GENRE: CGI storybook spoof
THE PITCH: Overwhelmed by the pressures of celebrity and raising triplet ogre babies, Shrek (Mike Myers) strikes a bargain with Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dorhn) for one day as an unencumbered single ogre. The It’s a Wonderful Life-style contract imagines a world in which Shrek was never born and is a stranger to his wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and his friend Donkey (Eddie Murphy).
MONEY SHOTS: Shrek terrorizing townsfolk to the Carpenters “Top of the World.” An attack from flying witches, throwing pumpkin bombs like the Green Goblin. The alternate Gingerbread man fighting animal crackers gladiator-style in a tiny arena. The sinister Pied Piper glides into a room on the back of rats. Shrek and Fiona team up to fight a fire-breathing foe from the first film.
CREATIVE VOICE CASTING: Members of the ogre resistance include Jon Hamm, Jane Lynch and “The Office’s” Craig Robinson. Witch voices draw from Kathy Griffin, Mary Kay Place and “Flight of the Conchords’” Kristen Schaal. Rumpelstiltskin is voiced by writer/animator Dorhn, who sounds like a bullying runt without being particularly memorable.
WORST LINES: “You’re a cat-tastrophe!” Donkey says to now-obese Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas). “Well, you’re redonkulous!” Puss replies. (“Kill us now,” the audience begs.)
FASHION STATEMENT: As the tyrant of Far Far Away, Rumpelstiltskin wears different hairpieces to suit his mood, including a reddish “angry wig” that makes him look like a troll doll. As the head of the resistance, Fiona dresses kind of like Braveheart. The ogre cook wears armor made of colanders and weaves garlic cloves in his beard.
POP REFERENCES: Apart from a “Dueling Banjos” gag in a trailer park, the film goes easy on the pop footnotes for a Shrek film. A bit that riffs on The Untouchables’ banquet scene and a witch’s watery weakness proves kind of subtle. Somehow the film evokes such recent hits as How To Train Your Dragon, Alice in Wonderland and Avatar with scenes of a flying dragon, a big-headed tyrant attended by pigs, and armed, pastel-colored humanoids who live in a tree.
SOUNDTRACK HIGHLIGHTS: The Pied Piper forces the ogres to groove to a Peaches & Herb song, so the gratuitous dance number actually serves a purpose in the narrative.
GROSS-OUTS: Shrek’s triplets have predictably noisy bodily functions. Shrek shares an “eyeball-tini” with Rumpelstiltskin. Donkey entertains the ogres by making eyeballs pop out his nostrils.
BEST OF THE SHREKS? No, but it improves on the perfunctory Shrek the Third and offers a better finale to the series (shown through a closing-credit highlight reel).
MAKE THE UPGRADE? Decent 3-D gags involve a horse-drawn carriage, a spit-take, Puss’ big eyes and, inevitably, Pinocchio’s protruding proboscis. There’s nothing groundbreaking about the 3-D, but it’s more fluid than most live-action films.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The fourth Shrek film emphasizes downbeat adventure over funny bodily functions, so it’s less funny than its predecessors. But if you never liked the Shrek brand of humor, you’ll find the film less unfunny, which you can appreciate even though, like a magic spell, the film erases itself from your memory after you’ve seen it.