What suburban dad hasn't felt like the Shrek we meet at the start of the heroic ogre's fourth film? The kids are loud, needy and smelly, the garbage has to be taken out, the toilet's backed up, the neighbors just invite themselves in whenever they want and a guy can never get a second to himself.
Sound familiar? Now add the paparazzi annoyance of villagers swarming around for autographs and demanding roars like from back "when you were a real ogre!"
Small wonder that when Shrek's less-than-empathetic wife, Fiona (voice of Cameron Diaz), takes him to task for storming out of the triplets' first birthday party, he's easy pickings for Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), a trickster who looks like the Lucky Charms leprechaun gone down-and-out.
Rumpelstiltskin grants Shrek's wish to have a day to himself - except Shrek (Mike Myers) ends up in an alternative kingdom where Rumpy rules, complete with witch enforcers. Opposing him is an ogre underground led by Fiona, Warrior Princess, whom the relatively puny Shrek must woo to set things right. Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas, stealing the show) is now Fiona's obese kitty, and pack-mule Donkey (Eddie Murphy) is much less servile.
One wouldn't think an all-ages movie based on a midlife crisis would have much built-in appeal for the younger set - what do kids know about heartbreak and lost dreams? And "Shrek Forever After" does seem aimed more at boomers in the audience, with a '70s-heavy soundtrack that makes wonderfully witty use of The Carpenters' "Top of the World" and Peaches & Herb's "Shake Your Groove Thing." And that witches' rave, with not a warlock in sight? It's both a funny visual on its own and the kind of slyly insinuating joke meant to go above kids' heads.
Moments like that work here for the same reason they did in the first "Shrek" - the filmmakers don't strain for the bilevel joke, but ease them in naturally. And unlike the formula sitcom of the third movie, the plot here is less important than the character relationships.
Like all good folk tales, "Shrek Forever After" has a moral, says Cameron Diaz, who returns as the voice of Princess Fiona.
"The moral is to appreciate everything you have," she says. "If you appreciate what you have, you're in need of nothing else. And also to love what you do and to put out into the world what you want to get back." Spoken like a true princess.
"She's never depended on anyone to rescue her, which is a different message from Snow White and Rapunzel, waiting for a Prince Charming to come rescue her. She was capable of getting out of the tower herself. She definitely took on Shrek as her partner rather than as her rescuer."
- Minneapolis Star-Tribune