Summer Blockbuster Preview: Shrek Forever After

The fourth and final adventure for Shrek is DreamWorks’ big summer hope, but has Shrek apathy begun to kick in?

What Is It

The fourth and last of the Shrek movie franchise – before the mantle is passed over to the standalone Puss In Boots feature, of course – Shrek Forever After finds the green ogre in dire straits. This time, for reasons, no doubt, soon to be explained, Shrek does a deal with Rumpelstiltskin, which leads to him taking a trip through a bit of the script to Back To The Future Part II. For Shrek ends up in a parallel version of Far Far Away, where the world is very different, ogres are the enemy and where he’s never met the love of his life, Fiona. Hopefully, that’s not an excuse to rerun the Shrek meets Fiona love story, though.

In theory, Shrek Forever After should take the franchise to slightly darker places, and it’s throwing plenty at the screen to make it interesting this time round. There’s 3D, of course, the bringing back of lots of old favourites, and a concerted effort to wrap everything up once and for all.

It shouldn’t be forgotten, too, that the Shrek franchise has delivered the highest grossing animated movie of all time, with Shrek 2 devouring over $900m at the worldwide box office. The films have arrived at tri-annual intervals since the first took its bow back in 2001, and DreamWorks is pinning many of its summer hopes on, by far, its most lucrative franchise.

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Who’s Behind It

This time, directing duties have been passed over to Mike Mitchell, whose back catalogue wouldn’t make him an obvious candidate to tackle the film. We can’t see the words ‘From the director of Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo‘ on the poster, for instance, although Mitchell does have the underrated Sky High to his name. It’d be unwise to write him off.

The script has been penned by Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke, the former having the third Shrek movie and also Date Night to his name. Lemke, meanwhile, has scribed Bryan Singer’s next project, Jack The Giant Killer.

It’s in the voice talent where DreamWorks has really pulled out the stops. As well as the usual returning suspects – Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas and Eddie Murphy – it’s also recruited in Julie Andrews, Craig Robinson, Jane Lynch and Larry King to lend their vocal talents. Not for the first time on a DreamWorks animated project, there’s no shortage of star power behind the microphones.

Why Should You Watch It?

Here’s where it all gets a bit tricky.

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The first Shrek film was packed full of ideas, and a genuine family treat. It was funny, clever and beautifully realised, and set up what should have become one of the classic animated movie franchises. Shrek 2 was notably weaker, with a more stretched story, but compensation arrived in the form of an even funnier turn from Eddie Murphy’s donkey. Thus, while the standard had dropped, we still got our money’s worth.

And then you arrive at Shrek The Third. This turned up in the middle of a summer of underwhelming prequels – Pirates Of The Caribbean and Spider-Man, anyone? – and duly took its place in line. It looked wonderful, but in every other sense it was a tepid, production line effort, very much a sequel for sequel’s sake. It also drained us of potential excitement for the then already-planned fourth movie.

You only have to compare the hype surrounding Toy Story 3 to see just what a damaged shape the Shrek franchise is in. Shrek 3 was no disaster, yet whereas Pixar has been careful and patient with the Toy Story movies, DreamWorks has come across as desperate just to bash out another Shrek every three years, come what may. Granted, that’s a little harsh, but how many people do you know are really that enthusiastic about Shrek Forever After?

The trailers don’t help either. Again, they look glistening, but once more, there’s a distinct impression that this is a franchise that ran out of ideas many years ago, and is getting by on fumes. We really hope we’ve misread that: a really good Shrek movie would be a treat and a half, and given the rich fairytale infested universe in which the green ogre lives, there are lots of different strands that the franchise could have taken.

Furthermore, it does still have lots of good characters. Yet, even in the trailer, we’re seeing that Puss In Boots appears to be a shadow of his former self. Granted, we fully expect him to shape up come the final reel – he’s got another film to headline, after all – but it all contributes to an upcoming film where we’re yet to meet anyone who appears to be genuinely excited about it.

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That said, Shrek Forever After will still make a lot of money, all the more so by the requirement to bang 3D specs on your mush in many screens. In DreamWorks’ defence, it made a good fist of the 3D in How To Train Your Dragon (a cracking film if you’ve not yet seen it), so it’d be remiss to write off that side of the production.

And it’d be remiss, too, to write off the film as a whole. Yet, Shrek Forever After nonetheless has a big challenge. It’s got to erase the memory of Shrek The Third, and topple whatever Pixar has come up with for Toy Story 3. Neither is going to be easy, but if DreamWorks does manage it, then the big screen Shrek adventures will most certainly be getting the swansong that the first film deserved.

US release date: 21st MayUK release date: 9th July