Shrek the Third (2007)Rated PG for some crude humor, suggestive content and swashbuckling action.
Starring the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, John Cleese, Rupert Everett, Eric Idle, Justin Timberlake.
LVJeff's Rating: 5/10
Photo ©DreamWorks Animation. All rights reserved.
Shrek Settles Down
My stance on the Shrek movies has always been a split one: I've found them delightfully entertaining while watching them, only to have their merits fade in hindsight. Regarding the first movie, part of the reason for this reaction came from my general disdain for attack humor -- for a film that was about accepting those who were different and highlighting those differences, it had an unusually mean streak to it. So why was I laughing at all? Blame it on clever writing -- attack humor done well makes for some of the funniest comedic material.
The second outing thankfully shifted away from the meanness, yet retained the sharp comedy writing. But, as the trend of shedding elements from the first film continues, Shrek the Third is the one to suffer most. The punch has gone out of the ogre. Now about as irreverent as a trained puppy, the movie greatly needs inventiveness from other quarters for support. However, the writing in both the humor and the story are only par this time.
I think it's important to make the distinction that this third movie isn't doing much more than fulfilling modest expectations. It has its funny moments, but the tone is otherwise one of genial charm and amusement. The story is one of a natural development -- Shrek has become heir to the kingdom of Far Far Away, but, finding the duty at odds with his ogre lifestyle, he goes out to seek a replacement; meanwhile, he frets over impending fatherhood -- but it offers little in the way of surprise. The movie contains several subplots, each with its own theme to explore, but juggles them lightly without developing any of them beyond a perfunctory level.
In other words, Shrek the Third tackles the presentation of a sequel without much evidence of the enthusiasm behind the previous two movies. This void can be seen in the nuts-and-bolts elements of the movie, starting with the voice/character acting -- a friend stated that it's hard to imagine animated characters phoning it in, but that's the feeling we got here. As the series progresses, we get the idea that domesticity and being accustomed to the wackiness of sidekicks like Donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy) and Puss In Boots (voiced by Antonio Banderas) has worn Shrek down to a harmless variety of grumpy, which can be felt even in Mike Myers's voice delivery. He takes those sidekicks in tow for his little mini adventure, but for as much as they get to do on the trip, he might as well have gone himself.
The movie hits a creative low point early when it decides to make fun of -- of all things -- high school, using every high school joke (cheerleaders, jocks, and nerds) we've seen somewhere else before. Faring better is the drama back at the castle, where Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz) and her princess friends try their best to resist an invasion led by Prince Charming (voiced by Rupert Everett). There's stronger thematic material here, featuring women who refuse to be passive damsels-in-distress, and an army of villains who lash out only because they've been misunderstood and have been dealt some bad hands in life (the only exception being Charming himself, who, for some reason, is just plain irredeemable).
So there are some highlights and some lowlights, and in the end they all even out, but because the first two movies were so much more fun, the feeling of being underwhelmed overshadows Shrek the Third. Without a desire to gleefully offend, and its comedy of expectation reversals now predictable, it carries that safe and settled whiff of trademarked franchise. There's less to get excited about, and just as little to get worked up over. OK, well, I do admit being a little miffed that my favorite character, Puss In Boots, wasn't called on to do much of anything. I heard rumors he might receive his own spin-off movie. Now that's a good idea -- leave Shrek to his happily ever after, and give Banderas's swashbucking feline the spotlight. He can be a hero, and have an adventure with kings and paupers and perhaps a lovely lady cat. Maybe that'll put some zip back in the series.
©Jeffrey Chen, May 12, 2007