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Movie Report: Shrek Forever After

So. I watched the fourth Shrek movie. It was terrible. And it wasn’t terrible in the fourth-movie they’ve-run-out-of-ideas way, it was just terrible.

Now, to be fair, I’m not a huge fan of Shrek anyway (not in my top five William Steig books, in the first place) and I didn’t see the third movie. Also, there are loads of movies I think are terrible that are extremely popular and whatnot, so there’s that. But I found it just depressing.

The movie is an It’s a Wonderful Life deal, except that they got the whole concept wrong. At the beginning, Shrek is being worn down by the combination of fatherhood and fame (tho’ the fame part is pretty minor), blunders through a catastrophic first birthday party for his triplets, and storms out to get drunk. There he runs into Rumpelstiltskin, who offers him one day of irresponsible ogre-ishness for one day of Shrek’s childhood, which turns out to be the day he was born. We discover that in a World Without Shrek, Rumpelstiltskin rules with an iron fist and a squad of Wicked Witches, and blah blah blah. The point is that Shrek has to meet Fiona, woo her and get True Love’s Kiss before the day is up, or the world will stay bad. Or something. Anyway, that’s the set-up.

To begin with, Shrek is an asshole. Now, part of that is that he’s an ogre, and he is established in the first movie as grouchy and self-centered (but with a heart of gold). Still, throwing a fit during your kid’s birthday party is asshole behavior, and I had alreadly lost sympathy for him before that happened. Secondly, what we are shown of his life leading up to that point is in fact pretty miserable. He seems to take no joy in his kids, his wife, or his best friend. We don’t see him talk to anyone about his misery, or attempt to ameliorate it in any way, but just an increasingly slump-shouldered resentful stalk though a horrible life. And third, if you don’t mind my skipping ahead, the Happy Ending is that he realizes how much he loves his life and that everything was great exactly as it was, which, you know, we had seen that it wasn’t.

In It’s A Wonderful Life, most of the movie is taken up with showing George’s actually wonderful life. Yes, his dream of traveling the world is put aside for other people, but we see several instances of George being happy and enjoying himself, particularly when he successfully helps someone. He also runs a successful Building and Loan company, and it’s that business (and the good it does for the middle-class folk of the town) that he sacrifices for. Then, when it looks like the company is going bust, it looks like all the sacrifices were for nothing, right? That’s when he wishes he had never been born.

Now, I know that Shrek doesn’t actually wish he had never been born (which is another problem with the thing), but when he hits that same point, we don’t see anything good about his life. We are told that his life is actually good, but we certainly don’t see him enjoying it. And while we may have some residual good feeling for Shrek from the previous movies, in the beginning of this one we don’t see him choosing to make sacrifices for anybody’s good or to achieve anything at all.

And, as follows naturally enough, the world being ever so much worse because Shrek wasn’t in it comes more as a coincidence than from lack of Shrekness. That is, the one thing that made a difference in the world was that Shrek failed to save Fiona from the Dragon’s Keep, and even that only made the difference because her parents had then traded their kingdom to Rumpelstiltskin for her freedom. We do see the supporting cast in misery (not terribly funny misery), but their misery is attributed to Rumpelstiltskin’s reign rather than Shrek’s failure to rescue them. If he did. I suppose he did, back in the first movie, from Prince Charming, but Prince Charming is absent from this movie, so I dunno.

Anyway, my point is that they screwed up the formula, and not in any clever way but as far as I can tell through just not understanding what this kind of movie is about. I found the ending even more depressing, exactly in that way—y’all do remember what happens at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, right? They save the Building and Loan, and while George is embraced by his loving friends and family, they have in fact solved the problem that caused him such misery. At the end of this movie, Shrek is embraced by his loving friends and family, who, you know, sing and dance over the end credits. The only thing that’s solved is Shrek’s attitude.

I found this particularly irritating because, you know, having triplets or even one baby in the house is damned difficult work, and a new parent is very likely to experience depression, anger or just ordinary difficulty with it. And the writers seem to be making an example of the worst possible responses to it. Shrek doesn’t tell his wife he is upset. Instead he pretends (badly) that he is not miserable. Neither Shrek nor Fiona seek assistance from their friends. They do not, together or separately, attempt to find a way for either of them to make their outside interests work together with their new family life. They don’t separate the things that they need to endure (such as diaper-changing) from the ones they don’t (the intrusion of the tour bus). They, in fact, do no communicating or even thinking at all.

Well, sure Gentle Readers are saying, they’re ogres in a comic animated movie. And maybe that’s fair. Some people liked the thing. And no, I don’t think that cartoons necessarily need to fully depict family dynamics, or that Bonanza was a realistic depiction of life in the old West. I suppose what depressed me was that they quite accurately depicted the problem, very recognizable and sufficiently familiar to be depressing, including a fairly realistic depiction of the main character making it worse. Which was enough to put me in a bad mood, unsuitable for the action-adventure part of the movie. And then to cap it off, they claimed to solve the problem by magically making Shrek not an asshole. Which, you know, is an improvement, sure, but the real improvement was that the thing was over and I didn’t watch any more.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.