Shrek the Third might just justify an evergreen review that could be hauled out as needed to cover the cynical movies of summer. The review would begin: "Here’s another sequel where too many cooks urinated in the broth. A dozen forgettable characters chase endless, arbitrary McGuffins in a story, concocted by a coterie of hack writers to the specifications of the studio suits, that exists only to pick our pockets of the few coins they missed the last time." So all the summer’s generic blockbusters – looking ahead, the Pirates of the Carribeans , the Fantastic Fours and X-Men — would get the generic review they deserve.
Instead, I’ll take a deep breath and be specific. Shrek the Third is better-directed than the first two installments, with some promising sweep in the first act; you get your hopes up. The film – maybe we should call it software, Shrek 3.0 – has received an update; the texture work is more detailed, a scene in a high school gym packs the bleachers with digital life, and Shrek himself (sharing the title with the newborn in Children of Men ) is the current high water mark in CG realism (if ogres were real, that is).
I like Shrek. He’s got a dry wit, and he’s so comfortable being a filthy slob that he charmed a beautiful girl who was willing to get dirty with him. A pity Shrek the Third gives him so little of interest to do. Shrek, voiced again by Mike Meyers, learns he’s going to be a father, which causes him a funny anxiety dream in which he nearly drowns in a tide of vomiting green babies. But for the majority of the film, Shrek is stuck mentoring an exhaustingly whiny teenager, Arthur, the future king, voiced by Justin Timberlake.
Let’s credit the film with more thoughtfulness than I think it possesses, and assume that by learning to connect with a teenager, Shrek is coming to terms with his impending fatherhood. Okay, but do we really require that the first film’s anarchy be domesticated even further? And with all the world’s fairy tale and mythological riches to choose from, the best DreamWorks could do is tweak Disney again?
The digital humans in the film, like the villainous Prince Charming, are just realistic enough to be creepy – as were the children in The Polar Express – with stiff, botoxed faces. Though the film is cast with famous actors doing the voices, only the fantasy creatures come across; the humans are inexpressive, as if lip syncing. Compare Eddie Murphy’s Donkey to Eric Idle’s Merlin. Two talented comedians with colorful voices; but the quadruped gets a laugh every time, while the homo sap scarcely registers. Never mind that neither one has more than a fleeting function in the plot.
For parents, the wiseacre pop culture references, a handful of good gags, and keeping track of whether DreamWorks or Pixar has the most realistic hair might be enough to make it out of the theater alive. But unless you have a filial obligation to be there, this is hollow, dispiriting, corporate tripe.
Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.