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Shrek the Third

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 05/18/07 00:35:25

"The Third Time's The Charmless"
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

When the original “Shrek” came out in 2001, it was hailed by many who saw its skewerings of the traditions of old-time fairy tales–especially the notions that all the pretty people were inherently good and all the unattractive ones were inherently bad–and contemporary animated films as a breath of fresh air. While that film may not have been as breathlessly original and thematically radical as suggested–the conceit of offering fairy tale characters making contemporary jokes had already been done brilliantly on television in Jay Ward’s “Fractured Fairy Tales,” right down to his jabs at the Disney empire, and despite all the huffing and puffing about how what is inside a person is more important than surface appearances, I seem to recall an endless number of cruel jokes directed at the vertically challenged nature of the main bad guy–it had many amusing moments, a couple of reasonably sentimental bits and, perhaps most importantly, it never quite got around to wearing out its welcome.

Although the film came to a perfectly satisfying conclusion, the fact that its worldwide box-office gross rivaled the GNP of several small countries ensured that a “Shrek 2" would be forthcoming. When that film arrived in 2004, it offered viewers little more than the genuinely witty presence of the heroic Puss in Boots to save the film from complete disposability–other than that, I confess that I cannot recall a single thing about it other than the fact that it made enough money to ensure that a third “Shrek” would also be forthcoming. That film, imaginatively titled “Shrek the Third,” has arrived and not only does it not live up to the high standards of the first film, I suspect that if I could recall the second film, it probably wouldn’t live up to that one either. This is a depressing bit of hackwork that exists solely to make a ton of money for both Dreamworks and the high-priced voice cast and even the most devoted fans of the previous installments will be hard-pressed to find much of value this time around.

As the story opens, the king of Far, Far Away (John Cleese) is dying and looks to his son-in-law, the acerbic ogre Shrek (Mike Myers getting further milage out of his Scottish brogue), and daughter Fiona (Cameron Diaz) to take over the kingdom. Alas, Shrek isn’t comfortable with the idea of being king–something about being an ogre and stuff like that–and when he learns that there is one other living relative out there, young Artie Pendragon (Justin Timberlake), he decides to set sail with faithful companions Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) to find Artie and install him as the new king. Just as he embarks on a journey designed to keep him from living up to one responsibility, Fiona drops a bombshell about another one–they will be experiencing the pitter-patter of little ogre feet before too long.

When Shrek & Co. arrive at Artie’s high school in order to bring him home, they are appalled to discover that instead of the dashing hero they were hoping for, the kid is a petulant dweeb whom even the nerds pick on with impunity. Nevertheless, Shrek convinces him that it is his duty to claim the throne and they begin the trip back to Far, Far Away. In the meantime, however, the evil Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), who has been reduced to performing in dinner theater after his initial plan to marry Fiona was thwarted by Shrek, has heard about the death of the king and enlists other storybook villains who have been similarly cast aside to stage a palace coup that leaves him in charge and free to plot the final demise of his arch-nemesis once and for all in front of the entire kingdom.

“Shrek the Third” contains all of the elements that audiences have come to expect from the previous films as well as such similar projects as “Hoodwinked,” “Happily N’Ever After” and the thoroughly underrated “Ella Enchanted”–contemporary pop-culture references, celebrity voice cameos and a soundtrack filled with current pop stars doing covers of familiar tunes (of which the most egregious must be Fergie’s inexplicable take on Heart’s “Barracuda”)–and that is a big part of the problem this time around. Whatever freshness that once existed has long since evaporated and instead of trying to come up with anything new, the makers are content to simply go through the motions. The jokes have become increasingly self-satisfied–the writers have now become convinced that all they have to do to score a laugh at this point is to simply make a reference to something contemporary–and when the rare bits of actual inspiration comes along (such as the moment in which a terrified gingerbread man sees his life flash before his eyes), they come as such a blessed relief amidst all the mediocrity that they earn bigger laughs than they probably deserve. The voice performances are equally lazy–aside from the contributions from Antonio Banderas, whose hilariously suave line readings once again steal the show, everyone else is clearly going through the motions with such a lack of enthusiasm that they make Krusty the Klown seem like a tireless workhorse by comparison.

This lack of imagination is especially distressing when you consider the fact that this is an animated film in which virtually anything is possible and yet no one involved apparently had the nerve to shake things up even though it was that very attitude that attracted people to the original film in the first place. Instead, they offer up storylines involving Shrek’s unwillingness to become king and his fears of impending parenthood–two subjects that I suspect that most of the kids in the audience will find less than compelling. I’m not saying that weaving more adult-oriented plotlines into a kid-oriented movie to attract older viewers is necessarily a bad idea–one of the reasons that most of the Pixar movies have worked so well is the way that they effortlessly blend deeper thematic material with the colorful silliness–but here, those elements are just clumsily plopped down and never really dealt with in any significant way. For example, we get a scene in which Shrek has a nightmare in which he is overrun by hordes of adorably icky infant ogres–it sounds like a promising idea in theory but so little is done with it that as the sequence goes on, you get the sense that it has only been included so that Dreamworks could create a new line of infant ogre toys to sell.

Okay, so the grumpy old critic has found “Shrek the Third” to be an uninspired bore that almost makes “Spider-Man 3" look like a font of creativity by comparison. Big deal–how will the young audiences that it is clearly aimed at respond to it. Well, little kids–those who haven’t yet hit the big 1-0, for example–will probably like it enough–it is bright and colorful and noisy enough to more or less hold their attention for 90 minutes. Older and smarter kids, on the other hand, will probably grow a little restless with it once they realize that there is nothing in it that they haven’t already seen done far better before. The smartest kids will probably wind up asking why the king didn’t simply have Fiona, his daughter and the person who is actually next in line for the throne, become the queen of Far, Far Away and bring the whole film to a merciful halt 80 minutes earlier.

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