In “Shrek Forever After,” the title ogre is feeling claustrophobic in his own life — the daily domestic scene makes him long for the days when he was free to terrorize the countryside and skirmish with the torch-and-pitchfork crowd. There’s a spot in the movie were a creepy little kid sourly demands that the simmering Shrek perform his trademark bellow. “Do the roar,” the crabby tot says, giving us the movie’s catchphrase.
Now, here in Hollywood, the question is whether the movie monster can still roar at all.
I took the family to see “Shrek Forever After” in IMAX 3D on Sunday at The Bridge and it was big-time in every way — big with the massive IMAX screen, big with the crisp thunder of the sound system and, best of all, big with the familiar stars rediscovering the franchise’s comedy mojo.
The opening-weekend crowd (which happened to include Geena Davis and her family, much to the delight of my “Beetlejuice“-loving kids) was enthusiastic for the movie — they laughed, cheered and some even clapped for the finale sequence when (literally) the book was closed on the fractured fairy-tale. But I also noticed a lot of empty seats.
Those empty seats weren’t just at The Bridge. The fourth and final “Shrek” film brought in a disappointing $70.8 million and its number of opening-weekend ticket-buyers was more than 50% smaller than the turnout for “Shrek the Third“ in 2007. The green ogre’s box-office performance left DreamWorks and Paramount feeling blue — and triggered a red alert on Wall Street; DreamWorks Animation shares dropped 10% to $31.31 in Monday morning trading after investors didn’t get the monster hit they anticipated.
Why did the film underperform? I’d point to “Shrek the Third,” which made a lot of money ($798 million in worldwide box office) but was a fairly shrill and brittle moviegoing experience — I think even the most die-hard fans of the franchise walked out of that one thinking they didn’t really need a fourth visit to the Land of Far, Far Away. I know I wasn’t wildly excited about sitting down in the dark again with Shrek, Fiona and Donkey.
And then consider the prices of movies now, especially 3D and IMAX. At The Bridge, for instance, it’s $14.50 for adults and $13.50 for kids to see “Shrek Forever” on the biggest screen and while the 3D and image were powerful stuff, that’s probably a deal-breaker for any parent who still has “Shrek” fatigue from the last movie.
The latest numbers, as Patrick Goldstein writes at The Big Picture, suggest that moviegoers are doing some careful calculus these days — if a movie feels like a true visual event, such as an “Avatar” or “Alice in Wonderland,” they’ll go all-in for the pricey but more immersing version of the film. But as they did with “Shrek,” if they are skeptical they take the cheaper 2D route and save their money for the snack counter.
But hope lives for “Shrek Forever,” just like in the film’s plot, which is a moat-and-dragon version of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The movie got an “A” from the market-research gurus of CinemaScore, and while the reviews have been mixed on summer blockbusters like this, moviegoers trust their friends, not the film-school crowd. DreamWorks is hoping that word of mouth will give this movie a second wind, just as it did for their recent release, “How to Train Your Dragon,” which is now sits among the top-grossing films of the year.
Time will tell if Shrek gets the last laugh — or, even better, one more roar.
– Geoff Boucher
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CREDITS: Top, a scene from “Shrek Forever” (DreamWorks/Paramount) Second, Mike Myers and his green alter ego at the May 20 star ceremony on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images) Bottom, Shrek (Mike Myers) and Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and a stack of waffles (DreamWorks/Paramount)
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