After challenging an evil dragon, rescuing a beautiful princess and saving your in laws' kingdom, what's an ogre to do?

Well, if you're Shrek, you suddenly wind up a domesticated man. Instead of scaring away villagers like he used to, a reluctant Shrek now agrees to autograph pitchforks. What's happened to this ogre's roar? Longing for the days when he felt like a "real ogre," Shrek is duped into signing a pact with the smooth-talking dealmaker, Rumpelstiltskin. Shrek suddenly finds himself in a twisted, alternate version of Far Far Away, where ogres are hunted, Rumpelstiltskin is king and Shrek and Fiona have never met. Now, it's up to Shrek to undo all he's done in the hopes of saving his friends, restoring his world and reclaiming his one true love. 

DreamWorks and the unlovable ogre lose the plot.

I don't get it: why would the brains trust at DreamWorks Animation toss out the winning formula which had underpinned the most successful animation franchise of all time and conjure up a film which is dark, scary (at least to little kids) and missing one vital ingredient: the usual quota of hearty laughs?

Studios boss Jeffrey Katzenberg and the filmmakers may well have asked themselves that very question after the opening weekend of Shrek Forever After in the US. The fourth installment rang up $US70.8 million, which may sound OK but it was 42% below the $121.6 million debut of the third edition, and a poor return for a lavish production budgeted at $200 million. And the opening figures were flattered by the premium tickets charged by 3D and IMAX cinemas.

Maybe the studio was motivated by a desire to be bold and adventurous but the result is an uninspiring movie which lacks most of the qualities that made the earlier films so successful and accessible to all ages. The fault lies chiefly in the decision by the scribes Josh Klausner (Date Night) and Darren Lemke (who wrote and directed the obscure 2004 thriller Lost), presumably with the blessing of the top brass, to subvert the characters we knew and loved.

That, compounded by a new villain who's not especially menacing or even interesting, and a script which offers few clever quips and one-liners. Another odd choice is the director, Mike Mitchell, who was a story artist on Shrek the Third but whose CV in other respects – most notably directing Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo and the superhero spoof Sky High – seems ill-suited to the kind of smart, hip sensibility which this franchise demanded.

The plot, which echoes Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, finds Shrek (Mike Myers) in a grumpy, angry mood: domestic bliss with Fiona (Cameron Diaz) has turned to drudgery with noisy triplets to look after, annoying tourist buses keep buzzing past their house, and he's tired of being a celebrity. After causing a ruckus at the sprogs' first birthday party, he's befriended by Rumpelstiltskin (an unrestrained Walt Dohrn), a malevolent, diminutive conman with spiky red hair who, years ago, had tried to wrest control of the kingdom from Fiona's parents, the king and queen of Far Far Away.

Stiltskin dupes Shrek into signing a contract which gives him 24 hours to live the relaxed life he used to have, in exchange for a day from his childhood. Gullible Shrek didn't read the fine print and discovers to his horror the evil little fellow picked the day he was born, which means he's no longer married and his best friend Donkey (Eddie Murphy) doesn't even recognise him. Shrek finds Far Far Away land has been turned into a police state and is captured by Rumpy's highly unoriginal wicked witches perched on broomsticks.

Eventually he and Donkey escape from the castle in a well-mounted action sequence, and go off in search of Fiona. They find she's been transformed into a feisty warrior princess in an underground world populated by ogres, and the formerly dashing Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) has become so bloated and lazy he's literally too big for his boots.

Shrek learns that the only way he can get his old life back is if he and Fiona exchange "true love's kiss" before sunrise, but she's in no mood for romance. There's little tension in the build up to the climactic battle scenes, which involves a fey fellow named the Pied Piper, and the showdown isn't particularly inventive or exciting. If there's a moral in all this, it's the banal truism that you-don't-know-what-you-have-till-it's-gone.

Even the music, traditionally a highlight of the earlier movies, is blandly forgettable, including snippets of songs by The Carpenters and Stevie Wonder and a disco number by the Beastie Boys. Donkey gets most of the wisecracks but some attempts at humour are forced, such as when Donkey refers to Puss as "catsastrophic." The 3D effects give the film a darker, bleaker look than its predecessors, which suits the tone of this grim fairytale.


1 hour 40 min
In Cinemas 17 June 2010,
Thu, 12/02/2010 - 11