Friday, October 22, 2010

Shrek the Third Movie Review

Watching Shrek the Third is like watching the slow painful on-stage death of a once funny comedian who trying again and again to capitalize on the jokes that made him famous as a fresh talent. What a tragedy it is to watch a franchise gasp its dying breaths (of creativity, that is, because the film made boatloads of money at the box office) after such a charming and witty first chapter and a successful first sequel.

Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz still voice the big green titular ogre and his big green ogress wife, Fiona. Also returning to old roles and stale characters are Eddie Murphy as Shrek’s best friend, Donkey, and Antonio Banderas as the swashbuckling Puss ‘n Boots. Fiona’s father, the King (John Cleese) is on his deathbed, which leaves Shrek as next in line for the throne. He’s reluctant to take the job and so goes to seek a distant family member, Arthur (Justin Timberlake), who follows in the line of succession.

Shrek sets off with his two trusty companions, but not before Fiona announces that she’s expecting a little mini-Shrek (eliciting nightmares of swarming baby ogres and massive projectile vomiting). Arthur is found to be the biggest loser in his high school, the subject of ridicule even by the headgear-wearing D&D players.

Meanwhile, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett, deliciously reprising his villainous role) grows tired of being a Far Far Away outcast and so rounds up all the fairy tale villains to take back the land and stake a claim for their happily ever afters.

Maybe it’s the absence of Andrew Adamson from the creative team (except for a story credit) behind the film. He left off directing responsibilities to Chris Miller (a writer on the first two films) and co-director Raman Hui (an animator). Miller also contributes to this screenplay along with Jeffrey Price and Peter Seaman (co-writers of the dreadful How the Grinch Stole Christmas). Then again, maybe it’s just that the steam has run out and the jokes run dry.

Whereas the first film was loaded with subversive wit, skewering the Disney empire’s stranglehold on fairy tale animation and turning many of our beloved stories on their heads and exposing well-known characters for their hidden vices (Gepetto trying to sell Pinocchio was classic), this third installment is full of hackneyed, cheap and obvious jokes. How much mileage can they really get out of Pinocchio’s nose giving away his lies? When Shrek sees Cyclops’ one-eyed daughter he remarks, “Oh, she’s got your…eye.” Cue huge guffaw of laughter…or not. The only thing that’s missing in the laugh department is a good kick to the crotch. Because those sight gags never get old.

There are some excellent moments in the animation rendering. The final climactic sequence involves an elaborate stage production through which Charming intends to slay Shrek. There’s a tremendous amount of production design that went into the stage settings for this sequence. Although it’s animated, someone had to dream it up and it’s truly imaginative and remarkable.

The writing and voice characterizations for the cadre of fairy tale princesses who surround Fiona – Snow White (Amy Poehler); Sleeping Beauty (Cheri Oteri); Rapunzel (Maya Rudolph); Cinderella (Amy Sedaris) – should be politely applauded, as well. They provide some chuckle inducing moments derived from their petty jealousies and simple-minded views of the world.

The second film carried on from the first in good form by turning Prince Charming, that generic icon of beauty, goodness and desirability, into a vain and conniving villain. Shrek the Third takes it a bit further by painting him as overcome with jealous rage. His recruitment of the villains, including Captain Hook (Ian McShane), begins to paint a picture of the movie’s theme, which is also the overarching theme of the whole series – that there’s nothing wrong with being different or an outsider.

You can see Shrek having pangs of melancholic recognition when Arthur laments his status as a complete social outcast and then follows an obligatory heart-to-heart chat without even a hint of irony, although it does provide a mildly amusing joke when Merlin the wizard (Eric Idle) switches on a pre-recorded bagpipe rendition of “That’s What Friends Are For” to set the mood. The gooeyness doesn’t end there. You can see it coming a mile away, but that doesn’t soften the blow any when Arthur gives a grandiose speech to the villains to convince them that you don’t need to behave a certain way just because others have given you a label. And if you’ve been keeping up until now (although you don’t need to because Artie spells it out explicitly, for the kids of course), you’ll immediately realize this applies to Shrek shaking off the ogre personality in the first film and Arthur no longer thinking himself a loser in this one. The writers probably thought they were providing a nice, warm, heartfelt and important message to the kids – one that suggests that it’s not fair to label people no matter what they’ve done. Sorry, but I don’t think it’s all that wrong for fairy tales to depict clear heroes and villains.

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