Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"Shrek the Third" -- * *



When the first “Shrek” opened in theaters six long years ago, it was universally embraced (myself included) as a breath of fresh air. Yes, it was made by a massive studio, but it had such a sense of wit and originality, sweetness without being cloying, and even had the gall to mock Disney and other animated movies. It was the rare (if not only) animated film that earned the title of ‘satire.’ “Shrek 2” didn’t reach the heights of “Shrek,” and much of the genuine sweetness had seeped out, but it was still consistently hilarious and had lots of big, fun set-pieces (the giant gingerbread man comes to mind) to make up for whatever was lost. Now, by the time we’ve reached “Shrek the Third,” the series has reached the sort of uninspired mediocrity it had previously thumbed its nose at.

The movie starts out with Shrek (Mike Myers) living in the castle with his in-laws and planning to return with Fiona (Cameron Diaz) when his father-in-law, the frog king (John Cleese) of Far Far Away dies (in the only gag in the movie to make me laugh out loud). With the king dead, Shrek is now the heir to the throne; eager to avoid this fate at all costs, Shrek gathers with his good friends Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderes—given much less to do this time around, but still the highlight of the film) and embarks on a journey to find the long-last heir Artie, or Arthur (voiced horribly by Justin Timberlake). All the while, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) wants to claim the throne as his own and will do whatever he can to do so.

The chief problem with “Shrek the Third” is that it’s just fucking lazy. As much as I despised “Spider-Man 3,” that at least was making a real effort at something. This just comes off as an average straight-to-video Disney sequel that happens to be voiced by a big celebrity cast; this is not what the “Shrek” films are supposed to be. “Shrek the Third” only occasionally has moments of what can be called ‘wit,’ and rarely has forced moments of “adult” humor (e.g.: Puss tells Shrek “You, my friend, are royally fucked,” with “fucked” bleeped out by a foghorn).

Its makers apparently think that what people loved about the first two “Shreks” were its vomiting and flatulence gags, since we get plenty of them here. The rare bright spots there are tend to belong to Snow White, Rapunzel, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty (Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Amy Sedaris and Cheri Oteri) as the anti-damsels-in-distress. But even here, the fun/humor lies in the voicework, not the script.

“Shrek the Third” also chooses to forget everything cool about Shrek and Fiona, most notably their fighting skills. When faced with bad guys, Fiona runs and hides (far from the Matrix kung-fu we’ve witnessed her do) and Shrek is easily captured by Charming’s few henchmen.

The ending is certainly the lamest offense of all. While “Shrek” ended with a moving moment of Fiona’s transformation into “beautiful” Fiona leading into a group sing-along of “I’m a Believer,” and “Shrek 2” concluded on the giant gingerbread man attack and Shrek defeating the evil fairy godmother while she sang “I Need a Hero,” this one ends on a big speech decrying that bad guys aren’t really bad, they’re just misunderstood. Yes, a multi-hundred-million dollar animated blockbuster decided to devote its resources to ending on a long sequence of a character giving a speech. Apparently, the filmmakers realized they’ve ended on a lackluster note, we’re “treated” to a tacked-on musical number over the end credits (our leads sing “Thank You for Letting Me Be Myself”).

The culprit is without a doubt the script; it's borderline terrible with only the rare moments of successful comedy to remind us of the good ole days. What keeps it afloat is the voicework and the predictably beautiful animation. Thanks to these elements, this is not a grandiose “Spider-Man 3” or “Pirates 2” failure, it’s just a mediocre disappointment, especially for a franchise that had so much warmth, hilarity and originality coursing through its veins till now.


[Note: While writing this review, I’ve been watching “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” to prep me for the third one opening next week. I’d almost forgotten how fucking dreadful this movie is in every respect. I am NOT looking forward to “At World’s End.”]

2 Comments:

Anonymous Will said...

Good review. I couldn't have put it better. All my friends thought this was a good movie.

They were wrong. I kept trying to tell them how bad it was, but they wouldn't believe me. You're absolutely right about it being nothing more than "lazy." It seemed like musical bits were only thrown in because they were popular songs. Just because I recognize a song in a movie, it doesn't mean there's a reason for it being there.

Anyway, good writin'.

4:40 PM  
Blogger Mary Witzl said...

I wish I could disagree with you; I loved the first Shrek too -- and I thought the second one was good as well. But I've just been to see the last one with my family, and I too felt as though form won out over content. I still laughed, but not the genuine belly laughs that the first Shrek inspired. The best part of the movie was the switch between the donkey and Puss in Boots and the easy, throw-away humor that this resulted in. And yes, the animation was superb, and I liked the last scenes with the babies. But I am beginning to think that perhaps they should have quit when they were ahead, after Shrek II.

And I felt the same way about the last Pirates of the Caribbean, only more so. Too much of a good thing and not enough cohesion.

6:24 PM  

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