Several years ago, when "feature-length CGI features" were just getting big, I went to one of my very first press screenings and saw a film (that I loved) called Shrek. I distinctly remember enjoying the flick's off-kilter interpretation of the fairy tale characters we all know and love, the zippy pace and beautiful animation, the slightly snarky and admirably subversive sense of humor. Years later I revisited the film and realized I hadn't just been taken in by the gimmick (and my newbie film critic status) -- I absolutely and sincerely believe that Shrek is a modern classic among animated features.

And then the sequels came. Shrek 2 (2004) borrowed the Guess Who's Coming to Dinner hook where Princess Fiona's disapproving parents were forced to deal with the blustery ogre Shrek; in Shrek the Third (2007) we got a slight concept, a small amount of chuckles, and a rather uninteresting King Arthur subplot. This summer we're promised "the final chapter" in Shrek Forever After, and while Part 4 is certainly an improvement over its predecessor ... well, I guess I should stop expecting these sequels to recapture the magic of the original Shrek. The filmmakers certainly don't seem to think it's a priority.

For some bizarre reason, the Shrek Forever After screenwriters thought that the best way to end this monumentally popular series would be to deliver ... the It's a Wonderful Life concept. Employed countless times in sitcoms and cartoons, this is the pitch in which our main character says something to the effect of "Oh, I wish I was never born!" and {poof!} we're off to see how Shrek's world would look if he'd never met up with Donkey, Fiona, Puss in Boots, Gingy, Pinocchio, and all the other freaky fairy tale characters. So instead of one final adventure with all these colorful characters, we're offered an "alternate reality" Shrek who must reacquaint himself with all his old pals. Weird.