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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Shrek the Third (review)

All Ogre the Guy

It’s not even summer yet, but already it’s the summer of the three-quel, and already we’re oh-no for two. I’m tellin’ ya, if Pirates the Third is this ho-hum, I’m gonna curl up in bed and hibernate till September.

Shrek the Third? It’s… fine. It’s fine. But I wanted a lot more than “fine.” I expected much, much more than “fine.” Shrek’s deconstruction of fairy tales managed to be both deliciously subversive and heartwarmingly traditional. Shrek 2 stunned me in that it was even smarter and slyer and more seditious than the first. And laugh? Holy crap, Shrek 2 had me screaming with laughter, which simply isn’t the typical me. I chuckle. I snort in recognition of a bit of mockery or clever turn of phrase. But Shrek the Second did what very few films can actually manage to do: it found wild new realms of humor by being riotously original, by not retreading ground that’s already been well explored and mapped.
But guess what? Yup: just as Sam Raimi’s genius with his first two Spidey outings ruined us for Spider-Man 3, Shrek and Shrek 2 ruined us for Shrek the Third. We’re primed, now, for the tweaking of fairy tales and the postironic spin on myths and mythmaking. We’ve seen it. We’ve been around the park twice, bought the T-shirt and the Shrek ears, sent a postcard home. Now we’re bored. What else ya got? More of the same? Yawn.

Look, I chuckled at Third. I snorted. I did. I passed a pleasant 84 minutes at the movies. The animation is even more gorgeous than it was in the last two films: finally, skin tones look like skin, and not like plastic. Eddie Murphy’s (The Haunted Mansion, Daddy Day Care) Donkey is still charming, Antonio Banderas’s (Take the Lead, Once Upon a Time in Mexico) Puss in Boots is still funny… even if both of them have been reduced to more standard sidekick roles for the big green guy this time out. Mike Myers’ (The Cat in the Hat, View from the Top) Shrek is still a lovable slob, Rupert Everett’s (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Stage Beauty) Prince Charming is still hissably evil…

Blah blah blah. I’m bored just talking about it. Which truly isn’t fair to the film. It clips along, with its story about Shrek inheriting the throne of Far Far Away and so desperately not wanting it that he goes in search of the next-in-line, Arthur (the voice of Justin Timberlake: Black Snake Moan, Alpha Dog), who’s off in Ye Olde Medieval High School a ship’s journey away. Why Fiona (the voice of Cameron Diaz: The Holiday, In Her Shoes) can’t take the throne is a huge mystery: she’s the actual daughter of the king, not a relation by marriage. I guess Far Far Away is more hidebound by sexist tradition than we’d realized, and anyway, keeping Fiona off the throne keeps her free to try to fend off a palace coup — with the help of some other fairy-tale gals — by Charming while Shrek is off seeking Artie. Though I don’t see why she couldn’t be fighting for her own throne…

But that’s minor quibbling. The big quibble is this: Third isn’t anything more than what it is on the surface. The first two Shreks weren’t just stories about an ogre who wants to be left alone, though they played perfectly lovely on that level: they were also thrillingly insightful theses on modern attitudes toward and modern reactions to fairy tales, to mythology, to our love-hate relationship with our consumer culture in which prepackaged entertainment is a product serving vastly different purposes than organically sprung up legend used to serve. It will take a lot of tortured exposition to shoehorn Third into anything like that: I’ve been trying to find a way to make Charming’s forays into dinner theater work on that level — something about the self-referential storyness of everything going on here — trying to find a way to interpret how pop music crossing over from the soundtrack to intrude into the narrative space becomes a kind of joke on how movies manipulate us.

I can’t do it. It feels forced. The first two Shreks breathed so naturally on so many levels, and this exists only on one. It exists comfortably there, but still: the wizard Merlin as a hippie and the Gingerbread Man’s life flashing before his eyes and the idea that all the unhappy characters from fairy tales — Captain Hook, ugly stepsisters, Pinocchio’s puppet master — could want their happily ever afters, too… They’re funny for a moment, and then they slip by, and help ensure that Shrek the Third, unlike its predecessors, never has the weight of relevance, is never anything more than a passing fancy.

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MPAA: rated PG for some crude humor, suggestive content and swashbuckling action

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
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  • Honestly, I’ve never much liked the Shrek movies. I found the first funny, but it doesn’t hold up to repeat viewings, and the second bored me so much that I barely remember it.

    I never saw in them anything more than what you see in this one.

  • MBI

    Your post at least reminded me that I liked Shrek 2 a whole lot when I watched it; it doesn’t look so good in hindsight. A few viewings of Shark Tale and Robots will really make you wonder if this style of joke-a-minute pop-culture stew humor is really all that worthwhile. But while I was watching it, I thought I’d die laughing. And really, that’s got to be worth something.

