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Shrek Forever After

(2010) ** 1/2 Pg
94 min. Paramount Pictures. Director: Mike Mitchell. Cast: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Jon Hamm.

/content/films/3752/1.jpgThe Shrek franchise never should have been one. The first film was a satisfying one-off, but the sequels have tied themselves in plot knots trying to justify their existence. Now, Shrek Forever After promises it's the end of the line for Shrek, profits be damned.

Movie newshounds may recall that in 2007, on the occasion of Shrek the Third, DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg confidently crowed plans for the fourth and fifth "Shrek" films, to be released, respectively, in 2010 and 2013. Quietly those plans were halved, and now we're getting what's being promoted as "Shrek: The Final Chapter." Since the imperative for all three sequels has been strictly financial, rather than creative, it's a good call to try to "go out on top," while taking advantage of the 3D craze.

The CGI-animated Shrek Forever After isn't terribly original, but it's not terrible either, good news after the hugely profitable but persistently tiresome Shrek the Third. The latest excuse to return to the land of Far, Far Away is a pastiche of It's a Wonderful Life. Again distressed by domesticity, Shrek (Mike Myers) sees his life as a Sisyphean hell endlessly cycling through diaper changes, home repairs, picture-snapping fans ("Do the roar!"), and other obstacles to his quietly sipping an “eyeball-tini” in his favorite easy chair.

Longing for his days as a carefree ogre striking fear into the hearts of men, women and children, Shrek is prone to the advances of Rumplestilskin (Walt Dohrn), the Faust of the fairy-tale set. Rumplestilskin offers Shrek a magical chance to be a scary "ogre for a day," but a loophole dooms him never to have existed: seemingly, in twenty-four hours, he’ll be gone for good.

Though it's foregone that Shrek will conclude, "I didn't know what I had until it was gone," this sequel's alternate timeline—and, with it, altered supporting characters—has a somewhat liberating effect on the moribund series. Shrek must make Fiona (Cameron Diaz) fall in love with him all over again, and this time, he chooses to befriend Donkey (Eddie Murphy), weirding him out in the process. Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) has has let himself go (he’s a literal fat cat), while Rumplestilskin has claimed the kingdom of Far, Far Away as his own.

Though the 3D gives the high-flying action a pleasing vertigo, the moral has been done to death and the shtick is strictly same old, same old: ancient-modern mash-ups (Rumplestilskin lives not in a trailer park but a “carriage park”), ironic use of pop music (a bounty-hunting Piper toots a Beastie Boys “flute loop”), and unevolved character comedy (Donkey, for example, remains a lovable loudmouth).

All in all, it’s a decent adventure that will hold kids’ interest while slinging a few hip references toward their folks. Strangely, what saves Shrek Forever After from utter mediocrity isn’t its high-priced superstar voice talent but veteran animator Dohrn, who steals the show by making Rumplestilskin the best oily runt since Danny DeVito last dispatched a taxi.

[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1, 2.35:1

Number of discs: 4

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1

Street date: 12/7/2010

Distributor: DreamWorks Home Entertainment

The picture quality of the four Shrek films seems to get better as the films progress, though it's a bit of a trick of the mind. All four transfers are equally good at recreating the original source material: it's the CGI animation that evolves over the decade-long span of the films. The hi-def images are uniformly razor-sharp and brilliant in the bold color representation. Detail and texture become more impressive with the increased detail and texture of the animation, but rest assured these transfers maximize the original elements. And are you ready for this? All four films get lossless Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mixes. These top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art mixes burst with activity and energy, keeping all elements in perfect balance: dialogue is never less than crystal clear, the steady stream of music is full-bodied, and the many crowd scenes and action sequences bristle with life.

Extras are...voluminous. All four films get the Picture-in-Picture feature The Animators' Corner, an illustrated video commentary tracing all aspects of the filmmaking from pre-production to post-production. All four films also get the Shrek's Interactive Journey treatment, with a hyperlinked map taking viewers to design artwork about that environment. Secrets of... (HD) for each film delve into the voice cast, animated "Easter Eggs" in the nooks and crannies of the film frames, pop cultural allusions, and more. And of course we get the ever-present DreamWorks Animation Jukebox, with music videos from other DreamWorks Animation films.

Shrek comes with a filmmakers commentary track featuring directors Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson and producer Aron Warner. Featurettes and additional footage include "Spotlight on Donkey" (11:38, HD), focused on the voice cast; the music videos "'Best Years of Our Lives' by Baha Men" (3:08, SD) and "'I'm a Believer' by Smash Mouth" (3:15, SD); "Shrek in the Swamp Karaoke Dance Party"Shrek the Musical (2:53, HD); musical number "What's Up Duloc?" from (3:57, HD); and three "Deleted Scenes" (8:01, SD) round out this collection of extras.

Shrek 2 includes filmmakers commentary with directors Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon and a separate commentary with producer Aron Warner and editor Michael Andrews. Featurettes and additional footage include "Spotlight on Puss In Boots" (10:46, HD); "Far Far Away Idol" (5:53, HD), a short with an animated Simon Cowell, Shrek, and Fiona judging the Far Far Away version of American Idol; music videos "'Accidentally in Love' by the Counting Crows" (3:22, SD) and "'These Boots Are Made For Walking' by Puss In Boots" (2:17, SD); and musical number "I Know It's Today" from Shrek the Musical (5:36, HD).

Shrek the Third extras include "Spotlight on Fiona" (9:53, HD); eco-friendly featurette "How to Be Green" (4:03, HD); Worcestershire Academy Yearbook (HD); four "Deleted Scenes" (25:56, SD); "Donkey Dance" (0:35, HD); and musical number "Freak Flag" from Shrek the Musical (3:58, HD).

Shrek Forever After kicks off with commentary track with director Mike Mitchell, writer-performer Walt Dohrn, and producers Gina Shay and Teresa Cheng. Featurettes and additional footage include "Spotlight on Shrek" (13:46, HD); three "Deleted Scenes" (5:44, HD); "Conversation with the Cast" (9:18, HD) with Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and others; "The Tech of Shrek Forever After" (7:32, HD); and music video "Darling I Do" (4:00, HD). This time, Shrek the Musical gets a bit more coverage: "From Swamp to Stage: The Making of Shrek the Musical" (8:13, HD) and musical number "Who I'd Be" (1080p, 3:56). Also on hand: "Shrek's Yule Log" (30:18, HD, Dolby TrueHD 7.1), a franchise-themed video fireplace; "Donkey's Caroling Christmas-Tacular" (5:11, HD, Dolby TrueHD 7.1) with optional karaoke subtitles; "12 Days of Christmas Pop-Up Book" (2:18, HD), as told by Shrek himself; interactive game Donkey's Decoration Scramble (HD); and "Cookin' With Cookie" (4:54, HD), with recipes for Baked Chimichangas, Ogre Orange Slices, Puss' Peanut Butter Yule Logs, Gingy's Gingerbread Cookies, and Donkey's Mouthwatering Waffles.

With two of the films making their Blu-ray debuts and some brand-new bonus features, this release is definitely enticing for Shrek fans (the only proviso is that a Blu-ray 3D collection—currently a Samsung exclusive—provides another choice of how to view the films at home).

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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