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Shrek Forever After Review: Ogre and ogre, and ogre and ogre — again

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The final chapter in a constantly charming franchise, “Shrek Forever After,” proves what has been increasingly clear in the decade since the titular ogre (voiced by Mike Myers) leapt so famously onscreen from William Steig’s 1990 children’s book:

The animated journey of Shrek, his beloved, Fiona, and Far Far Away buddies Donkey and Puss in Boots is pitched to adults even more than young’uns.

It’s not that kids are an afterthought. Far, far from it. Wee ones are given plenty to giggle about: burping ogre babies, a flatulent father, impossibly winning talking animals, nasty villains with silly grudges and so on.

But the writing has, from the first sequel, been rife with knowing wisecracks for parents and chaperones.

With Far Far Away resembling Hollywood, the double entendres — visual as well as verbal — have been irresistible fodder for the filmmakers. To wit, “Shrek” influenced many pretenders that winked and nudged to lesser effect.

For “Shrek,” catering to the grown- ups makes a sort of sense. After all, many adult ticket buyers were beneficiaries and victims of Grimm fairytales and Cinderella promises. Newer audience members have, we hope, been fed the more thoughtful literary fare.

This fourth film takes the grown- up tilt further, stirring an “It’s a Wonderful Life” dilemma into an often- pleasing, if familiar, brew of pop-cultural nods and fairytale teases. Only instead of contemplating ending it all as George Bailey did, Shrek is merely tricked by Rumpelstiltskin into having never been born.

As the film opens, Shrek and Fiona’s triplets are about to celebrate their first birthday, and the big green guy is feeling dulled by the routines of marriage and parenthood.

He’s become a hero to his community, a beloved nice guy. He’s grown out of touch with his inner scary.

Shrek’s cranky mood is easily exploited by Rumpelstiltskin. He tricks Shrek into giving him one day in his life — then takes the day Shrek was born.

A vortex whips Shrek into a time where ogres can still scatter the fearful. A place where his nearest and dearest know him not.

“Shrek” story honcho Walt Dohrn gives voice to the bewigged manipulator with an off-his-meds mix of resentment and coyness. Dohrn says he took his inspiration for the bitter little fiend from Sean Penn in “The Falcon and the Snowman” and Bette Davis in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” Nice — or, appropriately, not so nice.

At first, Shrek finds this world swell. Cue a chipper Carpenters tune for one of the franchise’s amusing trademark song montages. Then a new reality sets in.

Long long ago in a place called Far Far Away, Shrek once delivered “true love’s kiss.” Can he do that again in the topsy-turvy empire of Rumpel, where witches are henchfolk and a giant quasi-disco ball hangs in the palace’s grand hall?

No matter which realm she inhabits, Cameron Diaz’s Fiona remains a feisty, level-headed co-hero. In Rumpel’s realm, she leads a rebellion of ogres, including a dearie named Cookie (Craig Robinson) who believes in the power of the food cart.

Directed with zest by Mike Mitchell (from a script by Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke) and shot in 3D, this final “Shrek” sequel has plenty of verve. A broomstick chase through Rupelstiltskin’s grand digs is especially impressive.

Puss (Antonio Banderas) may have lost his figure, but he can still look as if he’s posing for a Margaret Keane painting at will. His eyes grow bigger and sadder until he’s broken the resistance of friends and audience members alike.

Donkey (madly agile improviser Eddie Murphy) is as darling as ever after. Alas, he also delivers the film’s most off-color joke, which teeters wittily and wrongly on slur.

The joys of this final “Shrek” aren’t original so much as sense-memory- pleasing: Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs, and Ginger Bread Man are all here. Yay.

Did someone say “final”?

That’s a matter of debate in the pop- cultural land of never say never. In November, the Broadway show “Shrek: the Musical” is slated for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

And come summer 2011, Puss gets his very own flick of a tale.

-Denver Post film critic Lisa Kennedy

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