragon’’ world, a 3-D movie (especially one from DreamWorks, the same studio that conjured “Dragon’’) has to be more than smoke bombs and magic mirrors — though these things are enough to scare squeamish little ones.

Many of us will continue preferring to remember Shrek when he was just a low-tech, surprisingly witty up-and-comer. If this really is the final chapter, may he finally rest in peace.

Janice Page can be reached at jpage@globe.com. For more on movies, go to www.boston.com/ae/movies/blog.

SHREK FOREVER AFTER

Directed by: Mike Mitchell

Written by: Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke

Voices by: Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, and Walt Dohrn

At: Fenway, Boston Common (including IMAX), suburbs, and Jordan’s IMAX Reading and Natick

Running time: 95 minutes

Rated: PG (for mild action, some rude humor, and brief language)

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