The May threequel parade entered its middle portion last weekend with the release of Shrek the Third, the latest chapter in the venerable, animated, fairy tale send-up/satire. My problem with the Shrek films has always been that they’re bubblegum. Despite the huge box office and the rate at which Shrek DVDs are snapped up at Christmastime, they’re too smelted in the modern moods of pop culture to obtain the classic quality of the very movies it’s spoofing.
I hate to say it but the Shrek formula grates in this latest outing. Actually, I don’t hate to say that because the films have always fallen just short being truly annoying save for the fact that the funny in those movies more then outweighed the plot’s reliance on songs and situations that nobody under the age of ten would get (and some no one under the age of 20 would get).
In this film, Shrek (Mike Myers) and his wife Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are filling the throne for Fiona’s dad, the king of Far Far Away. When the king dies, his last wish is for Shrek to take his place, but Shrek is understandably apprehensive about being the head of a kingdom. The only other possible heir and king is Fiona’s cousin Arthur (Justin Timberlake). So Shrek and faithful sidekicks Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas) take off to find him.
Of course, the search for young Artie leads to the gang to the Worcestershire Academy, which leads to some hilarious observations about high school cliques with a medieval bent. This stuff would be funnier if it hadn’t already been done in Not Another Teen Movie. The football jocks are replaced by jousting jocks, the mall princesses say “Ewweth” and all the kids are called to the auditorium for the “Just Say Nay” talk. High school jokes? Come on, Shrek is better than that.
Another part of the problem is that I’m not sure how kids are supposed to relate to Shrek’s anxieties about becoming a father. There’s a whole nightmare sequence where Shrek hallucinates himself literally drowning in baby ogres, clearly a subconscious reflection of his own pre-existing fear of change. I wouldn’t expect the kids that filled the theatre to pick-up on that though, or to get the reference to Rosemary’s Baby and its ominous black stroller. Although, I’m sure the Linda Blair-like projectile vomiting of the imagined Shrek spawn was a conversation starter on the playground Tuesday morning.
I have to admit though that Shrek didn’t seem to be trying as hard with this one, which to my mind was a good thing because the film wasn’t preoccupied with trying to wow us with its cleverness. Blissfully, there was no big, concluding musical number, so the music supervisors weren’t able to show off how savvy and post modern they are. Didn’t stop them though from using “Live and Let Die” as the King’s funeral song, or having Puss serenade Shrek’s impending fatherhood with “Cat’s in the Cradle”; songs that your average kid wouldn’t know or would otherwise consider lame unless sung by a Duff sister.
Ultimately, I think that the film suffers because two essential ingredients that made the other films successful are missing: director Andrew Adamson and screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Russo. It seems that they alone were able to hold Shrek’s paradoxical combination of bitter cynicism and sweet sentimentality. Regardless of such trifle, I have little doubt that a fourth Shrek is in the cards.