"The Final Chapter" (as the advertising states) in this hugely lucrative franchise should please fans disappointed by Shrek the Third as domestication doesn't sit well with a jolly ogre. Others may be glad that Shrek and Fiona will finally have their "happily ever after."
Shrek Forever After is a shrewdly calculated corporate product presented in widescreen Real 3D with a photorealism that extends even more to features like hair and skin. Story artist and new director Mike Mitchell probably knows that he can't reach the campy sophistication of this children-driven entertainment with many movie and pop-culture self-reflexiveness like the first two (and best) installments. But, it's generally a palatable fusion of jokes, action and emotion as Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, and Antonio Banderas reprise their memorable vocal roles.
Scribes Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke essentially give Far Far Away the Frank Capra treatment. Though Shrek (Myers) seems to have what he wants with adoring wife Fiona (Diaz) and three needy Ogres, he longs for the days when he enjoyed his mud baths without interruption.
After an amusing birthday party scene (especially when a boy repeatedly asks his father to have Shrek roar) one slippery wig-changing Rumplestiltskin, voiced with some rabid glee by studio storyhead Walt Dohrn, makes an offer the big green gullible ogre can't refuse. Trading a day for a day of both of their choosing leaves the vengeful Rumple (from Brothers Grimm) the ruler of a land agreed upon by Fiona's parents (Julie Andrews and John Cleese, in brief). Essentially by day's end without "true love's kiss" our wayward hero will have to use his charms and prowess on the freedom-fighting Fiona to preserve himself and his kind in the resistance against Stiltskin.
The storyline obviously has a cliched feel to it with the typical conflicts in place, but it's good to see old friends like the sassy Donkey (Murphy) a chauffeur for Stiltskin's witches who like to hurl jack-o-lanterns. As well as the suave, proud feline Puss in Boots (Banderas, with the character to headline a spin-off next year) who has "let himself go" with a creamy diet, though with those irresistable dark eyes.
If the warmth and humanity doesn't surface like the gags offered by the likes of Gingerbread Man, Pinocchio and the Three Little Pigs, this concluding, triter fractured fairy tale has some action-packed moments which recall some of The Wizard of Oz. As some of the imagery is dimmed by the popular depth-of-perception format, the filmmakers aren't able to infuse imagination into it, like the studio's more timely How To Train Your Dragon. Lines like "we ate the cake" elicit chuckles, but not much more as voices from actors like Jane Lynch and Jon Hamm (see small-screen original series "Mad Men") have their distinguishing intonations. One of the rebel ogres, Cookie, is rendered to humorous effect by the usually deadpan Craig Robinson (Hot Tub Time Machine) in this animation that heartily wants to be savored even with a soft center to it.