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Dreamworks Animation Llc.
"Shrek Forever After."

SHREK FOREVER AFTER — ★★ — Animated feature starring the voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz and others; shown in both the 2-D and 3-D formats (also 3-D IMAX); rated PG (vulgarity, violence, slurs, brief drugs); in general release

All "Shrek Forever After" really has to do to be successful is place the emphasis back on the characters and story and cut back on the potty humor — something its predecessor, "Shrek the Third," seemed reluctant to do.

Unfortunately, this animated fantasy sequel, which is allegedly the final film in the ultra-successful series, barely manages to accomplish that.

Somewhere along the lines, the folks behind these big-screen cartoons forgot that the really appealing parts were the fairy tale spoofs, the Hollywood-centric references and the character-driven moments.

Where this particular film is really lacking is the humor, though. With the exception of the third film, this is the least funny of the bunch.

In this installment, the title character (again voiced by Mike Myers) is experiencing both the joys and the pains of fatherhood and married life.

What he desperately wants and needs is some time to himself. He wants some time to be a "real" ogre.

Shrek gets that chance when the evil warlock Rumpelstiltskin (the voice of Walt Dohrn) offers him the chance to live a day without family or other supposed "complications."

As you might guess, it's an offer that's too good to be true. And a horrified Shrek awakens in a reality in which Rumpelstiltskin now rules the kingdom of Far Far Away, and ogres are Public Enemy No. 1.

He also discovers that Fiona (Cameron Diaz) is leading the ogre resistance army and that she has no memory of him or their life together.

So he has to find a way to return things to normal. There's an "escape clause" in the magic contract that renders it null and void if Shrek can get a "true love's kiss" from Fiona. But to do that, he'll need help from his old friends Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas). And unfortunately, they don't know him, either.

The whole thing feels listless and uninspired, and the outcome is painfully predictable. Worse, the animation quality has not appreciably gotten better since "Shrek," which looked pretty crude at the time.

(The 3-D version of this film certainly isn't any more spectacular than the 2-D one, and it doesn't justify the extra cost.)

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Also, there are a lot of funny and talented people in the voice cast, few of whom have anything to do. John Cleese and Julie Andrews, who return as the voices of Fiona's royal parents, are an afterthought.

"Shrek Forever After" is rated PG and features crude humor and references (scatological and flatulence humor), some off-color language (innuendo and some suggestive talk), animated violent content (creature attacks, sword play and arrow fire, brawling, fiery and explosive mayhem, and violence against women, as well as some slapstick), derogatory language and slurs, and brief drug content (toxic gases). Running time: 93 minutes.

e-mail: jeff@desnews.com