Side by side, the four Shrek films look like the stages of man. You have Shrek as ogre, Shrek as husband, Shrek as daddy, and now, Shrek as George Bailey. This bracing last installment redeems the franchise from the potty joke mire of Shrek the Third with a plot that some parents will deem too dark for children, forgetting all the wicked joy they took from Labyrinth. At stake is the existence of Shrek’s three babies and the ogre himself (Mike Myers)—in a fit, he’s signed away the day he was born in a foul deal with Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn). Director Mike Mitchell loves burping ogre tots, but he doesn’t shy away from the idea that a parent might wish their kids would vanish, at least for a while. Shrek’s child-less alternate universe is barren and cruel. Ogres are being persecuted by Rumpelstiltskin’s witch minions and Eddie Murphy’s Donkey is their slave. As ever, the best lines belong to Murphy and Antonio Banderas’ Puss in Boots—as Shrek’s gotten domesticated, he’s gotten dull—but surprisingly, the heart of the story belongs to Cameron Diaz’s Fiona. Without her rescuer, she’s “rescued herself” and storms around like a bitter ogre warrior princess who thinks love is a fairy tale. Make no mistake: her story arc isn’t astonishingly deep, but she’s at least given a sincere shake, and daughters could do worse than to see a powerful female character owning her own destiny. Shrek the Final Chapter drags at the beginning, rushes at the end and yet I spent most of the running time rooting for it to succeed. I could do without the witches breakdancing to the Beastie Boys, and I could definitely do without a fifth ogre navel-gazer, but the DreamWorks team has bought back enough good will that I’ll check back in with the clan when the Puss in Boots spinoff springs into theaters next year.