Fast & Furious 6
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In his fourth and supposedly final outing, animation's best-known ogre is confronted with a world in which he has never existed, and struggles to get back what he - as well as his franchise - has lost
Cast your mind back to 2001. With a string of successes under its belt, Pixar had already become not only critic-proof, but unrivalled as the king of animated features - when along came Dreamworks' new animation arm with a film named Shrek. A biting demolition job on fairytales, popular culture and all things Disney, it was an anarchic postmodern joy, quite unlike anything that had come before it - and it would go on to win the inaugural Best Animated Feature Oscar.
Inevitably Shrek 2 (2004) followed, to some critical praise, but by the time Shrek the Third (2007) came along, the law of diminishing returns had truly set in. Where Shrek had so sharply disrupted the rules of its antecedents, the sequels were becoming too comfortable with their own conventions and characters, creating a new status quo no less rigidly rule-bound than what had been supplanted. Now cosily settled with wife Fiona, a brood of ogre children, and an ever-expanding coterie of friends, the once iconoclastic loner Shrek had turned into a family icon, his lurid green hue coming to symbolise how all the franchise's freshness has gone stale, leaving something suspiciously past its prime.
The people behind Shrek Forever After know all this, and so they have done their best to upgrade the franchise to the latest animation trends - and so the ogre's fourth and supposedly final outing is also in fact the first to be 'shot' in full 2.35:1 Scope, and can be seen coming at you in Real-3D and IMAX formats where available. It looks fantastic, even if there is a certain desperation in this one-time trendsetter now being forced to play catch-up with the competition. The real masterstroke here, though, is the way that the film openly acknowledges the dreary repetitiveness of the sequels by making Shrek himself no less bored than the viewers with his current life. Shrek is about to break with his humdrum and go back to his roots - which is to say, to something of the anything-goes characterisation found in the first film.
As Shrek Forever After opens, our curmudgeonly hero (voiced as always by Mike Myers) is suffering something of a midlife crisis. Trapped in a groundhog day of predictable domestic routine, and treated as a lovably freakish attraction by the kingdom that he used once to relish terrorising, Shrek longs for the simpler pleasures of his past - you know, the mud baths, the panicked citizenry, the wanted posters, the pitchfork-hurling mobs.
And so Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) steps in - a trailer-trash specialist in magic contracts who has just spotted an opportunity to seize back the throne that he believes Shrek once stole from him. Tricked into signing away the day he was born in exchange for one more of his good old days, Shrek is transported into an alternative Far Far Away where he has never existed, where Rumpelstiltskin and a coven of witches reign, where Fiona (Cameron Diaz) is the leader of an ogre revolution - and where only one day remains for Shrek to get his true love's kiss or he will be confined to oblivion forever after.
So, just as the original Shrek defamiliarised the landscape of the traditional fairytale, this sequel defamiliarises Shrek's own Far Far Away, reimagining it as a place from which the "jolly green joke" has been forever absent, and revelling in the consequences: Fiona has rescued herself from the dragon, and is now a single, self-reliant freedom fighter; Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) has become a pampered fat cat; Gingy (Conrad Vernon) is now a lollipop-wielding gladiator; and Donkey (Eddie Murphy) is, well, Donkey - but no longer even recognises his best friend Shrek.
It is like It's A Wonderful Life (1946) replayed in the world of the Grimms, as Shrek (along with the viewer) is made to realise what he was, what he has become, and what he has lost in the process. This is also, of course, a reflexive commentary on the sequel form itself, always caught between keeping faith with the old and having to offer something new.
That, in the end, is the problem with Shrek Forever After. No matter how much it tries to renew the characters and ideas of its predecessors, it just does not have the heart (or perhaps has too much heart) to revolutionise - thoroughly and permanently - its own conception. Instead, it just temporarily imagines a parallel universe for Shrek, before finally taking us back, yet again, to the same old. There are some funny lines, and some spectacular set-pieces, but Shrek is never allowed to get far far away enough from himself and his well-established world, suggesting that this franchise truly has nowhere left to go. Shrek Forever After is family fun, to be sure - but, please, no more. This ogre's had his day.
The setting, unlike the jokes, may be unfamiliar, but Shrek's last, supposedly revolutionary reboot wipes the slate clean only to return once more to the status quo.
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