A film review by Craig J. Koban
SHREK THE THIRD
2007, PG, 85 mins.
Featuring the voices of:
The first two SHREK features and – to a bit of a lesser degree – SHREK THE THIRD were a rare breed of animated film in the sense of their wicked subversiveness.
The first film that launched the lucrative franchise was based on William Steig’s 1990 fairy tale picture book and it was immediate that its sensibilities lied more with adult-oriented jokes and themes. That is not to say that the first film and its sequel were not glorious and fun-filled family entertainments (far from it), but the main reason I responded so favorably to them was in the way they yearned to go against the grain of typical animated fare. The SHREK films were cute and cuddly in light-hearted dosages, but beneath that exterior lurked an sarcastic edge to the material. The first two SHREKS are the first animated films that I recall that had such a strong satiric vein.
Most celebrated animated films before SHREK were almost exclusively from Disney, and the wonderfully wicked thing that SHREK did was to take a lot of the fairy tale conventions of those classic films, appropriate them, and lampoon and mock them with a feverous aggressiveness. Only in the SHREK films do we have Prince Charming portrayed as a egomaniacal jerk, Sleeping Beauty as a ditsy chick with narcolepsy, Snow White as a Valley-girl-esque sorority babe, the Fairy Godmother as a dangerous and fanatical maternal figure, and Pinocchio as a possessed toy that is filled with loathing self doubt about his ability to tell the truth. Perhaps my favorite shot that the SHREK films took at Disney was during an opening montage where Shrek himself was accidentally kissing a mermaid that looked amazingly like a certain “little” one, only for her to be picked up by his ogre wife, hurled into the ocean, where Sharks subsequently had her for breakfast.
SHREK THE THIRD is a film that – by purely financial interests – was going to happen whether we accepted the fact or not. Yet, as a continuation of the storylines presented in SHREK and SHREK 2, this third film that chronicles everyone’s favourite misunderstood green ogre still rouses and pleases. Perhaps the one thing that hurts the film overall is a sensation of a repetitive formula that was welcome in the first one and taken to hilarious levels in the second. Make no mistake, SHREK THE THIRD is just as breezy and infectiously funny as the first two films, but while watching it it’s hard not to notice that there are only so many tangents that the series can take this character.
Shrek has certainly come a long way (he began as a misunderstood and demonized monster that lived in a “vermin-filled” shack that went on to win the love of a princess, met her parents, got hitched, and now is in line for the throne itself). If anything, Shrek himself is the embodiment of the notion that even lime skinned, hulking creatures that once roamed the forests, like bathing in mud, and enjoy meals of slimy excrement can also have political careers.
SHREK THE THIRD’s overall storyline is not as ambitious and interesting as those in the first few films. I think that once Shrek married the love of his life, Fiona, and were beginning to live a obligatory happily ever after existence, there are only so many directions you can take him. The film’s laugh quotient is still high, but there are many times where sight gags and pratfalls dominate the jokes instead of droll commentary and satiric jabs. SHREK THE THIRD follows the Shrekian formula innately (that is to say that it takes its existing characters and surrounds them with several parodies of existing fairy tale personalities and infuses all of that in a hip storyline ripe with cultural references and in-jokes).
Truth be told, there is an undeniable aura of “been there, seen that” while watching SHREK THE THIRD. It’s seemingly impossible for this film to have the same level of rebellious and guileless freshness with the underlining material. Yet, more of the jokes in the film work than the ones that don’t and the film is still effortlessly stylish, flamboyantly goofy, and rambunctiously clever. It may be a bit sweeter at its core than the other two entries, but SHREK THE THIRD still gets a lot of comic mileage out of its smart and sly send-up of classic fairy tales.
The third film essentially continues where the second one left us with Shrek (voiced with funny gusto by Mike Myers) and is ogre bride Fiona (Cameron Diaz) have settled into a life of royal affluency. Now that things have simmered down for the couple, Fiona begins to whisper the idea of starting a family, which initially is a real buzz-kill to Shrek when they both are flirting in the sack. Perhaps even more annoying to him is the jabbering of Donkey (voiced by the lively and spirited Eddie Murphy) who gives him wake up calls every morning. He himself already has a family. You may recall that he met and fell for a particular female dragon during the course of the first few films. Well, it seems that the two have consummated their relationship and now are the proud parents of half-breed tykes, which are in the form of little baby flying donkeys with dragon wings. Thankfully, the film never addresses the psychics behind how the two procreated. Oh, Puss n’ Boots is also still around (Antonio Banderas) who essentially is a manager of sorts to Shrek and company. He too has a very productive sex life, as is evident in one dry bit where he tries to say good-bye to all of his former cat lovers. Puss N' Boots may be a real swashbuckling feline, but he is undeniably a man-cat-whore.
Before things can get too rosy for the married couple, Shrek and Fiona are whisked away to the deathbed (or, it this case, lily pad) of Fiona’s King Father (John Cleese). You may recall that the King did have a more humanoid visage in the second film but was changed into a frog by a dastardly spell. Nevertheless, his Queen wife (voiced again by Julie Andrews) still stands by her man…er…frog. However, just before the King “croaks”, he reveals to Shrek that he is indeed the heir to his throne…sort of. It’s either him or another young lad, named Arthur (voiced by Justin Timberlake), who - in pure Shrek-like fashion - is far removed from his standard Arthurian legend and myth and is presented as a pimple-faced high school reject that is ridiculed by his classmates.
