It is difficult to tell the same story four different ways. But Mike Mitchell's first try at directing the popular Shrek series makes a valiant attempt. Once more using the writing of Josh Klausner, who added minor elements to Shrek 3, along with the talents of Darren Lemke, the tale takes a decidedly darker theme as it explores a paradise lost. The allusions to classic literature as well as pop culture make the film enjoyable for children and parents alike. Touted as the final chapter of the series, it seems that everyone agrees the story needs to come to an end as we allow Shrek to live happily forever after.
Creatively weaving the three previous films into "Shrek Forever After", we find that the marriage of Shrek (voice by Mike Myers) and Princess Fiona (voice by Cameron Diaz) has become overwhelmed by their parenting and domestic chores. Feeling as though he can no longer be his true self, Shrek is preyed upon by the devious Rumpelstiltskin (voice by Walt Dohrn). Wanting to be ruler of the kingdom, he offers Shrek the opportunity to return to his bachelor ogre ways for a day in exchange for any other day in his life. Shrek trades it for a day in his childhood, not realizing Rumpelstiltskin will choose the day of his birth so that he never existed. This foolish choice becomes immediately obvious as he realizes how much difference his life has made, not only in Fiona's life but also in the entire kingdom.
These two interrelated messages are obvious ones: each person's life matters and we often don't know or appreciate what we have until it's gone. Yet, in the disappointments and responsibilities of life, it is surprising how often we forget them. Shrek soon discovers that his courageous quest to free Fiona from her curse and their subsequent love is something that gives their lives meaning and purpose and brings the best out in their friends Donkey (voice by Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (voice by Antonio Bandera).
The introduction of witches into the kingdom under Rumpelstiltskin's leadership creates a battle between good and evil as the ogres fight for freedom of all the enslaved fairy tale creatures. The suggestion that relationships would be formed in whatever reality we share is also presented.
An entertaining, 3-D format with creative writing and cinematography makes this fourth film enjoyable but, like most sequels, it lacks the novelty experienced when a tale is first told. However, it does give a satisfying resolution to a story we have all enjoyed.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. Do you believe that if you were to meet your friends and spouse in an alternative universe that you would befriend and love them again? Why do you answer as you do?
2. The fact that most of us don't realize what we've got until we lose it is a common human experience. What do you think makes this virtually universal among us?
3. Fairy tales often speak of "true love" and its power over life. Have you found your true love and, if so, how did it change your life? Do you believe there is more than one person with whom you could find true love? Why or why not?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.