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'Shrek' series has good send-off with fourth film

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Shrek Forever After

(PG)

3 out of 4 stars

In steady quality decline since its debut in 2001, the "Shrek" franchise has nonetheless proven to be a gargantuan cash cow for DreamWorks and its parent company Paramount. Given the nature of the movie business and its heavy dependence on sequels it's odd, and perhaps a tad disingenuous, that the studio would declare this to be the "final chapter" in the series before it's even released. If the movie does the kind of heavy box office everyone expects, this probably won't be the last time you will hear from the giant green ogre.

Considering how subpar the middle two installments were and that this a third sequel, "Forever After" isn't the train wreck one might expect, and on occasion gets close to greatness. Perhaps realizing they pushed the pop culture references and bodily-function humor past their respective breaking points, the producers of the series decided to return to basics and put the emphasis on story; albeit, someone else's previously told story.

We catch up with Shrek (Mike Myers) and wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz) one year after the birth of their triplets. Fiona is happy as she can be but the former lone wolf Shrek is feeling the discomforting cramp of routine domesticity. Trading in his treasured mud baths for diapers of a similar kind, Shrek is close to the edge and totally loses it during his children's birthday party.

Recognizing this as the perfect time to pounce, new arrival Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) approaches Shrek with a deal — in exchange for a single day alone to himself, Shrek will give back a day to Rumpelstiltskin. Shrek takes the deal but fails to read the fine print and doesn't realize the day he gives up was the day he was born ... or so it appears.

A loud-mouth dwarf with a heavy duty Napoleon complex, Rumpelstiltskin has also made a similar deal with Fiona's parents and has now rid himself of the only impediments that would prevent him from taking over Far Away Land and running it into the ground.

When Shrek gets back to reality, he occupies space in a veritable wasteland without a home, family or friends. Neither Donkey (Eddie Murphy), a much larger Puss (Antonio Banderas) or Fiona recognize him and Shrek is forced to quickly find a loophole in the contract and reverse the spell.

If you're going to steal, you might as well steal from the best, and that's exactly what screenwriters Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke have done here. With bits and pieces of "The Wizard of Oz" tossed in for spice and flavoring, the writers transform Shrek into the Jimmy Stewart character from "It's a Wonderful Life."

Like Donna Reed before her, Fiona not only doesn't recognize her husband from a parallel universe, she loathes him. More resembling Xena the Warrior Princess than one of the fairytale variety, Fiona is the leader of the underground ogre resistance determined to overthrow Rumpelstiltskin and restore order to Far Away Land. She's also immune to Shrek's blunted charms and dogged schoolboy persistence.

If you're going to see the film, do yourself a huge favor and go the 3-D route on a big screen (the IMAX at the Mall of Georgia is the best bet). Perhaps more so than any other animation studio, DreamWorks has made the strongest advancements in 3-D technology and "SFA" is easily on superior technical par with the mind-blowing "How to Train Your Dragon."

If this is indeed the last "Shrek," it's good that it went out on a high note. The ending offers sufficient and satisfying closure, but as we all know, that means little in the world of sequels. (DreamWorks)