While the fabled concept of Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life” has been re-interpreted in many different venues, who thought it would make its way into the fantasy realm of Shrek? Obviously, screenwriters Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke and director Mike Mitchell did, because the plot finds thoroughly domesticated Shrek in the midst of a midlife crisis, grumpy and frustrated about the mundane monotony that his life has become minding three screaming ogre youngsters.
So Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) experiences what the Far, Far Away world would have been like if he’d never been born and never met up with Donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy), Princess Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz), Puss in Boots (voiced by Antonio Banderas), the Queen (voiced by Julie Andrews), the King (voiced by John Cleese) and the other fairy tale characters, like The Gingerbread Man and Three Little Pigs.
It’s a diabolical ploy arranged by sinister, smooth-talking Rumpelstiltskin (voiced by story editor Walt Dohrn), because – before Shrek appeared on the scene to break Fiona’s curse – he was manipulating Fiona’s parents to turn over the kingdom to him. Now Stiltskin rules as the goofy, green ogre observes a parallel Shrek-less universe in which flame-haired Fiona has become a freedom fighter, leading an ogre rebellion.
While the formulaic plot lacks freshness, in this fourth – and reportedly final – installment, director Mike Mitchell highlights the usual silly puns and fractured pop culture references, particularly “The Wizard of Oz,” more aimed at kids than adults this time ‘round. As usual, the animation is stunning. Mike Myers remains gruffly lovable, Eddie Murphy is sassy, Cameron Diaz becomes feisty and Antonio Banderas stays suave. But gone is the campy, yet sincere simplicity that made the original “Shrek” into a classic. As for the IMAX and 3-D, they enhance a dizzying, high-soaring broom chase and climactic battle sequence but not much else.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Shrek Forever After” is a fanciful, franchise-concluding 6 – and the dvd will have a long and prosperous life.