In our fourth installment, married life isn't suiting Shrek (Mike Meyers). We get a montage of his soul being crushed by the endless demands of fatherhood, being a celebrity, and having Donkey (Eddie Murphy) as a super-annoying, best friend. This culminates when he has to hold a birthday party for several screaming infants, villagers who treat him as joke (or with outright disrespect), and comrades who all selfishly make life difficult for him. In a moment of frustration, he exclaims that he would like to go back to a time when everything made sense -- the time before he met his wife, Fiona.
This encourages the down-on-his-luck, Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) to make a play for the kingdom. He tricks Shrek into signing a contract that gives him control of Far Far Away and plunges Shrek into a grim alternate reality – a reality where none of the other movies ever happened and no one knows each other. Shrek must win back the love of Fiona, patch things up with Donkey, and otherwise, save the kingdom. Will he? What do you think?
The show is technically impressive. The castle chase scene gives us some truly impressive 3D- architecture. They have improved their computerized hair effects by this time. Everything looks okay, and the action in the battle scenes, is less jerky. The voice acting is as good as the rest of the franchise even if there isn't much more left for the speakers to do. They have gotten all of the principals back for this show, so there is no problem on that front.
However, as far as the balance, I found watching it painful. The show is a one-trick, one-note story that gives us the never-ending consequences of what Shrek has lost by not appreciating what he has. We have seen this sort of story before in shows like Star Trek, The Next Generation, and Buffy-The Vampire Slayer. Shrek brings nothing new to the table, and basically gives us yet another time-out-of-joint story that is going to culminate in last-minute saves and predictably has a hard time generating drama.
More or less, I found the message preachy and the action predictable. These are characters we can like, and the voices behind Shrek have a lot of charisma; but the fourth installment seems to think that if it retains the stack of good-will it built over the last three movies, it won't be able to generate the necessary tension. Given the constraints of its formula, Shrek needs to learn a lesson about accepting himself and things as they are; Donkey and Puss in Boots need to be comic relief, there needs to be several battle scenes, and a couple of near misses -- maybe they are right. Maybe this is the best they can manage.
If that is true, then yes – it is time to end it.