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Movie Mom

Talk about happily ever after! “Shrek Forever After” is the best Shrek since the first one.

After a third episode that proved they couldn’t take it much further by going forward, they’ve found a clever way to reboot the story with an “It’s a Wonderful Life”-style look at what Shrek’s life would be like if none of the events in the first movie ever happened.

As the movie begins, Shrek the big green ogre (voice of Mike Myers) is feeling a little suffocated with his fairy tale ending in the land of Far Far Away. He loves Fiona (voice of Cameron Diaz) and their triplets but the daily grind of caring for them and the constant scrutiny of being a celebrity is making him feel uncomfortably domesticated. His most fearsome roar is turned into a party trick. He longs for “just one day to feel like a real ogre again,” to go back to a time “when I could do what I wanted…when the world made sense.”

And that is just the opening that Rumpelstiltskin (voice of writer Walt Dohrn) has been waiting for. Rump wants to be King and came very close once before when Fiona’s parents, the King (voice of John Cleese) and Queen (voice of Julie Andrews) have come to Rumpelstiltskin as a desperate last resort. He can break the curse that condemns their daughter Fiona to be human by day and an ogre at night. But he always insists on something of value in exchange. They are just about to sign over their kingdom when they get word that the spell has been broken.

Rumpy gets his revenge when Shrek impulsively agrees to an exchange — if he can have just one more day as an unencumbered ogre, he will give up a day of his life in return, any day of Rumpy’s choice. But just as in real life, people in fairy tales never read the fine print. After about an hour of fun scaring villagers (to the cheery accompaniment of The Carpenters’ “Top of the World”), Shrek begins to feel lonely, especially when he starts to understand that his best friend Donkey (voice of Eddie Murphy) and Fiona have never met him. And then he begins to feel dread when he realizes that it will be much harder than he thought to find his way back home.

The first Shrek was a wonderful surprise, a post-modern fairy tale. Shrek 2 was a lot of fun but a bit noisy and crowded. Shrek 3 was over-clever, self-referential, and snarky. This one restores the balance between humor and heart. And it gives Fiona a chance at center stage as the confident and courageous leader of a rebel band of outlaw ogres. Shrek falls in love with her all over again, and we do, too.

We meet up with some great new characters, especially ogres Cookie (voice of Craig Robinson of “The Office”) and Gretched (voice of “Glee’s” Jane Lynch). Our giant green hero enjoys being with his own kind but is nonplussed to find himself something of a runt among his fellow ogres. The bounty hunter Rumpy sends to round up Shrek and Fiona is the legendary Pied Piper. It turns out his famous pipe has a special ogre setting that has the huge green folk helplessly shaking their groove things as they boogie off to the dungeon. And there are some big changes in those we already know. Speaking of big, Puss is far, far away from the dashing swashbuckler; here he is Fiona’s ultra-pampered pet.

The film makes superb use of the 3D effects with action sequences that involve a huge pendulum swinging through Rumpelstiltskin’s palace. There’s also a 3D diaper joke, though thankfully not what you’d think. The spit take, on the other hand, is. Dorhn is a bit of a weak spot in the voice talent but the film’s expert balance of humor, heart, and excitement is real movie magic.

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