SHREK The Third will undoubtedly make tons of money, which is a shame. Despite the exquisite animation, the latest adventure of the semi-heroic ogre does not live up to expectations [unless you were expecting a very average film…].
In the land of Far Far Away, the king [John Cleese] is deathly ill and it falls to Shrek [voiced by Mike Myers] and Fiona [Cameron Diaz] are stuck ruling in his stead – much to Shrek’s growing displeasure. Finally, the worst of news comes, the king is dying. Shrek and Fiona are his heirs, but there does exist a second heir – Arthur [Justin Timberlake] who is away at school in Worcestershire. Since Shrek is lousy at kingly duties [knightings become inadvertent beheadings; ship launchings become sinkings…], he seizes on the opportunity to find and retrieve Arthur and, thereby, put him and Fiona in a position to return to their “vermin-ridden” shack in the swamp. So, Shrek, Donkey [Eddie Murphy] and Puss in Boots [Antonio Banderas] set out to find the boy who will become king in Shrek’s place. As their ship sails off, Fiona shouts important news to her husband – she’s pregnant.
With Shrek gone and the king dead, Prince Charming [Rupert Everett] persuades all the villains in the land that they are actually the victims and organizing a coup. While they overrun Far Far Away, Shrek finds Arthur, who prefers to be called Artie, and informs him of his rise to ruler – but Donkey and Puss screw things up with talk of food tasters and bodyguards. Suddenly, Artie becomes more than a little recalcitrant…
SHREK The Third looks great. The animation is near-PIXAR quality and the colors are vibrant. It’s a shame that a little more money from the animation budget wasn’t spent on punching up the really average script. Outside of a very few genuine belly laughs, the movie is a collection of clichés and tired riffs.
The good: Shrek’s attempt to connect with Artie through hip slang; the sequence where the princesses and queen decide that they have to save themselves [and Shrek] – especially the Snow White [Amy Poehler] sequence in which the music morphs from a pretty, Disneyesque tune into Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song [and the moment when the queen displays an unexpected martial talent]; the one visual gag to emerge from useless body swap plot involving Donkey and Puss, and Pinocchio’s tap dance around answering Prince Charming’s question about the whereabouts of Shrek. In short, most of the best scenes are in the trailer.
The bad: pointless appearances by the Three Blind Mice and the Gingerbread Man; the way Artie fails to see that Shrek has saved his life [no one wants a king who’s that dim!]; the parallel scenes in which Charming persuades the villains to follow him and Artie saves the day [the first works, but the second feels contrived], and pretty much everything else.
Then there’s the pacing… The first third of the film moves at an almost glacial pace. By the time things begin to pick up, interest has dwindled. Bad sign: in the screening I attended, younger kids were talking – asking questions about what was going on – when, in the first two, that same younger audience was rapt.
Overall, then, SHREK The Third is the least worthy of the trilogy. There’s [barely] enough good material to make it worth seeing [once] in the theater – and that is counting the excellence of the animation. Sadly, the film will probably make enough money to permit the making of a fourth installment. Equally sadly, there simply enough juice left in the franchise to support another film unless it is given to an entirely new creative team…