A distinct lack of laughs make this a strange entry into the Shrek series, but its emotional content places this higher up than the third film, even if it still remains miles behind the original and its follow up. Compared to any of the previous Shrek films this one feels less rich; less full of allusions, references and in-jokes, and it does amble along rather tiredly. However, it does present a relatively engaging Wonderful Life inspired premise, which puts a midlife crisis suffering Shrek into an alternate version of Far Far Away, after he makes a wish to experience his old way of life again for a single day. The strange thing about this film is that it feels almost entirely aimed at adults, sure kids will enjoy it to a degree, but the film’s exploration of family responsibility just doesn’t do a very good job of appealing across the age spectrum. Still it’s not a bad film; it’s just that it feels like a better than average animated adventure film, one that’s riding the success wave caused by the Shrek franchise, as supposed to actually being a part of it.
The familiar cast is back and Eddie Murphy’s Donkey is, as ever, the highlight of the film. Antonio Banderas and Cameron Diaz also do just fine with their roles, but a problem with this film is that they, and the rest of the supporting cast, are given very little to do. Characters like Pinocchio and Gingy are present but barely, and other familiar faces get a moments cameo appearance, but they are pretty much background details. The previous films’ wealth of characters were used very effectively thereby helping to create a richness to the trilogy, the comparative emptiness of this instalment just adds to the rather uninspired feel that permeates Shrek Forever After. The film needs to focus on Shrek and his dilemma, and I certainly don’t want to suggest that it should be unnecessarily padded out but it does need to feel a little fuller, and also as it’s the last film in the series it would have been nice to have had a little bit more of a celebratory feeling to it.
Despite my fairly heavy criticisms I did find this film to be surprisingly touching; I went into it expecting an OK family comedy, and instead found an adventure film that had moments of humour and a decent heart to it. It probably helped raise the film’s emotional resonance that this has been marketed as, and somewhat felt like, Shrek’s final film – and so this was the last chance to say goodbye to multiple beloved characters. It’s worth seeing if only to put the series to bed, and you should find it relatively entertaining – just don’t go into it expecting a return to form for the series.