Being honest, I didn’t really want to like Shrek Forever After, or Shrek The Final Chapter, or whatever the hell it’s calling itself. I’d heard bad things; I automatically mistrust franchises that stretch beyond trilogies, and I oppose Dreamworks’ animated films on principle.
In return, Shrek (oh, let’s dispense with the niceties…) 4 did its very best to make this easy for me: it wasn’t funny; the story used unnecessary creaking machinations to get going; it was more hole than plot.
And, yet … I got engrossed.
Shrek 4 starts with a genuinely clever Groundhog Day-esque use of the full premise: both Shrek as a comfortable middle-age husband, and the fantasy world. It’s a nice use of magical metaphor for the midlife crisis, and it sets up the idea of the film very neatly.
It’s then quickly abandoned and forgotten about for the duration of the film in a way that suggests the screenplay needed an extra 15 minutes adding on. And so the aforementioned creaking plot machinations begin, to push on the big sweeping story. It’s just bad craft. In a summer where the competition is Toy Story 3, that’s inexcusable.
And, yet …
I just couldn’t help myself. I’d suspect it’s nostalgia for familiar characters, but I’ve never really liked the Shrek films all that much. It actually succeeds in toning down the pop-culture, elbow-in-the-ribs jokes-for-the-parents and slapstick-and-silly-songs-for-the-kids approach to humour that the first Shrek was noted for. The approach that was extracted and exaggerated for the subsequent sequels and the other Dreamworks animated films, and that I find so tacky.
Which leaves room for the emotional hooks. It didn’t compare with Toy Story‘s constant crescendos in your chest, but not being funny was actually helpful. They were never good at mixing emotion and jokes the effortless way Pixar do. The attempts at humour don’t get too intrusive, leaving room to get caught up in the relationships and the ticking countdown at the heart of the film.
Maybe, the lesson here is that I just can’t immunise myself against that particular scored, animated-character sentiment. Or maybe Shrek 4 is actually, finally, a little grown-up.