'Shrek Forever After' Was the Perfect Farewell to the Franchise
While I can agree with the general consensus that Shrek the Third is the worst "Shrek" film, I don't get why people hate Shrek Forever After.
The first two films relied heavily on pop culture references that are now -- naturally -- out of date. The third and fourth films sought to rectify the situation by stepping away from that gimmick and writing a story that could stand the test of time, both in regards to its animation and its jokes.
Not only that, but Shrek Forever After also tells a nice little "Wonderful Life" story, while at the same time acknowledging its origins. The entire story is a direct inversion of the first film, given that its general theme was that of an alternate universe.
In the opening of the film, we see Shrek as a happy father, changing swaddling and playing with his children, hanging out with his friends, and generally enjoying life. At the end of the day, Fiona makes a wish on a star that every single day will be exactly like that one.
Hilariously enough, Fiona's wish comes true. Every day is exactly the same, to the point that Shrek becomes burnt out and lies awake at night, dreading the next day.
Shrek eventually snaps and -- as usual -- takes out his frustrations on Fiona.
One thing I dislike about the films is how Shrek always seems to vent on Fiona. He did the same thing to her in the first film and the second. In the second film, he actually made her cry!
It's mostly difficult to watch because Fiona is so sweet and patient and she's the last person who deserves Shrek's cranky attitude.
At the same time, however, it's pretty realistic how flawed and, er, human Shrek is. It also makes perfect sense that he would vent at Fiona. People typically vent at their family members -- parents, siblings, cousins, etc. Shrek doesn't have any family, so -- unfortunately for her -- Fiona is the one who gets the full brunt of his frustration.
In a particularly harsh moment, he tells Fiona that he wishes he never rescued her.
Wow, Shrek. That's pretty awful.
After storming out on his kids' birthday party, Shrek meets Rumpelstiltskin, the guy who almost broke Fiona's curse in exchange for the keys to the kingdom. Because of Shrek, Rumpel never gets the king and queen to sign the kingdom over and winds up eating out of the garbage while essentially living in a van by the river.
After eavesdropping on Shrek and Fiona's argument, he tricks Shrek into signing his life away and finally inherits the kingdom, forcing Shrek into an alternate universe where his family doesn't exist.
Let me pause here to say that Rumpelstiltskin was easily the best villain in the entire "Shrek" franchise.
Lord Farquaad was good for a laugh when I was an immature teenager. I mean, you can only laugh at someone being short and having a little penis for so many years before it becomes too adolescent for your age group.
Fairy Godmother was great, especially given that she was voiced by Jennifer Saunders of Absolutely Fabulous! fame. I loved how eloquent, devious, and unapologetic she was. Holding Out for a Hero was also one of the best action sequences in the entire franchise.
Prince Charming was also great in Shrek the Third, but his evil apparently wasn't explicit enough because people actually sympathized with him. It was like everyone forgot how perfectly on-board he was with slipping Fiona a date-rape drug and then marrying her against her will.
Though he wasn't the greatest villain, I still enjoyed Charming as a character. He was the butt of many great Gender Critical jokes (shampoo commercial, cherry flavored lip gloss, pink leg warmers, Fuzzy Navels) that would probably be frowned upon as "transphobia" today.
But Rumpelstiltskin had something the other villains just didn't have. For one thing, he set Shrek up for a lot of jokes in a way Farquaad never did. His voice was hilarious, his lines were hilarious, his character model was hilarious (scrawny little bald guy longing for big red hair), and his motivations -- while cliche -- gave us an excuse to meet other ogres.
He was also the most powerful villain. He was so powerful, he could rearrange time.
And let's not forget his sidekick in Fifi, the hella scary goose.
Can't you just hear Rumpelstiltskin going "Down, Fifi, down!" in that hilarious little voice?
Once Shrek gets to the alternate universe, he spends the morning terrorizing people and chuckling to himself. It isn't until he's captured by witches that he realizes a world where people hate ogres again actually sucks.
While being brought to Rumpelstiltskin in the back of the witches' wagon, villagers hurl rotten food at Shrek and call him names. Shrek sits in the wagon looking very unhappy and perhaps remembering for the first time what it was like to be hated back in the original film.
This is when he begins to understand what a wonderful life (forgive me) he had.
After escaping Rumpelstiltskin, he tries to convince Donkey that he's his friend. Of course, this is Alternate Universe Donkey, so he doesn't recognize Shrek, and -- as a deliberate inversion of the first film -- he is terrified of him and runs away screaming.
"Just take my wallet! Just take my wallet!"
What I really love about this film and about this scene in particular is how character defining it is. Donkey -- even in an alternate universe -- is still shown to be kindhearted. When he realizes Shrek is actually crying (because he misses his family) he returns and offers his friendship.
