In 2001, an unlikely animated hero won over film audiences worldwide: a grumpy, green ogre who, it turns out, has a heart of gold. Now, almost a decade and three sequels later, the final chapter comes to theaters in "Shrek Forever After."
"Then Shrek kissed the princess. She turned into a beautiful ogre and they lived ?"
Once upon a time there was a fearsome ogre whose roar terrorized the magical land of Far Far Away. Then, aided by his faithful friends Donkey (a talking donkey, of course) and the swashbuckling, debonair Puss-In-Boots, he rescued Princess Fiona from the fire-breathing dragon. He and Fiona married, had three baby ogres and settled down to their fairy tale life; but for Shrek, the ordinary life of taking out the trash, cooking dinners and changing diapers soon has him longing for the adventures he once had.
"Sometimes I wish I had just one day to feel like a real ogre again."
"Well, why didn't you say so? Just sign it and all your problems will disappear."
The treacherous Rumplestiltskin tricks our hero into signing away his life ?literally. By stealing the day Shrek was born, the conniving elf (in his plot to take over the kingdom) leaves the ogre to deal with a world in which he never existed.
Best friend Donkey has no idea who the big green guy is; and neither does comrade-in-arms Puss-in-Boots.
Shrek finds the fearless feline has grown too large to swashbuckle ?or, for that matter, to buckle his belt.
"Where is your hat? Your belt? Your wee little boots?"
"Boots? For a cat? Ha!?"
"But you are Puss in Boots."
"Maybe once, but that is a name I have outgrown."
"That's not the only thing you've outgrown."
Worst of all, to his beloved Fiona, he is a complete stranger.
Shrek sets out to win her heart again and get back his wonderful life. In fact, director Mike Mitchell acknowledges that the 1946 sentimental classic "It's A Wonderful Life" is a main inspiration for "Shrek Forever After."
"We really wanted to go out emotionally and have people walk away with the feeling [that] maybe there is no such thing as 'happily ever after,' but even with all of its flaws, life is really great," he said. "We certainly didn't want to make fun of "It's a Wonderful Life." Even though it would be easy and it is ripe for the picking, we wanted to be more of an homage to that type of storytelling because I think it has a really powerful message. So we lean more toward the message than doing a Shrek parody of it."
In this alternate version of their life, Fiona has gone from housewife to heroine as leader of the ogre resistance fighters.
Cameron Diaz, who returns as voice of Fiona, says the character would do that.
"Fiona has always been a warrior. I've always seen her as that: a warrior of love," she said. "Through all of these films what she has worked for and fought for is the love that she has for herself and for Shrek, her family and friends. So she has always been a warrior. It is just in a different tone for this film. I think that is part of her nature and it has given her all the things in her life that she values."
Mike Myers again puts on his faux Scottish accent to play Shrek for this fourth (and, they say, final) time; and the Canadian-born comedian-actor calls it one of the most satisfying roles of his career:
"The first time I saw it with an audience, the line 'but you are beautiful to me' got a gasp from the crowd who were so into the romance and the heart of it," he said. "I was just blown away that an animated movie could move people and it was something people would be invested in emotionally. I think that has been the most satisfying thing for me."
Antonio Banderas, the voice of Puss-in-Boots, marvels at how - from America to his native Spain and around the world - the Shrek characters have become part of the culture.
"The four movies of Shrek, sometimes even playing against pop culture, became pop culture itself," he said. "I was in New York this year watching the Thanksgiving parade and here it was: a big balloon of Shrek just crossing in front of my window and behind him was Mickey Mouse. So it is part of American pop culture right now."
Eddie Murphy is the voice of Donkey. Artist and writer Walter Dohrn plays the villain, Rumplestiltskin; and there are cameos by a wide range of actors and broadcast personalities from interviewer Larry King to American Idol emcee Ryan Seacrest; Jon Hamm of the acclaimed TV series "Mad Men" to Oscar-winner Julie Andrews.