Ach, wie gut, dass niemand weiß, dass ich Rumpelstilzchen heiß
Last time I monitored how this series had been all but played out. Shrek the Third had reached those decidedly middling grounds where franchises go to die. Lame story, a rehash of old jokes and recycled bad guys. What a surprise Shrek Forever After is in that light. It’s a breath of inventiveness that recaptures the charms of the first two films.
It does this with a sneaky little ploy – it resets the world. The film introduces a delightful new villain: the diminutive Rumpelstiltskin, filled with quirks and wigs. He’s a peddler of magic deals that come with a catch, which echoes Fairy Godmother but lacks her front of serenity. Rumpel is all bad. When Shrek finds his family life has become a grind, he signs up with him to recapture the thrill of ogre rampaging for a single day. It’s a trick, of course, and the past is overwritten by a new reality in which Rumpel is king and the world his plaything.
Shrek never married Fiona, he never had kids, he never befriended Donkey and Puss. He’ll have to do all of that again, somehow, to save the day. Is that a cheat? Perhaps, but the emotion surrounding it is brought with such honesty it hardly matters. This was the first time I was genuinely stirred by Shrek’s plight. His feeling of being ensnared by life is understandable and his ensuing sense of loss and guilt rings all the truer for it.
The alternate world Shrek creates is a madhouse that’s funnier and scarier than anything Prince Charming conjured up last time. Rumpel has warped the castle of Far, Far Away into a disco ballroom and there’s a Braveheart-esque uprising of ogres. What makes the film work is the premise of the magical wish, the genie that will give you everything you want – for a prize you didn’t realize you were paying. It’s a fascinating concept that has worked over the centuries and will always work.
Visually, Shrek Forever After is obsessed with tongues. Seriously, tongues and the mouths that hold them play a key role in so many jokes and it was remarkable to see how they were used. Sometimes it’s Donkey or Puss licking things or trying to nibble food, elsewhere it’s Rumpel biting his tongue to hold in his glee. It sounds silly, but the tongues are fantastic in this film.
As the final spin of the Shrek story it ties everything together neatly. Not in terms of narrative (since this was never about an overarching story) but in terms of theme. Over the series, Shrek has become the hero, ingratiated himself with the population, dealt with his fear of fatherhood and now has come to terms with his perfect family life. It’s very pleasing to see this imaginative yarn ending on such a high note.