© 2010 Ray Wong
The original Shrek was a sardonic, satirical gem of social commentary mixed with fun fairytale entertainment. The second and third? Not so much. In fact, they rather stunk. So it's kind of nice to see the franchise ends (this is billed as their last film… we shall see) on a relatively higher note.
Ogre Shrek (Mike Myers) has settled into his domestic bliss with wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and three young children. Best friends Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in the Boots (Antonio Banderas) hang around in one big happy, extended family. Shrek is also a mild celebrity in Far Far Away. He should be happy, but he's not. He misses his good old days as the feared ogre and he thinks he's losing his mojo, lost in his daily, mundane life. He yearns for adventures and doing what he wants when he wants it -- I guess he's having a normal midlife crisis.
Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohm) comes to the rescue. Rumpel offers a simple deal that is too good to be true: he'll give Shrek one day where he becomes a feared ogre again, in exchange for another day of his past. Shrek gladly agrees -- it's just one day, and who cares if he loses one lousy, insignificant day? He signs the contract and gets his wish. Little does he know, Rumpel has an evil agenda.
Soon Shrek realizes what the catch really is: Rumple took away the day Shrek was born! So, in this alternate reality, Shrek never existed, and thus he never rescued Fiona, and somehow Rumple became the ruler of Far Far Away, now overrun by witches. Shrek must fight to get his life back, before the end of the day when he, too, will cease to exist forever.
Mike Myers' (The Love Guru) career seemed to have stalled recently, after plans for another Austin Power movie tanked. But lately Myers have refocused, first appearing in the critically acclaimed Inglorious Basterds. This movie appears to be a comeback for both the Shrek franchise and Myers himself. As usual, he gives a spirited voice performance and brings Shrek to life once more. But this time, Myers' performance is appropriately more mature, more thoughtful, more middle-aged. Eddy Murphy (Imagine That) seems to have the same problem with his live-action films, but as Donkey, he continues to be funny and interesting and lovable. He's made Donkey one of the most beloved animated characters.
Cameron Diaz (The Box) is in good form voicing a different version of Fiona, the princess warrior. Her voice remains a tad slight for the role, but we've got used to it by now (she was perfect as Fiona in human form, though, just not quite there as the ogre). Antonio Banderas (The Other Man), with the help of animators, continues to steal the show as the kitty cat (who, in this reality, is different in a BIG way). He and Donkey have some of the funnest scenes and repartee as the duo of ultimate sidekicks.
Julie Andrews (Tooth Fairy) returns as the regal and graceful Queen. Jon Hamm (Mad Men) is fun as an ogre, Brogan. John Cleese (Planet 51) reprises his role as cantankerous King Harold. Jane Lynch (Glee) plays a witch. Writer-voice actor Walt Dohm (Shrek the Third) is rather smarmy as the chief villain, Rumplestiltskin.
Written by Josh Klausner (Date Night) and Darren Lemke (Lost), the screenplay is surprisingly tight, funny, and well thought out. I suppose like many people, I've lowered my expectations so much after the last two sequels that I'm pleasantly surprised. Here, they've put back the satire and fairytale elements in favor of overkilling with pop culture references and product placements. The dialogue is in general witty, and the plot makes sense. It's kind of Shrek's take on It's a Wonderful Life. I've always had a soft spot for alternate realities and I think they've done a good job.
It's not to say the screenplay is without its flaws. It's still bogged down at times by potty humor, dumb jokes, and some pop culture references that don't quite work (breakdancing witches? No thanks). Still, this is a huge improvement over the last two movies. It is again smart, funny, and with a lot of heart.
Director Mike Mitchell (Sky High) runs a tight ship and is able to pull everything together in a coherent way. The whimsical fairytale elements are back -- what a relief! That's what made us love the original so much. The pace is good and there are some nice moments. The animation, however, seems rather subpar compared to the other films. It's as if technology hasn't advanced in the last few years. Some of the animation is crude, TV quality. Maybe they just ran out of time?
Anyway, as I said before, this is a good chapter (and probably last, if they keep their word) for the franchise and I was pleasantly surprised. It's very enjoyable and serves the beloved characters well. It's a celebration of friends and families, everything that stays with us forever. What's not to like?
Stars: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, Jon Hamm, John Cleese, Walt Dohm, Jane Lynch
Director: Mike Mitchell
Writers: Josh Klausner, Darren Lemke
MPAA Rating: PG for action, some rude humor and brief language
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Animation – 7
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 7.5 out of 10