Shrek’s third outing is everything I feared Shrek 2 would be: it’s a film that truly felt dictated by box office receipts than someone coming up with a good story. Where the last one built a bit on the characters and the world, this movie feels pretty superfluous, just going through the established motions and same kind of tired jokes to keep the mean green merchandising machine alive. We start with King Harold, still a frog, on his death bed, informing his son-in-law Shrek must take over the throne. Having hated filling in for his duties during his illness, Shrek discovers another possible heir: Fiona’s cousin Arthur, a lame duck loser high school kid, who Shrek scoops up hoping to thrust the responsibility onto him instead. Meanwhile, Prince Charming is still stewing over the events of the previous film, still craving his own happily ever after. Corralling the sympathies of a gaggle of fairy tale villains, they all storm the kingdom of Far, Far Away and lay siege. Now Shrek must convince Arthur to take over the kingdom, and also save the day and rescue Fiona, who is also with child. Or, childs. Children.
At this point, it’s almost like I have a mental checklist with these movies. Fart/poop jokes? Check. Donkey singing songs? Check. Pop songs on the soundtrack? Check. Ye olde cultural references? Check. While I wasn’t too big on the original, at least the first film had a sort of freshness to it in its tone and scope. By this point it’s just grown kind of tired, and everything just seems to be moving on auto-pilot. These characters have “grown” as much as they can, it seems. Shrek’s dilemma about being a father hits similar beats from the last movie, except it’s more muddled since there’s more going on in this one. Plus there’s a disingenuous air through the whole film, where Shrek peddles the kingdom off on this kid only because he doesn’t want it. Even if he does form a kinship with him in the end, his phony “confession” to him about his actual intentions are still true, yet it doesn’t seem to matter much. Despite the tired message at the end of “be true to yourself,” “don’t let bullies get to you,” blah blah blah, the overhanging moral I got from it was if you don’t want to do something, just convince someone else to do it. Smashing.
Arthur is played by Justin Timberlake, and the guy may have proven himself over the years to be a competent actor, but he’s not a very good voice actor. A lot of his lines feel so stilted and flat, but that could also be from the script. This movie seems to be about him, in his personal journey from being down on himself to having faith in his actions, evidenced by him giving the final moral speech. But who is Arthur? He’s a push-over schmuck when we see him, then he becomes kind of a braggart, then we learn his father left him, then we see he has a penchant for play-acting and tricking people… all of these character traits don’t really add up to a person I give a shit about. I just don’t understand who he is, and furthermore he doesn’t really seem to evolve as a character at all. He’s just this plot device that gets things moving, a cargo Shrek must deliver to shirk his duties. The other new character is eccentric wizard Merlin, played by Eric Idle, a rather unfunny, forgettable addition, who doesn’t seem to serve the story at all, really. The more stuff to kill time, the better.
Another big issue is that Prince Charming is not a very intimidating villain. He was a mindless lackey to his Fairy Godmother in the second one, but even backed by a team of baddies, he’s just not that big of a threat. We get to the end and we see he’s busy hamming it up in rehearsing his big show, you start wondering what the hell is happening and what kind of a threat he is. They should have either toughened him up a bit, or made the other villains more ruthless and menacing, but instead, everyone comes off like a big dummy, which doesn’t help to create any kind of tension. Also there’s the mini story with Fiona, the Queen and the princesses who, after being locked away during the regime change, decide enough is enough and to take action themselves. Before that we get a scintillating scene of Fiona’s baby shower where they talk about child rearing and what makes a good marriage. Real exciting for the kids, huh? Then Rapunzel betrays them for Charming for some reason, then they fight back, or something… I dunno, a lot of this stuff feels like random ideas they had off of the first two that they could just slap into this one. None of the concepts really gel together, they run side by side until they collide at the end and make a big mess.
It really just doesn’t feel there’s enough story here, and what story we have feels either contradictory or redundant to the last two films. In its place we get a lot of filler, be it with Merlin, the stuff at the high school, and since Donkey and Puss really don’t have anything to do, let’s have them switch bodies for comic relief! But everything works out fine in the end, and Fiona gives birth to triplet ogre babies, which may be the ugliest looking things I’ve ever seen in a CG film. The designs are so weird to me…
Yeah, this one’s pretty bad. With nothing new or interesting to bring to the table, the film basically has “unnecessary” written all over it. I don’t even know what kind of story you can have with this world at this point; you had the first one subverting fairy tale norms, then the second one showed the backlash and dissected it further, but now what more is there to do? A It’s a Wonderful Life parody? More on that later.