Shrek Forever After (2010)
PG, and am I crazy, but is this the least offensive one? I mean, there are themes of parental abandonment. But I don't remember a bunch of stuff that would be considered wholeheartedly offensive. I mean, we're in 2010 now. The shock-valued early-2000s have died down and stories didn't have to offend to get laughs. Like many kids movies, there are scary moments, especially considering that Shrek spends the majority of the movie in an alternate reality dystopia. PG.
DIRECTOR: Mike Mitchell
Oh man I'm about to get controversial. I'm all riled up and I have something to say. I've been teasing this in my other Shrek blog entries. It's not that I have strong opinions about Shrek movies. As previously stated in other entries, I'm just getting prepped for Puss in Boots: The Last Wish by catching up on the other movies in the Shrekiverse. But are you ready for the thunder? (I don't know if you are ready. This is a one-way medium and no one ever comments on these things.)
Shrek Forever After, the fourth entry in a series that I didn't really get into, is the best Shrek movie. So far. I hear that there's a Shrek 5 in the can, but might be unreleasable? I don't know. Okay, one thing we have to clear the air about. The Shrek movies have a lot of ironic fans behind them. It's the whole Chuck Norris thing, only it's a bit more split than that. Some people genuinely get obsessed with Shrek. Good. Like what you like. These aren't terrible movies. They're just not my fandom. Let your freak flag fly, which is a very on-brand Shrek idea. Then there are people who like making fun of "All-Star" and playing Shrek on devices not designed to play movies. I tried Googling "lo-res Shrek" and there were too many results, just validating my point. So I don't know what people really think about Shrek Forever After. On Letterboxd, there's a guy who has multiple Shrek the Third posts just advertising how good Shrek Forever After is. I get the vibe that it is one of those really disliked movies because I don't think a lot of people saw this one.
It's a bummer, because I'm a dad and this is the movie that gets dads. The other Shrek movies keep starting with ideas, but rarely make good on them. Sure, the first Shrek movie does this wonderful body positivity thing that I'm a fan of, but even that is a bit watered down. But here's me, in 2023, watching Shrek 4 and finally I have something that really talks to me. That's what this franchise needed: something that spoke to 40-year-old dads. Here's the thing. Shrek genuniely is the cause of his own misery in this one. I love my family. I absolutely do. But let's talk about yesterday (from the day that I wrote this sentence). Two nights ago, my four-year-old got out of bed at 11:00 pm. She shares a room with her two-year-old sister. Penny, the four-year-old, was howling about the nightlight that was missing. Okay. That's managable. Only it wasn't. The nightlight was gone, as were all the backup nightlights. (I had prepped for this very scenario and my backup plan was stymied!) I found a nightlight in the basement and I ran it upstairs. Problem solved, right? Nope. Penny starts screaming louder and louder. We discovered that she had an ear infection. She did not go quietly into that good night. There was no sleep to be had that night. She woke up her two-year-old sister and my wife and I had to tag-team keeping kids quiet because the other two had still stayed asleep. Once the morning came, we got meds from the pharmacy; meds that should return kids to normal within the hour. Penny's stomach didn't like these meds, so she puked all over...twice. I slept with her in the basement and had two nights of crappy sleep. (For clarification, my wife got really bad sleep the night before, so it was my turn. I, too, got bad sleep that first night, but nothing compared to my wife.)
That's one night. Parenthood, for all of its positives and the things that keep me alive and fully-realized, is absolutely miserable a lot of the time. I regularly have the phrase, "I just need a vacation from my family" in my head, something that is considered blasphemous. Shrek's desire to be taken seriously as himself, not simply as the spouse to Fiona or the father to three kids (thank you, Forever After, for confirming how many children Shrek has) is a thing. I try to imagine scenarios where I have an extended amount of time away, where I can write, play video games, sleep in, and do all the stuff that 20-year-old Tim would do and my best case scenario involves retirement. As much as Shrek Forever After demonizes Shrek for having these feelings, it also normalizes the concept of self-care. Shrek, like an idiot (a realistic idiot) points that attention outwards. Those feelings turn into feelings of resentment to his family and that's where Shrek's mistake lies. Thus, we're granted the first Shrek villain that really matters: Rumpelstiltskin.
I know. Some of you are crying "Fairy Godmother" or "Farquaad." If you read my blogs about the other movies, you'll get my thoughts on them, particularly Farquaad. The Shrek movies have always have had a hard time returning to their themes. They always seem like these tertiary ideas (which defeats the definition of "theme"). But Rumpelstiltskin is the personification of finding companionship outside of marriage. Okay, slow down. I am not writing a critical response to gay theory in Shrek Forever After. (Although, I really want to right now because that sounds like a fascinating paper.) Shrek is in a low place after his kids' birthday party. ("Do the roar" will forever be my favorite Shrek quote.) He gets into a fight with Fiona over his boorish behavior (His tank is on empty and people need to vent sometimes) and he turns his attention to Rumpelstiltskin, who offers him the seemingly impossible. He offers him a single day in exchange for a forgettable day. Rumpelstiltskin is a miserable turd. (I like him as a villain. I'm talking about his characterization.) His entire thing is blaming others for things that eluded him.
I'm going to make the comparison of Rumpelstiltskin to the divorced dad or the incel. There's this whole origin story for Rumpelstiltskin where he was going to gain control of the land of Far, Far Away, but Shrek's heroism saving Fiona cost him that contract. Starting from moment one, he finds excuses for why he can't succeed on his own. He blames everything on Shrek, someone he hasn't met. Also, the notion of Fiona being trapped in a tower included the notion that people were going to rescue her. It's actually weird that more people hadn't rescued her up to that point. But there he is, blaming Shrek. He then befriends Shrek for the sake of tricking him into this whole contract. Where I'm really slowly getting to is that Shrek is feeding his own confirmation bias. Instead of finding a place where he can receive honest feedback and constructive criticism, he wallows in the emotional gutter with someone who wants to see him fail. Okay, yeah, Rumpelstiltskin is a bit on the nose for someone who wants to see him fail. Real life, the people who want to see you fail probably don't literally even think that. They simply want to justify their own misery with other miserable people.
It's once Shrek is in the dystopian alternate reality (which I will now refer to just as "dystopia") that he has his It's a Wonderful Life moment. The very notion of "glory days" is an amoral concept. There's no fault on Shrek when he thinks of the good ol' days as a fearful ogre. (Okay, you could argue that romanticizing emotional terrorism probably has its fair share of issues.) But it's only when he has those moments stripped away, like George Bailey, that he sees the immorality of his actions. It's interesting, the It's a Wonderful Life formula. These stories work really well for moral heroes. George Bailey spends the majority of the movie being a good person. It's when he looks back at a world where he's never been born that he gets the message of his good acts. Shrek never really gets to the heights of all the good he has done. I'm not going to give Shrek Forever After the same points as It's a Wonderful Life because It's a Wonderful Life is a masterpiece and Shrek Forever After is the fourth movie in a kids' cartoon franchise that makes a pun on "four". But Shrek's actions have positive ramifications. We can't forget that Shrek is predisposed not to help people. Every positive change he makes is a bit of a sacrifice for him. Shrek Forever After is the payoff to that list of small sacrifices.
I still get the vibe that people don't love this movie. I think, like with Quantumania, there's fatigue towards a franchise here. It's not so much that people don't like like Shrek Forever After as much as it is people not being all that interested in Shrek sequels anymore. Heck, I'm openly one of them. If I didn't have this obsessive need to watch everything, I wouldn't have seen this one. Sure, I'm happy that I'm done with the actual Shrek movies. But it was a good one to go out on.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.