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Shrek Forever After delivers laughs, life lessons, and a striking picture of the realities of parenthood in this surprisingly good, fourth Shrek film. Like the original film, this fractured fairytale works because of the humor--it pokes fun at the whole fairytale genre on a multitude of intellectual levels while simultaneously offering visual humor that's appealing to all ages. After a frantic flip through a tongue-in-cheek fairytale book of the first three Shrek films, the scene opens on a beaming Shrek and Fiona as they awaken to a chorus of their noisy children standing at the foot of the bed, and it follows them through a typically hectic day of feeding, diapering, and caring for their children until they collapse into a satisfied heap at the end of the day. One of the funniest bits in the film, at least for adults, is how this scene repeats, faster and faster and in smaller and smaller excerpts, until Shrek's look of bliss slowly turns into a pained, midlife-crisis expression that screams "Help me, I'm trapped in this domestic purgatory and there's no escape in sight." As in any good fairytale, the protagonist's chance for escape comes in the form of a deal with the devil, in this case Rumpelstiltskin. Following in the footsteps of the classic film It's a Wonderful Life, Shrek is granted the opportunity to spend a day in an alternate reality in which he is the independent, terrifying ogre he once was. Of course, the deal carries some very serious, unintended consequences, and Shrek's day of freedom may just cost him Fiona, the children, and even his very existence. Mike Meyers and Cameron Diaz are once again stellar as the voices of Shrek and Fiona; Antonio Banderas is still all swagger despite Puss-in-Boots' now-portly figure and thoroughly domesticated ways; Eddie Murphy remains just as hilarious as in the first film as Donkey, who in this story doesn't recognize Shrek and can't fathom the possibility of a donkey and an ogre becoming friends; and Walt Dohrn is an extremely effective newcomer as the voice of Rumpelstiltskin. Other key players are the Pied Piper, with his new, tricked-out flute; a mob of broom-riding, jack-o'-lantern-throwing witches; an overgrown white goose; and a whole resistance movement of ogres under the command of a most unexpected leader. The battles are fierce and the lesson powerful: learn to appreciate what you've got. While 3-D digital is always nice, most viewers will completely forget that the film is in 3-D after the initial scene, and it will view just as well in the traditional format. (Rated PG, but appropriate for most ages 6 and older) --Tami Horiuchi

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