The James Clayton Column: Shrek – forever and ever and ever…

The posters for Shrek Forever After may claim that it’s The Final Chapter in the big green ogre’s story, but James isn’t convinced…

Mother of mercy! Is this the end of Shrek? Apparently so, for Shrek Forever After is the closing act of the saga. Once screenings stop we will be officially Shrekless.

The promotional posters have told us that this is the last in the cycle with big green letters – not quite as big as those that proclaim it’s in 3D – that say The Final Chapter. Barring an epilogue or an appendix that means The End, The Conclusion, The Grand Finale, The bit where Porky Pig pops up and says “Th-th-th-th-th-that’s all folks!”

In Japan they’ve dubbed it Sayonara Shrek (I think that means ‘Good Bye Shrek’). In Denmark it’s been christened Shreksen: Tak Og God Nat (‘Shrek: Thank You And Good Night’). In the alternate reality where A Clockwork Orange isn’t fiction, the droogs are all sharpened up and viddy excited to watch Shrekkie-Wekkie: Bolshy Yarbles Snuffs It, Oh My Brothers (I don’t know. I’m not down with the ultraviolent hooligan kids with all their weird slang and spiked milk-sipping ways).

The galaxy and all the mirror galaxies that may or may not actually exist have hence collectively acknowledged that this is the last Shrek film and that it is thus the final appearance of the greatest green thing to hit the cinema screen since Neo threw up after leaving the Matrix.

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But just as moviegoers of the universe are beginning to believe that it’s over, I find myself sceptical. Film posters don’t strike me as trustworthy sources of information. For instance, the Wayne’s World adverts said “You’ll laugh! You’ll Cry! You’ll Hurl!”

I laughed, but I did not cry and nor did I hurl. The tagline is therefore only about 33% truthful which, in most evaluations, would be categorised as ‘inaccurate’. Unless anyone can testify that Wayne’s World provoked simultaneous hysteria, puke and tears, the Advertising Standards Agency has a clear case to pursue.

I’m no longer convinced when people promise “no more!” Remember back in the late ’80s when the Australian government declared we’d never see another Mad Max flick? “Sorry but it’s over,” the then-Prime Minister Bob Hawke said in front of a crowd of feral children and burly biker dudes dressed in drag. “It’s about time we showed the world that we’re a civilised nation and it’s about time we allowed Mel Gibson the freedom to get on with his career as a film director and full-time alcoholic.”

Explain the upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road then, Bob. The powers that be lie to us time and time again. “This is Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, emphasis on ‘The Last’” proclaimed the mighty two-headed Spielucasberg monster once upon a time, before doing a complete U-turn to produce Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.

It wouldn’t surprise me then, to wake up in 15 years’ time to find trailers for another Shrek feature beaming into my iSpecs. Shrek is a successful franchise and the green ogre has a considerable hold over the audience’s imagination. Children love him and a fair few adults have been brainwashed by him. Just look at Will Smith in I Am Legend – all it takes is the sight of that talking Donkey and he turns from super-scientist-last-man-alive to mumbling somnambulist.

The people behind the Shrek movies have repeatedly shown that they’ve got an amazing ability to squeeze sequels out of an apparently spent concept. If you think about it, there are loads of story possibilities for the Mike Myers-voiced monster that weren’t explored in Shrek, Shrek 2, Shrek 3 or Shrek in the Swamp Karaoke Dance Party.

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 To date, Shrek hasn’t ventured into outer space (Star Shrek, anyone?). Shrek hasn’t yet tried his luck as a bounty hunter and set his six-shooter against the legends of the Wild West (For a Few Dollars Shrek?). Shrek hasn’t yet joined up with the actor who played the original Nosferatu (Max Schreck) and Christopher Walken’s character from Batman Returns (also Max Schreck) for Shrek, Schreck and Schrek – a black comedy about a law firm set up by a trio of peculiar misfits.

Because it’s going to be impossible to tell the children that “they’ve run out of Shrek”, you just know that they’ll make more high-grossing flicks about the jolly green ogre. Without Shrek movies, Mike Myers would be at a loss, and would have to try to make us laugh, cry and hurl by rebooting old series like Wayne’s World (hooray!) or Austin Powers (hooray?).

If he’s not busy with the Shrek franchise, Eddie Murphy will have nothing to do but make more films in which he takes on multiple roles and wears a fat suit.

Shrek is all about the fairytale world and the rule is that fairytales – with the exception of the one where the girl who can’t stop dancing hacks off her out-of-control crazy legs – must finish with “and they all lived happily ever after”. If there are children crying and several supersized versions of Eddie Murphy, it’s definitely not Happily Ever After.

I can only conclude therefore that Shrek Forever After is not the end. It is simply an item that is being symbolically offered up and exhibited before being shoved into the Tumble Dryer of Pop-Cultural Time where all overstretched, worn-out concepts eventually go to get shrunk so they can be subsequently discarded at the back of the wardrobe where they’ll be forgotten and never worn in fashionable society again.

Of course, the things you hide in your bedroom have a horrible habit of leaping out and attacking you when you least expect it. Ogres in the closet always come out, and movie moguls change their minds and resurrect bankable brands in the hope of getting a box-office hit.

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Just as your mum discovered all those copies of Hustler you’d hidden under the bed, future generations will find the swamp thing, Princess Fiona and that irritating Talking Donkey on the big screen again one day. Mark my words – they may say that Shrek Forever After is The Final Chapter, but they don’t really mean it. Shrek will be back and when he does come back I’ll be howling out “I told you so!”

I’ll be laughing. I’ll be crying. I probably won’t be hurling, though. Chances are the kids will be doing all three at the same time, and DreamWorks will swim in the profit and hype.

Shrek lasts forever and that ass never shuts up.

James’ previous column can be found here.