Most movie franchises are lucky to become trilogies, many have problems with just two, but a series as loved as Shrek was destined to rise above. It was a bumpy ride, sure, as Shrek the Third presented a bloated, lazy version of the films we had all come to love after the first two outings, but Shrek Forever After manages to wrap it all up admirably.
Using a clever plot device borrowed from the classic It's a Wonderful Life, the fourth, and reportedly final, Shrek film poses the question, "What would happen to Far Far Away if Shrek never existed?" In doing so, we also get a dynamic animated tale that rises above at least the third installment.
When Shrek becomes bored of his domesticated life, he makes a shady deal with Rumpelstiltskin to get his ogre mojo back. Unbeknownst to Shrek, Rumpelstiltskin had been making a deal of similarly ill repute with Fiona's parents while she and Shrek were falling in love (the end of the first film). So, when Shrek trades his birthday to get his groove back, he is thrust into a world where he was never born, allowing Rumpel to complete the deal with Fiona's parents to free her in exchange for the kingdom of Far Far Away.
Now, nobody knows who Shrek is, Fiona is leading a resistance against Rumpelstiltskin, who now rules the kingdom with an iron fist, and Puss is unbearably corpulent. It's up to Shrek to stop Rumpelstiltskin, get his life back, and return everything to the happily ever after it used to be. The adults may appreciate the jabs at George Bailey's conundrum, but it will surely go over the young ones' heads.
Thankfully, this Shrek is still funny. Sure, the jokes may not feel as fresh or clever as they did in the first Shrek, or even Shrek 2, but the witty banter and revisionist fairy tale humor in Shrek Forever After presents a welcome return to the form of the original that was sorely lacking from the third.
This is not to say that it's all smooth sailing. In general, the franchise is showing its age, both visually and relevantly.The character and landscape design lack the detail and dynamic range of newer creations like How to Train Your Dragon, and frankly, when the main characters in animated children's comedies hit a mid-life crisis, it's probably time to throw in the towel.
The 3D thrills aren't anything we haven't seen before, but do lend an extra layer of fun to the story. However, if you're looking for a thrill ride, you're better off checking out Shrek 3-D at Universal Studios. Either way, Shrek Forever After is a worthy finale to the Shrek series, uncannily so, as if the creators knew they screwed up with the last one.
Better late than never.