Say “blecch” to Shrek.
Has Hollywood forgotten how to be funny? OK, so Judd Apatow’s cadre seems to be doing all right for themselves, and Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg from across the pond have yet to let us down. Nonetheless, most of the so-called “comedies” coming out of the studios these days seem to rely on poop jokes and poorly-staged slapstick in order to draw folks into theaters.
Take the Shrek franchise. From the start, this series has been all about the lowest common denominator. The “anything for a laugh” mentality behind the first film not only poked fun at familiar fairy tales, but added fart jokes and pro wresting spoofs. This time around, there’s going to be a baby, so that means diaper jokes and baby barf jokes.
Shrek (Mike Myers, Austin Powers), an ogre, and his ogre bride Fiona (Cameron Diaz, Being John Malkovich) are now the acting king and queen of Far Far Away, filling in for Fiona’s aging father, the king (John Cleese, A Fish Called Wanda). High society isn’t Shrek’s thing, though. He prefers the mud and slop of his old forest home. So he travels across the sea to find the king’s other heir, Artie (Justin Timberlake, Edison Force), in the hopes that Artie can take his place. Meanwhile, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett, Stage Beauty), having been defeated and humiliated by Shrek in an earlier adventure, has a plan. He’s rounding up all the meanest, nastiest fairy tale villains in an attempt to overthrow the kingdom. Now it’s up to Fiona and a clique of princesses to defend the crown.
One word kept going through my mind while watching Shrek the Third: forced. The humor is forced, the emotion is forced, everything is forced. At one point, Shrek sits down for a heartwarming talk with Artie when Artie’s feeling down. Shrek’s sidekicks Donkey (Eddie Murphy, Trading Places) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas, Spy Kids) start spoofing such a scene by mimicking sappy music and pretending to cry. That’s a joke, so OK. But then, Shrek and Artie really do have a heartwarming talk. It looks like the creators want to have their animated movie cake and eat it too. They’re out to mock the conventions of a feel-good animated film, but they also want this to be a genuine feel-good animated film at the same time. It takes a deft hand to make this type of combo work, but there is no deftness here—everything’s forced.
Take this scene, for instance: At one point, Shrek and his pals visit the kingdom of Worcestershire, and there’s the obligatory joke about how no one really knows how to pronounce “Worcestershire.” That’s all well and good, but then, there’s a close-up of Donkey, in which he says, “Oh, like the sauce.” Because, you know, we the audience are a bunch of dimwitted imbeciles who have to have all our jokes explained to us.
This has to be one of the talkiest animated movies ever made. There are long stretches of dialogue, with the characters flatly staged in front of the camera, like a sitcom. Now, I’m not saying every shot has to employ some sort of “bullet time,” and I have no problem with dialogue-driven scenes, but in this case, both the humor and sentiment in the writing seems forced (there’s that word again), so that I was impatient for the movie to get back to the slapstick, even if it too came across as forced.
Does all this mean that the movie is a total embarrassment? No, because there are a handful of moments that show some genuine wit, hinting at the great movie this could have been. When the princesses decide to get their act together, the movie briefly becomes a Kill Bill spoof, in which each princess uses her own particular “skills” in the battle to reclaim the kingdom. It’s some pretty funny stuff, and I wonder why the entire movie can’t zip along with this madcap pace. This subject and these characters cry out for riotous screwball comedy, but instead, the creators play it safe for the most part, either by constantly tugging at heartstrings or by keeping the jokes juvenile.
Taken from the movie’s original digital elements, it’s a no-brainer that the DVD transfer is top-notch. The colors are bright and vivid, and the sound is nearly flawless with a lot of hearty atmospheric effects during the busier scenes. The majority of the extras are time-wasting games or interactive elements you control with your remote, such as one where you click on a character from a list of names, and that character gives you some wacky parenting advice. Amusing, but fluffy. The more substantial extras include “The Tech of Shrek” and “Big Green Goofs,” which offer a look at the animation process and some scenes in earlier form. Some deleted/extended scenes and trailers for other DreamWorks releases round out the package.
As unfunny as the movie is, there’s no denying that it’s gorgeous to look at. The creators have pushed computer animation farther than they have before, and the results are impressive. The human characters still look like weird mannequin marionettes in some shots, but mostly, their facial expressions and movements look a lot more natural than I recall from the first film. Textures, liquid effects, moody lighting, and attention to detail can be found in every scene. Prince Charming’s horse looks so much like a real horse it’s almost scary. It’s too bad that such a feast for the eyes is wasted on such a lackluster story.
Being a film critic often means being the one with the unpopular opinion, especially when in the position of ripping on a popular film. Honestly, I don’t mean to come across as a snob. I love laughing at a silly comedy just as much as anyone. Therein lies the problem with Shrek the Third—I hardly laughed at all.