Shrek Matures

The fourth installment in the animated franchise is the most polished

There’s been a dearth of quality children’s films lately. Fortunately, Shrek Forever After is on target, filling the void. Even audiences new to the franchise will enjoy the slapstick tone and comic timing of these easily likable characters.

The premise is simple enough. Finally and happily settled down with his ogre wife, Fiona (Cameron Diaz), and their three babies, Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) yearns for his bachelor days, when every person and animal in the community feared his brutish gaze and stone-rattling roar. Shrek’s ennui presents a perfect opportunity for Rumpelstiltskin (wonderfully voiced by Walt Dohrn), the kooky little fantasy–maker and con man. Mr. R convinces Shrek to sign away a day of his childhood in exchange for living a day free of all familial constraints. Naturally, the deal is a dirty trick by the conniving Rumpelstiltskin, who plots to take over as king.

The film’s theme—appreciating what you have while you have it—is supported, if only half-knowingly, by Shrek’s loyal pals Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and a considerably chubbier Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas). Although the film’s 3-D effects seem extraneous, the spunky vocal characterizations are enjoyably spot-on and the jokes funny enough to elicit laughs from kids of all ages.

Shrek’s status as a workaday dad who pines for his more vigorous youth must surely signal a disconnect between the filmmakers and the young souls these kind of movies typically cater to. It’s an instance where post-modern meets retro reality.

There’s a supreme satisfaction in hearing the returning cast members’ voices. Myers underplays his current incarnation of Shrek, while Murphy lets loose at every opportunity. Diaz gives a more throaty delivery, and Banderas injects little comic touches into every word that Puss speaks.

It’s possible that co-screenwriters Josh Klausner (writer on Shrek the Third) and Darren Lemke have elevated the franchise into a territory of maturity beyond a threshold that bourgeoisie critics can stand.

“Unnecessary” is a word used to describe a children’s movie that by definition is quite necessary if you, well, have children. Which brings us to the film’s broader appeal. Here is a Shrek movie with barely a fart or poop joke that speaks to a universal theme of appreciating the friends and family you have. When Shrek convinces the oblivious Donkey that he’s his best friend, we feel recognized in the same way. When the fat little Puss drags sideways down his scratching post to greet Shrek, it’s all the more funny because we know he’s showing off for his pal. And when Fiona drops her she-warrior act long enough to allow a kiss from the ogre she was destined to be with forever after, we get that special kind of romantic charge that reminds us about why and how intimate relationships are important.

Shrek Forever After (PG) ★★★☆☆

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The Losers (PG-13)

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The Losers (PG-13)

Hot on the trail of Kick-Ass’s experiment in vacant violence, The Losers is equally wrongheaded. A team of U.S. Special Forces, led by Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Clay, gets double-crossed and then joins up with a mercenary named Aisha (Zoe Saldana) who insists they seek revenge against CIA baddie Max (Jason Patric). The film’s politics, like this entire effort, are sketchy. Each character seems to have sauntered in from a different movie.