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Shrek Forever After: Is this really the last one?

'Shrek Forever After,' the final installment, takes a page from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ with a painful look at what things would have been like if the ogre had never been born.

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Fiona, voiced by Cameron Diaz, left, and Shrek, voiced by Mike Myers, right, are shown in a scene from, 'Shrek Forever After.'

DreamWorks Animation / Paramount Pictures / AP

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Shrek Forever After,” in 3-D, is being billed as the fourth and final installment in the “Shrek” franchise. I’ll believe it when I see it. The only thing that spells finality in Hollywood is bad box-office.

Unlike the last “Shrek” outing, which was replete with crass product tie-ins and sour inside-Hollywood gags, this new film is relatively chaste. Its plot is lifted from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and there are worse sources to pilfer. But it has a sweetness all its own, and, given the corporate pressures to turn this film into a marketeer’s cash register, that’s a neat accomplishment.

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Shrek (voiced as usual by Mike Myers) has a loving wife and family and friends. He should be happy but domesticity has dulled his ogreish edge. Nobody is scared of him any more. To spice things up, he makes a misbegotten deal with the ultra-bad Rumpelstiltskin (a very fine Walt Dohrn, also the film’s head of story) and gets to see what things would be like if he had never been born and his wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz) had never had the curse lifted from her. (She’s become a leather-clad warrior leader dedicated to overthrowing Rumpelstiltskin.) Donkey (Eddie Murphy) doesn’t recognize Shrek; worse, Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) has become fat and lazy.

I don’t entirely buy Shrek and Fiona as lovers for the ages. I’ve always thought Fiona was a bit too blah for Shrek. As a resistance warrior, she’s much livelier than usual, so it’s a comedown when she inevitably winds up once again as a peachy-keen wifey wife. Goodness in animation films, as in live-action ones, is too often equated with boringness.

But Shrek goes through a painful lot in this film, and if dull domesticity is his prize, so be it. No doubt nefarious developments are in the offing to keep him on his clompy toes. Did you honestly believe this was the end of the franchise?

Grade: B+ (Rated PG for mild action, some rude humor, and brief language.)

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