All the warning signs are there: the fact that it's the fourth film, the fact that it's in 3D, the fact that virtually all of the original creative talent (aside from the actors) have moved on.
So - has the law of diminishing returns caught up with Shrek Forever After?
Yes and no - but mostly no. In fact, Shrek Forever After, if not as witty as the first two films in the series, is still funnier and more exciting - and more emotionally connected - than most of the summer's blockbusters so far, including both Iron Man 2 and Robin Hood. It's also engagingly entertaining - which is more than you could say about the Broadway musical version.
Written by Josh Klausner (Date Night) and Darren Lemke, Shrek Forever After doesn't need 3D to pull you into its story (not that any film does). And you don't need to have seen the first three films to get the jokes in this fourth one - or even to plug into the story.
The film opens with a flashback - sort of an alternate storyline that could have been snipped from the first film. Fiona's parents - the king and queen of Far Far Away - are desperate to rescue their daughter, who is trapped in a castle guarded by a dragon, awaiting true love's kiss. Convinced that no one will ever want a girl who is an ogre by night, they are ready to give up their kingdom to Rumpelstiltskin, the preeminent double-dealer of his world - when word comes that Fiona has been rescued. So - no deal, which leaves Rumpel frustrated at having come so close but still failing to take over Far Far Away (not to be confused with Far Rockaway).
Cut to the present, where Shrek and Fiona live in domesticated bliss in Shrek's swamp. They have three baby ogres and a normal life; Shrek is no longer feared but has become something of a tourist attraction. Indeed, his life is so tame that he's feeling hemmed in, cooped up and otherwise trapped.
It's so bad that he blows up in the midst of his kids' birthday party and storms out, grumbling that he wishes things could go back to the way they used to be, when he was a feared denizen of the forest. And there, ready to make his wish come true, is a down-on-his-luck Rumpelstiltskin.