A mediocre Shrek movie is still better than the vast majority of films out there. That’s not to say Shrek Forever After isn’t good. It is, and then some. But (like Shrek the Third and most of Shrek 2) it’s just not up to the high standard set by the first one.

Plus, a funny thing happened on the way to the big screen. The Shrek franchise went from being laugh-out-loud comedy to more dramatic and (dare I say?) even a little romantic.

All of the gang is back, and they all do a bang-up job. Shrek (Mike Myers), Fiona (Cameron Diaz), Donkey (Eddie Murphy), and Puss (Antonio Banderas) haven’t missed a beat since we first saw them nine years ago. Essentially the only new character this go-round is Rumpelstiltskin (voiced by animator and writer Walt Dohrn). Jane Lynch (Glee), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), and Craig Robinson (The Office) all play minor roles, with ‘minor’ being the operative word.

The movie opens with Shrek tiring of his domestic existence (as shown in a great opening montage). He finally snaps and declares that he wants to go back to being a ‘real’ ogre, even if it’s just for one day. Rumpelstiltskin (still harboring a deep resentment for Shrek… long story) overhears, and, since we all know he’s so tricky, talks Shrek into signing a contract that grants his wish.

But Shrek didn’t read the fine print, and he’s transported to an alternate universe where he never even existed. To undo the spell he needs true love’s kiss before sunrise, but since Fiona has no idea who he is, that proves tricky.

What follows is a mash-up of Beauty and the Beast and It’s a Wonderful Life, with plenty of drama, action, and excitement.

What’s lacking is the funny.

Yes, there are some very funny moments (If you don’t laugh out loud when Donkey does his eyeball trick, seek help… and Puss will make you crack up every time you see him), but by and large it’s not the laugh-a-minute riot that we’ve come to expect. Instead, the laughs have been replaced by heart, character, and drama– none of which are bad things, by the way… they just seem a little out of place in a ‘kids’ movie about a monster who relishes his burps and enjoys drinking eyeball-tinis.

Also missing is the heavy dose of pop culture references that helped make the first movies so enjoyable for adults. There are still a few well-paced pop tunes, but Shrek seems to have lost most of his wit somewhere along the way, too.

One last note: the 3D is very much worth it. Since Shrek Forever After was conceived as a 3D movie (and not just converted after-the-fact), there’s plenty of eye candy, including some pretty slick flying sequences.

In Shrek-dom, the fourth (and final) installment sits somewhere between the second and third in terms of entertainment. The best news, though, is that the franchise will continue with a Puss in Boots movie next year. Now that should be funny.

3/5 stars