Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Shrek the Third

The great moments in Shrek the Third are in the details: hilarious sight gags, slapstick moments and offhand comments from the supporting cast. After three films, this series's distinct sense of humor is recognizable immediately. It's a good thing there are so many laughs to be found here, because the story is so lightweight it's almost an afterthought. Very little of the heart that made the first Shrek so wonderful has survived two sequels.

Since the end of the second film, Harold the Frog King (John Cleese) has grown quite ill. In the interim, Shrek (Mike Myers) has been managing all the royal responsibilities, which he naturally finds incompatible with his perception of himself as a rude and uncivilized ogre. Circumstances soon force his hand, and he has to choose between taking the throne himself or turning it over to another possible heir: Arthur Pendragon (Justin Timberlake). Maturity doesn't put up all that much of a fight; Shrek takes Donkey and Puss in Boots (the deft comedic team of Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas) on a road trip to find the young heir.

The Arthurian Legend is a perfect target for the Shrek-style subversive treatment of classic stories, and the writers (all seven of them) stage Camelot inside an angst-ridden high school, where Lancelot (John Krasinksi) is a jousting jock and Guinevere (Latifa Ouauo) is a gum-chewing airhead. Merlin (Eric Idle) also makes an appearance as a strange sort of hippie self-help guru.

Fiona (Cameron Diaz) has plenty to deal with back in Far Far Away. Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) has returned to cause more trouble, this time amassing a small army of fairy tale villains. Classic characters like Captain Hook (Ian McShane)are included, though a few walking trees steal the show in those scenes with their thuggish banter. After being locked in a tower, Fiona and her mother (Julie Andrews) partner with an assortment of other fairy tale princesses to escape, all played by a veritable "Who's Who" of female comedians. Snow White is Amy Poehler, Rapunzel is Maya Rudolph, Sleeping Beauty is Cheri Oteri, Cinderella is Amy Sedaris, and Doris the ugly stepsister is Larry King.

Such a gigantic cast of characters makes for an incredibly talented pool of vocal performers, which makes me regret that the film's story ultimately had so little warmth. The Shrek films have always brought out the best in Dreamworks's animation, but traces of the same banality that pervade other unremarkable CG films from them (Shark Tale in particular) are starting to become visible.

At least the animation is only getting better. The detail in things like tree leaves and the hair of the human characters is nothing less than phenomenal. Shrek the Third doesn't feel substantial enough to be a full movie; it feels more like a very well-produced episode of a Shrek TV-show. Hmm...that might not be half bad.

--Yep, that's right. No grade. I've been thinking it over for some time, and I've decided to eschew that...for the near future, at least. I've found that the letter grade too often takes the focus on the actual content of the review...and I'm also just sick of having to decide what makes the difference between a B- or B and shit like that. It winds up feeling arbitrary once I decide. Pirates III is next...3 hours + storyline likely as meager as the last two = I don't know. Find out soon.

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