At the same time, the scene demonstrates that Shrek really does love his family and really did love his life. It also shows how capable he is of real emotion -- something most people in his world don't seem to anticipate in an ogre.
And let's not forget Donkey's hilarious love of waffles, a character trait which actually serves to move the plot forward in a humorous way.
The waffles actually turn out to be bait in a trap. Donkey is caught by ogres, who are prepared to eat him, and must be rescued by Shrek.
At the ogre camp, Shrek discovers what has become of Fiona.
After waiting years for Shrek to rescue her, Fiona rescued her damn self. She left the tower and organized the other ogres into a resistance that would fight against Rumpelstiltskin's anti-ogre tyranny.
When Shrek first sees Fiona again, he is relieved and tries -- like any worried husband -- to run up and hold her and kiss her.
Of course, because this is Alternate Universe Fiona, she doesn't know who the heck Shrek is and his attempts to smooch her are little more than sexual harassment. She kicks Shrek in the face and gives him a warning about personal space.
I actually love this scene. After the way Shrek has treated Fiona for four movies, he deserved to have some of his aggression hurled back at him. Fiona always loved Shrek and always protected him, even believing he was her true love the very day they met. Her belief was met with laughter and mockery, and her true love refused to kiss her -- instead delivering her like a package, a thing, to another man!
I mean, damn. It really sucked to be Fiona.
Now in this alternate universe, Shrek has to earn Fiona's love and respect instead of taking it for granted. It was pretty refreshing to see.
Not that this hadn't been done in Shrek 2. But still. It was nice to see Shrek and Fiona given equal footing, instead of Fiona being a doormat all the time.
Shrek soon realizes he has to woo Fiona all over again, as sharing True Love's Kiss with her will break Rumpelstiltskin's contract and reset the timeline.
The sequence that follows shows just how little Shrek actually knows about Fiona. He has no idea how to woo her and goes about it all wrong, first sending her "candies" and flowers and constantly annoying her with his puppy dog simpering.
Eventually, Shrek openly admits that he doesn't know jack-spat about his wife. (I guess that's what happens when you marry someone after knowing them, like, one day.)
It finally clicks for Shrek that all Fiona cares about is the resistance and defeating Rumpelstiltskin, so he sets out to help her. They playfully spar, and the attraction between them becomes apparent.
Fiona is confused by her feelings and storms out.
Puss in Boots (now Fiona's fat pet cat) recognizes Shrek as Fiona's true love and encourages him to keep trying to kiss her and break the spell.
In a tense moment, Shrek reveals everything he does know about Fiona, namely that she sleeps with a candle lit because she's terrified of waking up back in the tower. This little bit of information defined Fiona as a character, showing how her curse and her life in the tower had actually traumatized her.
Shrek eventually convinces Fiona that he's her True Love, and she -- in a moment of irritation and defiance -- grabs him and kisses him to prove a point.
The kiss doesn't work because Fiona doesn't love Shrek.
It is a chilling moment when Shrek opens his eyes, and instead of the spell being broken, Fiona is glaring at him. Her expression is twisted, angry, accusatory. Now she knows and believes that Shrek is her True Love, and she also knows that he failed her. She walks away in disgust, leaving Shrek heart broken.
In the first film, Fiona loved Shrek because he was brave and made her laugh and actually admired her kick-ass fighting skills, rather than being threatened by them. She and Shrek had a lot in common and loved being together.
In the final film, Fiona doesn't love Shrek because what he did in not rescuing her was selfish. He was too busy thinking about himself to stop and suspect Rumpel of foul play. He screwed up big time and it basically destroyed the world -- maybe not for everyone else, but definitely for ogres and fairy tale creatures.
Shrek eventually realizes that he made a mistake and that he should own up to it, instead of leaving Fiona and everyone else to pay for what he did. He decides to fight Rumpelstiltskin, and with Fiona's help, takes him down, thereby securing freedom for the ogres and the fairy tale creatures of Far Far Away.
It is this act of selflessness and bravery that makes Fiona fall in love with Shrek all over again, and she kisses him. Her kiss breaks the spell and the timeline is reset.
Having shared True Love's Kiss with Fiona, Shrek finds himself back on the proper timeline, in the middle of his kids' birthday party. Instead of throwing a tantrum and smashing the cake, he celebrates his kids' birthday and makes heartwarming speeches to them.
He then apologies to Fiona for all the times he was a jerk, saying that he was never there for her like he should have been.
Thus with his life restored, Shrek learns to live in gratitude and lives happily ever after with Fiona. Bonus sequence with clips from the other movies playing to the tune Stevie Wonder's "For Once In My Life."
To me, it was the perfect ending. We don't need to continue the story or embellish it in any way. We don't need Shrek 5.
Shrek is happy, Fiona is happy, the supporting characters are happy.
And, dammit, so is the audience.
© 2018 Ash