Shrek The Third Review
It all started in 1995. Up until then animated films seemed to be on a downward spiral. Disney managed to stop the rot for a while with “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast”, the latter even garnering a best film Oscar nod, but “Pocahontas” made sure that the genre continued the slide into obscurity. Then something incredible happened. Disney teamed up with the Pixar Studio and together they unleashed Toy Story on an unsuspecting public. It was like the shift from black and white to colour, and audiences were stunned. The CGI animation was astounding, and coupled to a story that both adults and kids could relate to, along with great writing and genuinely funny jokes a new generation of animation was born.
Since then we have become rather complacent about computer animated movies. We are no longer astounded by the realism that we see on screen, we have now come to expect it and with this complacency the adult audience has come to expect better stories, jokes and characters. And this is where Shrek has started to fail us. The first movie was a breath of fresh air, irreverent, rude, and funny with enough pop culture references to keep the adults laughing while the kids were enthralled by the cute characters. Add to that almost perfect voice casting and Dreamworks had a $300m hit and a franchise on their hands. Shrek 2 followed in 2004 and box office tills were ringing even more than for the first. Fast forward to 2007 and Shrek the Third hits our multiplex screens, and the law of diminishing returns starts to kick in.
Let’s get the story out of the way first. The King of Far Far Away is on his death bed (in frog form as he was at the end of the previous film) and Shrek and Fiona are doing their best to learn their royal duties before the king croaks (pun intentional). However, Shrek would rather be back in his beloved swamp, so when he learns that there is an heir to the throne that no one else seemed to know about he sets off with Donkey and Puss to bring the rightful heir home. While they are away the dastardly Prince Charming attempts a coup, with the help of every fairytale villain you can think of, which Princess Fiona has to thwart, with the help of her mother, Rumplestiltskin, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. That, in a nutshell, is it. Not that a lack of intricate storyline is anything to complain about in a kids film, after all some of the best kids movies ever made had gossamer thin plot lines. What is unforgivable is what the writers have woven around their basic premise. After all, 6 people are credited with script duties so you would think that the least they would be able to manage would be a high joke quota.
It all starts rather well, with Shrek and Fiona doing a great Laurel and Hardy routine as they try to learn Royal protocol and almost wreck the castle in the process. It’s in these early scenes that the animation is at its most impressive and the jokes at their most “laugh out loud” funny. A stand out scene being the gingerbread man’s life flashing before his eyes, which will probably be lost on the younger audience, but for the adults it’s a real hoot. So for the first half hour our hopes are raised to the ceiling as the laughs come thick and fast and we remember just why we love these characters. Then the King dies! Now deathbed scenes aren’t that common in kid’s movies, so quite how they will react to this prolonged death is anybody’s guess, although it does give rise to the biggest laugh in the film as a chorus of frogs serenade the dead King with a rendition of “Live and Let Die” (once again, a joke that most under 20’s just wont get) Unfortunately, when the King dies so do most of the jokes. The rest of the film is split between the search for the new heir (Arthur) and Fiona’s battle with Prince Charming.
Disappointment piles upon disappointment for the remainder of the running time. Arthur turns out to be a college wimp, voiced by Justin Timberlake, who you wouldn’t trust to run a school fete, let alone a country. Prince Charming is even blander than in the previous film, and who’s only goal seems to be celebrity, and his villain henchmen don’t inspire the fear that villains in Disney films of old used to. (Lets face it; Cruella DeVille gave even grown men the willies!) Add to that Fiona doing a third rate Charlie’s Angels routine, and Eric Idle squandering his opportunity to inject Merlin with a little magic and you have an all round disappointment. But I have saved the films greatest crime until last. Of all the characters in the previous films, the two loved most by audiences and with the best lines were Puss and Donkey. So why, in the name Pixar, would the film makers decide to sideline the two of them and give them nothing to do. It’s a waste of great voice casting, and to show that they are both irrelevant to the plot and basically interchangeable the writers decide to do just that half way through, as they swap bodies and we barely notice.
Of course there is good stuff here. The Dragon/Donkey babies are very cute (thankfully we are not shown how they were conceived), Shrek’s parenting nightmare is a marvel of animation and includes a reference to the Exorcist which I don’t think has cropped up in a kids film before, but more than anything this Shrek will be remembered for what wasn’t in it rather than what was. Where were all the pop culture references, the funny street signs (Versarchery is the only one I remember) and the quick fire jokes we remember from the first two films?
In the end though this is a kid’s film, and for all my adult moaning the little ones will love it. Whether they love it as much as the other two remains to be seen, but I will bet that when the inevitable 3 DVD box set hits the shelves at Christmas, part 3 will be the one gathering dust on our shelves.