Let 3D ‘Shrek’ be ogre’s final outing

Seeing an ogre in 3-D has never been on my bucket list, but that didn’t stop the “Shrek” team from jumping on the latest wave of the visual fad. Yes, folks, it’s a Shrek so close you can almost smell him.

See what I mean? Not a selling point. Nevertheless, “Shrek Forever After” tries to pump a little life into the animated franchise (originally based on William Steig’s fairy tale book), with installment No. 4.

This sequel must be counted a slight improvement over the previous “Shrek the Third,” and it does have a rather ingenious story line. This is an “alternate reality” Shrek tale.

We find the lovable ogre (voiced, as ever, by Mike Myers) missing his life as a bachelor ogre — before marrying Fiona (Cameron Diaz), before having kids, before becoming thoroughly domesticated.

In a weak moment with the sorcerer Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), Shrek enters a bargain that will allow him to enjoy one day of ogre-ness. Alas, in “It’s a Wonderful Life” fashion, he finds himself living in a nightmare version of his old life.

In the funniest variation on this new reality, the formerly preening Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) has become a tubby house cat. Donkey (Eddie Murphy), though much abused in the topsy-turvy world, is still irrepressible, and Fiona has become a warrior-queen of the ogre nation.

The lesson? Don’t trust Rumpelstiltskin. The diminutive villain, who strongly resembles a troll doll when he puts on his orange fright wig, makes for an amusingly screechy bad guy.

The self-contained nature of the plot means that director Mike Mitchell (“Sky High”) doesn’t have to laboriously tie up all the story threads from before, which seems to free up the movie.

And, a real plus, this fourth “Shrek” doesn’t lean as heavily on 21st-century pop-culture gags for so many jokes, although there are still a few too many hit songs infiltrating the soundtrack.

Which leaves us with the 3-D. “Shrek Forever After” scores points for having fun with the process, but not depending on it for its impact.

Given Shrek’s tendency to extract his own ear wax, this restraint is clearly a good thing. And occasionally — the sight of witches flying through the night sky, for instance—the movie becomes a cool visual treat.

If this really is the final chapter in the “Shrek” series, it’s a spirited enough way to go out — and I say that as someone who never really warmed up to the franchise in the first place. But it might go in another direction: A “Puss in Boots” vehicle is being planned — and with Antonio Banderas such a lively voice actor, that might be a great idea.

“Shrek Forever After” ½

Advertised as the final chapter in the saga of the big green ogre, this one has Shrek entering a bargain with the wily sorcerer Rumpelstiltskin and entering a nightmare reality, a la “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The story line is clever enough and the movie’s a slight improvement over the previous installment, but it’s probably time for Shrek to hang it up. In 3-D in most theaters.

Rated: PG for subject matter

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre, Edmonds, Everett, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Olympic, Stanwood, Meridian, Metro, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Blue Fox, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor

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