The third Shrek movie got a little bit of a pasting, critically speaking. I'm really not sure why. The worst complaint levelled against it seemed to be that it was just a big pastiche of several fairytales. Er, yeah. It's a Shrek movie? That's kind of what they do?
However, while that wasn't as bad as some said, this fourth, and apparently final, installment is still a marked improvement. Indeed, it's so good it may even be better than the original. It's presented, somewhat inevitably, in 3D but it's here to serve the story rather than provide a distraction. Where it matters, in terms of vocal performances, story and script, Shrek Forever After is a little cracker.
The plot is, essentially, mid-life crisis. While Shrek (Myers) loves his wife Fiona (Diaz) and their kids — and tolerates best friend Donkey (Murphy) and his fire-breathing brood — he's struggling with his identity. He used to be a scary ogre. Now, with his swamp home on a tourist route, the kids' demands endless, and the trudge through domestic duties a repetitive chore, he's reached the end of his tether. And that's where Rumpelstiltskin comes in.
Since everyone discovered his name, the fairytale deal-maker has been forced to find more elaborate ways of hiding the one-sided nature of his contracts. He's also got a bit of an anti-Shrek grudge festering: after all, if it hadn't been for our green hero rescuing Princess Fiona, Rumpeltstiltskin would now be king of Far Far Away. So, when Rumpel overhears Shrek wishing he could just have his old life back for a day, the cogs start whirring, a contract is drawn up and Shrek is easily persuaded to sign. After all, what could possibly go wrong?
Obviously, to fill 93 minutes, that's going to be quite a lot. The day of Shrek's life Rumpel takes in return is Shrek's birthday. And if Shrek was never born, he couldn't grow up to rescue Fiona, so the world Shrek finds himself in is one where Rumpelstiltskin is king, ogres are hunted and Fiona is the leader of a burly green resistance movement. There is a get out clause: true love's kiss will send everything back how it was. The catch is Shrek only has 24 hours to get this battling Fiona to fall in love with him.
Sound familiar? Of course it does. Shrek Forever After, for all its fairytale trappings and in-jokes, is basically a twist on It's A Wonderful Life. It's a twist that works, and one that opens this world up to a whole new raft of comedy material and some fine new characters, particularly the conniving Rumpel and his collection of hairpieces: "Bring me my angry wig!" The now fat and lazy Puss in Boots (Banderas) is also good value, and there are the usual quality visual and throwaway gags to pepper the storyline.
If Shrek Forever After is the final chapter, it's a very good place to leave it. If it leads to a fifth film... well, on this evidence, that wouldn't be a bad thing at all.