  • MaryAnn

    But *Shark Tale* and *Robots* were awful movies…

  • Kathy A

    No hibernating for you, missy! I have to see what you’re going to say about Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix.

    Actually, I have real hopes for HP5, considering that the kids are finally (mostly) developing into decent actors, the story is getting darker by the year, and the trailers look really cool.

  • MBI

    Yeah, I know they were awful, and Shrek 2 was not. But Robots and Shark Tale had the same approach, you know? It’s like how after you watch the Star Wars Holiday Special, you start to wonder if this whole Star Wars thing is worth your time.

    Just saw Shrek 3. It would make a nice pilot for Shrek: The Animated Series, but definitely not worth paying for.

  • MaryAnn

    Yeah, I know they were awful, and Shrek 2 was not. But Robots and Shark Tale had the same approach, you know?

    But that’s like looking at *Gigli* and saying that all mob movies are bad, or at *Glitter* and saying that all dramas about singers are bad. Clearly the problem is not with, as you called them, “joke-a-minute pop-culture stew humor” comedies but in the execution of them.

  • Monica

    I thought it was AWSOME!!!
    I dont know whats wrong with the people who said it was bad.

  • MaryAnn

    You mean, the people like me?

  • Actually, yes, the problem is with these movies, because they’re too reliant on of-the-moment, superficial humor that reduces them to one-off experiences. That’s fine for a theme park ride, but not a movie.

    It’s not like looking at Glitter and saying all dramas about singers are bad. It’s like looking at Glitter and saying that all movies starring singers with zero acting ability are bad.

    But then, I didn’t find Shrek 2 all that funny, or much better than Robots (I didn’t see Shark Tale). So it may just be me.

  • MBI

    “It’s like looking at Glitter and saying that all movies starring singers with zero acting ability are bad.”

    Exactly, and such logic would reject a masterpiece like Purple Rain. Clearly, the reasoning doesn’t hold.

  • Pedro

    well, i haven’t seen it, but critics sure do seem to be thrashing it, don’t they? oh dear…

    on topic, shrek 2 was great, in my opinion much better than shrek 1, which is a rare thing in sequels.

    but it is true that comedies these days are too worried about being «smart» and «hip» and satirical, and it sometimes makes them shoot themselves in the foot – not in Shrek’s case, but in most other cases anyway.

    good review, but is it really that down-letting a movie?

  • MaryAnn

    The disappointing aspect of *Shrek 3* is that it is NOT smart, hip, or satirical, though it thinks it is.

  • Josh

    It is smart and hip for the eight and under crowd. If you are older, you may be out of luck

  • Pedro

    oh, i get it – the first two Shrek’s WERE all those things, though in an unassuming way. this time around, it isn’t, but it assumes it is. is that it?

  • MaryAnn

    That’s it.

  • Pedro

    i finally got to watch Shrek 3 (on youtube) and i have to agree with you. it’s nowhere near as funny as the first two, especially the second, which seems to be universally considered the best one – except by yourself.

    i will concede that the movie had its moments, particularly the whole high school sequence – the Ramones sneakily inserted into the background score, the gum-chewing medieval cheerleaders, the dorks playing dungeons and dragons (obviously), the “jousting team” that makes fun of less popular kids, everything was perfect. then there’s donkey singing johnny cash and making fun of a sullen Shrek, donkey’s cute-as-a-button mutant babies (who i was really looking forward to seeing) and Charming talking the villains into fighting for their right to party. and while most of these things will go over the kids’ heads – particularly the johnny cash thing and the ramones thing – they were all a sign that someone at dreamworks is still having strokes of genius. i also enjoyed shrek’s reaction to fiona being pregnant, and the reason he gives for being so downcast about it.

    unfortunately, these good moments were undercut by a weak, meandering storyline and unnecessary baby-vomit jokes – since when does a shrek movie need a baby-vomit joke, anyway? is this Ogre Pie or something? i also agree with many people – including yourself – who say that Puss doesn’t really get much to do. he never EVER swashbuckles (never even has any athletic feats to perform!) and even when Artie needs convincing that shrek actually cares for him, it’s Donkey who gets to do it rather than the far gentler and tactful Puss, who would have been the logical choice. also, donkey’s babies weren’t on screen nowhere near enough!!! i also disliked how the ditzy fairytale heroines are portrayed as just plain dumb, rather than charmingly naive.

    in short, this one is strictly for the kiddies – which is the probably the worst that can be said about a shrek movie.

    PS: how can Donkey not know how females get pregnant?? he’s a father of four for God’s sake!

  • Pedro

    i stand corrected – you *did* like Shrek 2.

    and yup, just as i thought, artie’s school is called Medieval High :)

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