Shrek the Third (Chris Miller & Raman Hui, 2007)
The summer of 2007 has finally dawned upon us and made its presence really felt. The days can't get any hotter and the people can't get any grumpier. It's also the time wherein Hollywood will unleash upon the world (voluntarily or involuntarily) its army of glossy, greasy and gargantuan cinematic productions. These films are mostly bereft of any intellectual or artistic value. Their reason for existence is mostly to milk people of their hard-earned cash. Any other merit can be considered as supplementary to the film's entertainment value.
Shrek the Third is a prime example of the 'summer film.' It is an extension of the profitability of the first film, which during its time, was original in its irreverence. Nowadays, irreverence is the norm. Almost every kid's movie made since the success of Shrek (Andrew Adamson, 2001; mostly the CGI-animated ones) bank on stabs at pop culture and fads. Shrek 2 (Andrew Adamson, 2004) is a spiraling mess whose main source of humor is ridiculing modern culture through visual gags and tired witticisms without saying anything else of pertinence; and to think that Shrek 2 is considered good at that, isn't saying much about the rest of these type of films.
So Shrek (Mike Myers) is back, and is being touted as the next king of Far Far Away (after being married to ogress Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz)). Unready for the responsibility of keeping a kingdom in order, he goes on a trip with trustworthy sidekicks Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) to find the other heir to the throne, Arthur (Justin Timberlake). Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), in an effort to reclaim his former glory, lures the villains of the fairy book world to take advantage of Shrek's absence, and invade the kingdom.
The premise is supposed to be funny, but it's really not. Shrek is entertaining because its premise was attached to a goal of ridiculing Disney and its tradition of fairy tale flicks. Shrek 2 and now Shrek the Third are merely extensions and thus the luster of that premise is lost. Moreover, Shrek the Third threw away a chunk of the fun irreverence of the first two films, and instead, opted to churn out something so generic, so safe, and so undeniably family-friendly, that adult viewers may completely lose interest midway. So let's see --- Shrek has turned into a mild-mannered father-to-be; Donkey, while still fast-talking and humorously annoying, is taken out of the limelight by the kindly ogre and the uninteresting "other" sidekick Puss in Boots, whose Latino charms are just lost in translation. Arthur is an uninteresting addition --- a Harry Potter-ish creation whose role in the film is mostly for moralistic value. If there's an Arthur, there must be a Merlin (voiced by Eric Idle), but the Merlin here is a tired reincarnation of bumbling fool --- clearly unhumorous and a mere padding to the rest of the hit-or-miss exercise of comedy.
For an animated film that has a star-studded voice cast, Shrek the Third sounds relatively uninteresting. Myers' Irish-ogrish accent is wasted by the melodramatic set-ups. Timberlake is boringly goody-goody and his efforts in translating his showbiz cool to his animated character is deflated by flat characterization. Banderas sounds bored as Diaz sounds boring. Murphy shines, but not as much as in the first two films. The only person who seemed to be having fun was John Cleese, who in his shortened role, turned a frog-king into a bad of riotous laughter. Unfortunately, Julie Andrews, is merely wallpaper in the film as the not-so-famous voice actors (who voiced for the other fairy tale creatures) were much more fun. Everett is as sly and enjoyable as ever.
The screenplay is also clearly at fault. There are gems of ideas that were wasted (the Broadway finale, I thought was a nice stab at Disney's efforts in turning their fairy tale movies into musicales) because the film didn't want to push forward the first film's promise. Andrew Adamson (who withdrew from directing the film to concentrate his efforts on the Narnia sequel) is replaced by Chris Miller (his credits include Madagascar (2005)) and Raman Hui --- their efforts, I thought, were satisfactory since the film does look beautiful. However, an explainable air of drabness looms throughout the film. Inconsistent pacing, inconsistent voice acting, and inconsistent effectivity of the inflicted humor betrays the technical efforts.