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“Shrek Forever After” — It’s really over for our favorite ogre

By Sean O’Connell

Shrek Forever After (** out of 4)

The creative team behind “Shrek” says “Shrek Forever After,” the fourth in the nine-year-old fairy tale franchise, will be the last. At least, until the next “Shrek” film comes out.

Hollywood rarely kills a cash cow. Not until every last drop has been milked from those money-producing udders. So if this fourth “Shrek” lures as many families as its predecessors — and earns potentially more dough thanks to increased 3-D ticket prices — you can safely bet the house on a fifth adventure.

And my feelings about that would be … well, indifference, I suppose. The “Shrek” franchise, which stars Mike Myers as the surly, Scottish-voiced ogre, has run its course. How could it not? When has the fourth film in any series been truly memorable? Even “The Godfather” franchise died a horrible death on its third try.

The latest “Shrek” adventure occupies a strange limbo. It’s mildly entertaining, infused with the pleasant nostalgia you experience visiting friends you only get to see every few years. And the animation shows marked improvement, particularly in Shrek’s facial features, which draw the portly ogre much closer to human form than he’s ever been before.

But the laughs aren’t there anymore. On the off chance “Shrek Forever After” manages to make you chuckle, it’s usually with a trick employed by a previous installment. Adorable Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) affects those gigantic saucer eyes at Donkey (Eddie Murphy), and we smile. Not because it’s amusing on its own, but because it reminds us of better “Shrek” movies.

And while “Shrek” always aimed above the heads of younger patrons in hopes of pleasing pop-culture savvy adults, “Forever After” specifically targets mom and dad with a sentimental storyline frazzled parents will embrace. Essentially inserting our hero into a fantasy version of Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” we find Shrek seeking a temporary escape from the rigorous (and monotonous) routine of fathering his three lovable babies. The disgruntled ogre enters into a magical contract with smooth-talking Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), hoping to earn one day where his life returns to the way it was before he rescued his beloved Fiona (Cameron Diaz). Instead, an alternate world is created where Shrek never existed, and the characters we’ve come to know have drastically changed.

What hasn’t changed is the trademark blending of rapid fired pop-culture nods with classic storybook references. Only “Shrek” could use The Carpenters’ saccharine tune “Top of the World” as a hideous ogre terrified helpless townsfolk and dodged lethal pitchforks. But then Rumpelstiltskin goes and hires The Pied Piper as an assassin, and the flute-toting warrior blares The Beastie Boys’ 1994 hit, “Sure Shot,” for a choreographed dance routine. Cute. But again, not very fresh, and far from original.

And yet, the quibbles of grown-up audiences won’t register with kids, who’ll just be happy to see another “Shrek” adventure after watching (and re-watching) the first three time and time again. “Shrek Forever After” understands what makes the franchise popular, and serves up more of the same. Fans of the characters likely will tolerate it, even if it’s for time number four.

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