Shrek the Third
Dir. Chris Miller
Premiered May 6, 2007
Few films are victims of their own success in as many ways as Shrek. A forceful takedown of the corporate culture surrounding family films, Shrek was doomed to become one of them just by being a hit. When Jeffrey Katzenberg founded Dreamworks Animation, he tried making waves with the same kind of sincerity he’d only recently presided over at Disney, but nothing stuck in the public imagination quite like Shrek, an insider-y blockbuster fuck-you to his former employer.
That’s strange in itself– how many people would buy tell-all book about how much you hate your old boss?– but Shrek’s evolution into long-running franchise is even stranger. It’s not just that Shrek has become worse in retrospect for the trend that it set, but that the remainder of the franchise never made any effort to go bigger or better: 2004’s Shrek 2 is an altogether scattershot movie, with a decent premise buried under even more random pop culture references, questionably relevant pop song covers, and general padding than the first. And that’s the sequel that critics liked.
Shrek the Third barely cobbles together a plot: in the kingdom of Far, Far Away, Fiona’s father (John Cleese) dies after being turned into a frog at the end of the last movie, leaving Shrek (Mike Myers) as his heir. Shrek, however, doesn’t want to be king, so he and his animal sidekicks Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) track down the next person in line: a teenager named Arthur, played by Justin Timberlake. Timberlake is a hard guy to not like, but neither he nor any other voice actor can survive the sluggish, unaccountably realistic character designs given to human characters.
Meanwhile, Fiona (Cameron Diaz) is pregnant, leading Shrek to freakout about the responsibilities of being a good father, commisserating out of nowhere with Arthur’s own parental abandonment issues. I don’t know why daddy issues are such a common theme for sequels, especially third movies for some reason, but it’s gotten really old, and Shrek is particularly inept at it. And at the same time, Shrek 2 villain Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) unites the vanquished villains of several other fairy tales to stage a violent coup against Fiona.
Amazingly, there aren’t as many pop culture references in Shrek the Third as one might expect, but they make up for it by being even more jokeless and nonsensical than ever. It’s not on the level of Epic Movie, but despite not rooting for this franchise, I still expected a lot better from Dreamworks Animation than from Friedberg & Seltzer.
What’s most jarring about the Shrek movies is the sheer unwillingness of anyone involved to transcend or even match what came before. Sequels are hard to pull off, and it’s difficult to pin down how to do them well, but Shrek’s creative team actively works against the most basic principles. Instead of raising the stakes, they are continually lowered. I don’t know anything about Shrek Forever After, but at this rate I expect it to just be an unproduced King of the Hill script with the names changed and an hour’s worth of stalling thrown in. Ironically for a series that was initially criticized for being driven by a spiteful corporate rivalry, Shrek the Third struggles to find purpose without the petty bile of the original.
Second movie this year to feature a random chorus of singing frogs.
How Did It Do?
Shrek the Third was the fourth-biggest movie of the year worldwide, grossing $799 million against a $160 million budget. But in contrast to its predecessors, it was spared any Oscar nominations, and critics had lost their patience, earning the film a 41% rating on RottenTomatoes. I don’t know why the critical consensus took a nosedive here– it’s not measurably worse than Shrek 2; in fact, of all the films from this year I’d consider “bad,” this is the least bad so far.
Originally a fourth and fifth Shrek installment were planned, but the fifth was retooled into a Puss in Boots spinoff. Dreamworks Animation was finally moving on. Though its next movie would be one of its strangest, and not in a good way.
Next Time: Georgia Rule