It appears that the Shrek franchise is now almost entirely intended for adult audiences, which means we get to launch into Shrek: The Mid-life Crisis! for the fourth outing. We open on a Shrek who is lamenting the loss of his peaceful, bachelor days of scaring villages and generally frolicking in the mud. It's a fairly typical and dull setup, but I'll forgive it simply because the film manages to use that pitch to create a surprisingly interesting story. Rumpelstiltskin is a competent villain, with a decent-enough plan, and the hard reset on the entire franchise that his magical mischief creates gives them plenty of room to explore these now almost too-familiar characters in a whole new light.
Fat puss was a well-managed joke that kept delivering, feisty rebel-leader Fiona gives her some needed character development, and even the Pied Piper feels like a fun addition. The opening moments in the trailer park for villains is up there with some of their best fairy-tale parody ideas, whilst getting to explore even a little of ogre culture is quite fun. Yes, there's a lot of fan service here and retreading of the first two films, but I think it largely fits.
Better still, the music is back, the humour has returned, and the new characters feel like more than quick cameos or underused ideas that came from a half-hour spitballing session. There may not be quite the standout moments of Shrek the Third, nor does this really live up to the first two films, but it's definitely the third-best of the core franchise and a welcome return to form. They've also fixed the weird animation issues of the third movie, meaning that we finally get a Shrek film which looks like modern CGI.
Overall, then, this feels like a worthy finalé to the franchise and a much better ending for these characters than what we had.