After the unexpected success of the Original Shrek DreamWorks quickly churned out a series of sequels. Shrek 2 while not as fresh or as funny as its predecessor was an extremely enjoyable family film, unfortunately this Third instalment isn’t. An ill thought out plot is matched by uninspired dialogue and the largely predictable jokes, it’s still child friendly but not really that entertaining.
Opening soon after the last film, the film starts with several long winded and awkward jokes, setting the plot and tone of the film nicely. Since the last film Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) has fallen in stature, bitter at his mother’s death and reduced to starring in amateur dramatics to earn a living, he is now a laughing stock amongst many of the locals. Little do they know he is planning to usurp the throne of FarFar Away.
Meanwhile Shrek is acting as King of FarFar Away, handling the duties reluctantly and clumsily he yearns for a simpler life, soon an Opportunity presents itself. On his deathbed King Harold (John Cleese, having fun with a ridiculously protracted death scene) tells Shrek of a distant descendant and illegitimate heir to the throne, the young, and incredibly annoying Artie (voiced by Justin Timberlake) who currently resides in Worcestershire Academy, a posh boarding school, and strange blend of Hogwarts and American High school.
Following King Harold’s Funeral Shrek sets off on the long journey, accompanied as always by Donkey and Puss in Boots, his fear’s further heightened by the news that he is to become a father. Gradually the two storyline’s gel and Arthur is forced to journey back to Far Far Away to save his inherited Kingdom.
It’s quite a complicated plot for a children’s film, which only gets more overloaded as the film progresses, there are a lot of names and places to remember, and far too many character’s fighting for screen time. The story feels very manufactured throughout, predictable plot and character developments are strewn throughout the script. Shrek’s looming fear of becoming a father sits somewhat unsteadily with the silly humour and tone prevalent in the film, it’s a poor attempt to make the film more relevant for adult viewers, and never really works. In bad news for parents and bored adults, the pop culture references prevalent in earlier films are actually largely absent, though Paul McCartney’s theme song to Live and Let Die makes a rather bizarre appearance early on.
The central cast return for this film- Mike Myers as Shrek, Cameron Diaz as Fiona, Eddie Murphy as Donkey and Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots all give enthusiastic vocal performances. But the characters feel nowhere near as fresh as they used to and the way they are utilised in the narrative isn’t always to their benefit. Shrek, whose grumpiness was once amusing, does get a bit annoying after a while, his pre-fatherhood nerves being a source of several protracted jokes, most of which fall flat. Puss in Boots and Donkey are relegated to surprisingly small supporting roles in the story, though both remain amusing character’s, their continuing competition for Shrek’s affections gets increasingly tired as the film progresses.
Justin Timberlake has fun as Artie, though he can’t disguise how annoying the character is.
As well as the leads, there is a large cast of supporting characters, some returning from the earlier films, many others making their first appearance in the franchise. All fight for relevance in the plot, and most struggle with annoying, predictable dialogue, and limited screentime. Many are pre-existing fantasy characters: Sleeping Beauty, Captain Hook, The Three Little Pigs and Rumpelstiltskin being examples, whilst it may please some viewers that their favourite characters are included, most are shoe horned into the film, with little relevance to the plot, with little or no resemblance to their original portraits.
The actor’s voicing them come off nearly as badly, many sound plain bored whilst the prevalence of Generic, Modern American accents does the film few favours, taking away from the fantasy feel that the film needed, and getting gradually more annoying as the film progresses, its unwelcome evidence just how ‘manufactured’ this sequel is.
Prince Charming was never really an imposing secondary villain in the previous instalment, in this film he is thrust into the limelight and comes across as even less memorable. The character is a strange blend of campiness and anger, and falls rather flat as a central villain, his boring appearance and annoyingly predictable reasons for taking over Far Far Away, are enlivened only by Rupert Everett’s amusing voice work.
The only really memorable new character is Merlin, Artie’s eccentric ex-teacher. Voiced enthusiastically by noted comedic actor Eric Idle he is responsible for a great deal of the film’s laughs (could anyone else make rock-eating look funny?), and brightens up the screen noticeably in his few scenes.
The cast aren’t helped by a muddled script; contrived dialogue gives way to a succession of predictable jokes- Shrek Falling Over, Shrek getting shouted at, Shrek breaking something…It was funny…two films ago. Even the ‘funny’ jokes aren’t all that funny, At one point Donkey and Puss in Boots fall foul of Merlin’s magic and a protracted Body Swap unfolds, small children will likely find the jokes about licking oneself incredibly funny, adults on the other hand will soon tire of such a novelty.
As you’d expect from DreamWorks studio the animation at least, looks stunning, detailed landscape’s, and character design are balanced by convincing movement and expressions, the visual’s should keep young children entertained, whilst even the most cold hearted of adults will probably find something to enjoy.
Andrew Adamson co –director and guiding force behind the earlier films, jump’s ship on this instalment, Chris Miller taking the reins as the franchise’s first solo director. He proves an adequate choice, nothing more; he gets good vocal performances out of the main cast, and displays an understanding of how to stage action sequences. A wide variety of camera angles (or more accurately there Computer equivalents) and lighting set ups are used, its rarely boring, but not exactly exciting either, put simply he lacks the visual flair of his predecessors.
The pace is just as varied, the slow beginning is followed by a fast paced middle section, and an exciting, if needlessly overlong finale (culminating in an amusing death scene for one of the characters). Such a structure might have worked if the slow points had any purpose, but they don’t clichéd conversational dialogue and pointless side plots slow the film, and do nothing to further the story or Shrek’s growth as a character.
It is very likely that most of these flaws will not be noticed by its key audience, young children, who admittedly will find Shrek the Third largely enjoyable. A decent amount of action, the short running time (93 minutes) and (for their age range) appropriate humour all make it acceptable family viewing. But grown adults, and fans of the first two instalments will likely come away disappointed, weak, repetitive jokes, annoying new character’s, and a convoluted story, all serve to make this a disappointing film, that some may wish was kept Far Far Away.