Pixar has always been the prettiest girl at the modern animation dance. So much so that it is easy to forget that the first two installments of the Shrek series were awe inspiring masterpieces, for sure and most likely more cinematically influential than any other animated work from the past few decades. Pulling from century’s worth of fairytales and myths this franchise re-imagined Hollywood as the land where all these characters lived and placed at the center of their tale a nasty, green ogre named Shrek. From there they moved all the pieces around, placed a modern spin on them and laced the entire dish with pop culture in jokes for the parents who were dragged along for the ride. Throughout the series we have followed Shrek’s evolution and maturation as he has grown up, gotten married and had kids. But while for most fairytales the wife and the kids would be the happily-ever-after the makers of this series are far too wise for that, and in Shrek Forever After we watch as those elements become destructive forces thanks to frustration and exasperation.

Shrek’s mid life crisis comes to a head at a birthday party for his children. The masterful scene captures Shrek’s mood perfectly as he is overwhelmed by both the staggering amount of upkeep his new life requires and by a nagging sense that is merely a shadow of his formerly proud self. It all ends badly with a violent outburst that leaves him in wife Fiona’s doghouse and thus even more disenchanted with life. Into this hailstorm of misery walks one Rumpelstiltskin, the main bad guy of this story, with a magical deal that is too good to be true; if Shrek gives up one day from his past in exchange he will get one day in which he is freed from all of his parental and celebrity responsibilities. He takes it, weak soul that he is, and instantly is transported to an alternate universe where people are terrified of him and he doesn’t have to spend time changing diapers. There is a downside though and it’s kind of a big one. Rumpelstilskin, you see, took from him the day that he was born making it so that he now rules Far Far Away, and that once the day is through Shrek will cease to exist.

Since this is being billed as the final chapter (time will tell) they can, with some credibility, threaten to kill off their main character. It also allows them to present the struggle for a kiss/romantic bliss as the main plotline without seeming cheesy because if Shrek can procure a kiss from his one true love (Fiona) during his one day then he will break the curse and not evaporate. Fiona, in this reality, is the leader of a gang of resistance fighters and so her mind is solely on the demise of Rumpelstilskin and so she has no time for Shrek’s advances. Soon enough, because commercialism dictates, the band is put back together piece by piece. Donkey is still annoying, Pinocchio is still pathetic, and Puss in Boots has let himself go and now looks like late Marlon Brando, only furry. In Variety John Anderson argued that “time and technology” have passed Shrek by, but we disagree, hardly resting on their laurels the writers have crafted a witty, engrossing next step in a series that should continue onward.

What is most interesting, and perhaps most unfortunate here is that the script by Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke delivers one of the most insightful studies of mid-life malaise to come around in a while, but is really aimed solely at children. Gone are the pop culture references and elbow pokes for the parents in the crowd. And those kids will take nothing away from Shrek’s realization that the pursuit of getting laid, while idealized in so many minds, is made up primarily of wasted energy and usually results in one just looking like a perv. The voice acting has always been very good with Shrek, but this time around Walt Dohrn deserves special attention for his wicked portrayal of Rumpelstiltskin, especially when we consider that this is his first main acting role. Shrek is still strong and funny after all these years and with Shrek Forever After DreamWorks Animation gives us a retelling of the first three films and a stern reminder to appreciate what you have when you have it.

Starring: Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Walt Dohrn, Antonio Banderas
Director: Mike Mitchell
Writers: Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke
Runtime: 93 minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Rated: PG

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