Nevertheless, the King dies suddenly (in a humorous sequence that plays much like classic Monty Python, thanks to Cleese’ delivery) and now Shrek is left with either becoming the rightful heir to the throne of Far, Far Away Land (still presented as a uproariously funny spoof of Disneyland morphed with Beverly Hills), or look for Artie and convince him to become the King he seems destined to be. Shrek, Donkey, and Puss subsequently go on a trek to Artie’s high school, which emerges in one of the film’s more hilarious sequences as merger of the modern day trappings of an Amy Heckerling school ala FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH with medieval trappings (there is one cute moment where Shrek interrupts two geeks that appear to be playing Dungeons and Dragons). When Shrek meets up with Artie, he is the victim of social mockery by the school jock, Lancelot. Begrudgingly, Shrek convinces him to tag along back home, but not before they make a pit stop and hook up with a drunken old hermit named Merlin (voiced by the film’s other Python alumni, Eric Idle) who is not as gifted as he claims to be at sorcery.
Meanwhile, that snobby SOB, Prince Charming (the fiendishly funny Rupert Everett, who steals the show in this film) has really seen his life go down the tubes. He was once an insurmountably well-to-do prince, but he is now reduced to performing dinner theatre productions of his exploits (all of this occurs in the film’s opening scene, where the Gingerbread Man and Pinocchio mock him while in the audience). Well, playing at such nickel n' dime productions simply does not sit well for Charming, and he decides to align himself up with some witches in order to attack Far, Far Away Land and take what he sees is rightfully his.
Well, Fiona and her friends don’t take kindly to all of this, maybe because her baby shower with her and Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty (who falls asleep far too often to be healthy) and Snow White (well played by SNL’s Amy Poehler) is crashed by Charming and company. However, Fiona and her girl-empowered team will not take matters sitting down. Soon, they become a Medieval Charlie’s Angels squad that starts to open up a can of whoop ass on Charming and company. Snow White is particularly effective at using her affinity with the creatures of the forest as deadly weapons.
SHREK THE THIRD may not be the comedic equal of the other films in the series, but it does have two moments that are high points in the franchise for laughs. Many of the funniest moments include Charming. There is one scene where he tries to interrogate Pinocchio as to the whereabouts of Shrek, to which the wooden boy engages in a monumentally complex bit of wordplay to (a) not catch himself in a lie and (b) not actually allude to where Shrek is (at one point he states, “Well, uh, I don't know where he's not… I'm possibly more or less not definitely rejecting the idea that I undeniably do or do not know where he shouldn't probably be. If that indeed wasn't where he isn't”). There is also a droll little bit where Charming, in preparation for his grand dinner theatre finale, inadvertently kills several stagehands during one rehearsal.
There are other equally funny moments with Shrek – of course – during two instances where he is trying to do his royal duties (one grisly moment while he’s trying to knight and man and another where he attempts to send off a royal ship are hilarious). Perhaps the single funniest moment in the film is at the expense of the Gingerbread Man, who – when death appears near – starts to see his life flash before his eyes. Oh, even the Queen has one subtle moment of joviality when, in daze, mumbles the words to “My Favourite Things”, which is ironic considering the voice behind the role.
If there is one area where this film more than betters its predecessors than it’s in the visual department. Having had the advantage of using the latest state-of-the art CGI technology, SHREK THE THIRD is a huge aesthetic quantum leap from the first film in the franchise. The sheer density of this films visual palette is extraordinary; SHREK THE THIRD may be the finest animated film ever. With its bright and robust colors, limitlessly detailed scenery, and incredibly nuanced characters (Prince Charming is more creepy than ever because he looks so realistic, and even Shrek feels more visually alive; you can see five o’clock shadow on him in medium shots), SHREK THE THIRD is a monumental achievement in the field of animation. Even if its jokes don’t work 100 per cent of the time, the film is always endearing and fun to watch.
Most of the nation’s critics have been a bit hard on everyone’s most lovable swamp ogre in the third SHREK outing, perhaps because the film series has been such an unparalleled success (the second film alone is the third highest grossing of all-time). Yet, the level of worldwide financial success it has attained should not blemish a measure of the film’s worth. There is no doubt the primary motivation for SHREK THE THIRD was fiscal, but that alone should not discredit it from being another worthy and entertaining entry in the series. It may not boast a storyline as inspired and wacky as the other films, not to mention that not all of its jokes hit right on target, but SHREK THE THIRD still remains a jovial, feisty, and – most importantly – sly and seditious animated film. After all, any film that paints Rapunsil as a backstabbing and deceitful bitch is okay in my book.
SHREK FOREVER AFTER
And, for what it's worth, CrAiGeR's ranking of the SHREK films:
1. SHREK 2 (2004)
3. SHREK THE THIRD (2007)
4. SHREK FOREVER AFTER (2010) 1/2