‘Shrek Forever After’ doesn’t save best for last 

Time has been unkind to Shrek, the endearingly ornery ogre from the land of Far, Far Away, where the villagers who once feared his temper now see him as a cuddly tourist attraction.

In “Shrek Forever After” — billed as the fourth and final installment in a franchise that has earned more than $1.5 billion in the U.S. alone — he is mired in the malaise of monotonous routine, both as a diaper-changing father of three and as a monster who’s tired of being Mr. Nice Guy.

Worse yet, he is stuck in a story short on magic.

DreamWorks animators have kept their beloved beast in step with the expectations of audiences dazzled by the 3-D revolution, but technical wizardry isn’t all that’s required.

Will kids love it? I believe they will. “Forever After” is competently crafted and briskly paced, with closing credits long enough to nudge it just past the 90-minute mark. And the story is promising.

Yearning to revisit his rambunctious youth, Shrek makes a deal with the devious Rumpelstiltskin to feel like an ogre again — to terrify the townspeople and run roughshod through his precious swamp.

Little does Shrek (Mike Myers) realize he’s gambling with his life. Hidden in the fine print is a clause erasing the grumpy green giant from the history books altogether.

He returns to Far, Far Away a pariah, relishing his renewed notoriety. But where is Fiona (Cameron Diaz), his princess? And why do best friends Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (an impeccably coy Antonio Banderas) treat him like a stranger?

Thus begins a modestly diverting yarn, drawn from Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” that finds Shrek stranded in an alternate reality in which he was never born. Rumpelstiltskin is king. Ogres are hunted by broom-wielding witches. And Fiona is nowhere to be found.

There is little suspense in Shrek’s quest to reverse this sorry turn of events, but even as his latest adventure coasts toward its happily ever after, we get flashes of the zany imagination that made “Shrek” (2001) so refreshing. (Preparing to ambush the tyrannical ’Stiltskin, one ogre, voiced by Craig Robinson, suggests a chimichanga stand on the battlefield. No sense fighting on an empty stomach.)

Yet inspiration is too rare in this mildly amusing fantasy about midlife crisis. We can’t shake the feeling that this time Shrek is just going through the motions.

That might satisfy the kiddies, but a story this slight could prove a tougher sell for their parents. Best put the big guy to bed before he’s too tired.


Shrek Forever After

Two and a half stars

Starring Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Walt Dohrn
Written by Josh Klausner, Darren Lemke
Directed by Mike Mitchell
Rated PG
Running time 1 hour 33 minutes

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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