Shrek Forever After
Shrek Forever After proves, once and for all, that this franchise is now a busted flush — personally, I’ve never seen a flush so busted — and while it would be wrong to blame Fabio Capello, just because he’s being blamed for everything else around here, let’s do it anyhow. Fabio: how could you? Yes, it is wrong, but it’s also jolly handy, and kind of fun. I even blamed Fabio for meaning to go to the gym this morning and then not bothering. That’s how handy he is.
Anyway, Shrek. Shrek is the big, silly, noisome green ogre whom, in the past, I have loved properly and sincerely. But the Shrek in Forever After is not my Shrek, just as he’s not the Shrek of the first film (sublime) or the second (sublime plus). The rot set in with the third film, I think, and now, with the fourth, it’s decomposed and gone to that black sludge you get at the bottom of the bin. This Shrek has no heart or comic zing or propulsive wit. This Shrek doesn’t even try to sell you any fart jokes. I don’t usually find farts in the least bit funny — have you ever done one in the dentist’s chair? Mortifying — but that was the thing about Shrek: he could sell fart jokes to grown-ups who don’t even like fart jokes. I would have taken my hat off to him, had I worn a hat, but not my weave. They’re a thousand dollars a pop, remember. Honestly, what is the point of telling you stuff if you just forget it?
Although Fabio must, of course, accept most of the blame, the shift to 3D probably has not helped. To make sense of the technology, lengthy action set-pieces have to override all else and, here, they’re treated as intrinsically funny and engaging, even though they are so not. Good, character-led comedy is funny. Good, character-led storytelling is engaging. A few rocks coming at you out of the screen is neither here nor there. And as for Puss and Donkey, they’ve been backgrounded, which is as tragic as it is weird, as they were both such great characters. ‘Parfait, parfait. Everybody loves parfait.’ That’s Donkey from the first movie and it still makes me laugh, even though I still have no idea what parfait is. ‘Parfait, parfait. Everybody loves parfait.’ The first two Shreks had charm, verve, parfait, characters you could engage with, and plots that actually made sense.
The plot. Oh, the plot which, on this outing, isn’t so much a plot, more a lack of plot. It’s the negative image of a plot. As the film opens, Shrek is living with his beloved Fiona in the swamp along with their three little ogre babies. (When did they have these babies? I’d have sent them something cute from Baby Gap, had I known.) This is all Shrek has ever wished for but, my, what a bore and moaning Minnie he has become. He’s fed up of the infants’ mewling. He’s fed up of the stinky nappies. He’s fed up of the same routine. He seems to be suffering from some kind of post-natal depression — do kids want to see this? — which is pretty rich, considering Fiona seems to be the one doing everything around here. He wants to be his scary old self again and so enters into a Faustian pact with Rumpelstiltskin: for one day of freedom, he will give Rumpelstiltskin a day in return. Inadvertently, he gives him the day he was born.
Now, I think we all know a flush is busted when film-makers not only come up with some alternative universe shtick — creatively, this has to be up there with it all being a dream — but also rip off of It’s A Wonderful Life which, now I think about it, should be shown on TV more, particularly at Christmas (I blame Fabio). And yet, even though Shrek is meant to have never existed, he does not simply observe how the world would have been without him, but actually interacts with it, thereby sending this film up its own metaphysical jacksie. I can forgive a film most things, but going up its own metaphysical jacksie? Never. It’s just the way I am, I’m afraid.
The thing is, this is one of these films that’s going to bring in tons of money for its makers on the strength of the name alone, no matter how bad or creatively exhausted it is. That’s hard for a studio (DreamWorks, in this instance) to resist, but they’ve taken my Shrek down with them. And Puss. And Donkey. And parfait. It’s sad and it’s heart-breaking and I just don’t know what Fabio was thinking of. Seriously, I don’t.