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Shrek The Third

DreamWorks Animation (May 18 2007), Paramount/DreamWorks Home Entertainment (November 13 2007), single disc, 92 mins plus supplements, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, Rated PG, Retail: $29.99

Storyboard:

Shrek is in for “the royal treatment”, as the posters shouted, in this threequel outing for DreamWorks’ increasingly tired fairytale spoof. In this one, Shrek finds himself in line to the throne and, in order to slip away from his responsibilities, heads off with Donkey, Puss In Boots et al to find another heir. Quite what Fiona thinks about all this is never very clear…despite wanting to fill the princess role in the first two films, it seems she’s all too happy to give it up here without much consultation or, indeed, screen time…

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The Sweatbox Review:

It’s hard to come up with something truly positive to say about Shrek The Third that’s going to make you jump up from your seat and run out, right now, to buy the disc, but there is one moment that’s almost worth the price of admission. However, it is just the one moment, and however rollicking that (singular) big guffaw is, it’s not going to be quite enough to put off asking, simply, “what went wrong?”

As anyone who follows our reviews here may know, the original Shrek took a while to grow on me. On my first viewing, the film hit me as quite drawn out and infantile, the main plot point seemingly resting on two obnoxious characters arguing at each other for most of the time. It was on a second watch (on a plane in less than perfect circumstances) that I started to warm to Shrek and found some pleasure in it. Mike Myers’ Shrek and Eddie Murphy’s Donkey still grated with me – the “comedy” I found still to be little more than them shouting insults back and forth – but the film eventually worked its magic on me as it had obviously had done for theatergoers around the world. Roll on the inevitable Shrek 2 and, perhaps because of a combination of knowing what to expect and the fact that the characters were indeed more rounded, I very quickly warmed to the movie. Most of what I couldn’t initially get to grips with in the first film (which wanted to play around with fairy-tale film conventions while also being part and parcel of that genre) had been fixed. The jokes were funnier, and truer. There was less shouting, and the pop music had been scaled back. Shrek’s world had been expanded and everything worked in a much more effortless, relaxed way. Heck, even the visuals were a noticeable hike up in quality, really challenging Pixar’s dominance for the first time.

Jeffery Katzenberg has stated, with Shrek 3, that the plan was always to continue the story (well into five films, a spin-off movie, theme park ride, TV special and a Broadway musical if all those plans hold), but on actually sitting through this third offering, it couldn’t be more clearer that they’re basically making this stuff up as they go. Whereas any story problems that Shrek 2 went through were well glossed over and passed unnoticed in the finished film, Shrek The Third’s script issues are all too evident. The episodic nature of the plot mirrors the first film’s road trip, of sorts, though Shrek The Third is never one thing or the other. After Fiona’s Dad/King dies (in an odd sequence that doesn’t exactly kick things off with any gusto) and Live And Let Die is strangely played on the soundtrack (a little too literal, me thinks), Shrek finds he’s to be the new King of Far Far Away. Not if he has anything to do with it, so he heads off – yes, Donkey and Puss In Boots in tow – to find the next royal in line to the thrown, a young lad named Arthur (whom I don’t recall from any fairytale stories I read when I was younger). Meanwhile, Prince Charming is still seething at losing Fiona, his wicked Fairy Godmother-mother and the crown from the previous movie so, having apparently seen the very similar Happily N’Ever After, sets out on his own mission to group all the badduns together to storm the castle. This all leaves the womenfolk – Fiona and variations on fairytale Princesses (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) – without much to do, other than mope around spouting baby talk over Fiona’s surprise news for Shrek. At least, it might have been a surprise had the moment she actually divulges this information not been played for laughs in a throwaway scene and been more of a truly heartfelt instance – something this film is lacking in spades – between the two.

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And this, really, is Shrek The Third’s biggest hurdle. It’s just too jumbled up and mixed around, apparently in an over the top effort to entertain, that it forgets the strengths of its characters and anything remotely resembling them from the first two films. Even Queen Lillian suddenly becomes a woman of war in a bizarre turn that sees her literally headbanging her way out through a prison’s stone wall…what just happened, how and why? There are many elements here that feel like the original Shrek 3 was scrapped late in the game and this new, fake Shrek was put out in its place. The Fiona “I’m pregnant!” scene is a real case in point: much was made in the promotions about this film being the one where – gasp! – Shrek is to become a father, but apart from this completely misjudged reveal early on (in fact there’s no time for reflection since Shrek is already leaving for his quest) and a brief minute or so at the end, the Shrek-babies never come into the movie itself. That bit where the Shrek kid goes all Rosemary’s Baby? It’s a short dream sequence. So much for honest advertising, though it’s clear the DreamWorks trailer people knew where the real story was, even if the filmmakers threw it out (with the babies, as it were).

When the little tots finally do come, right at the end when one might think that the story is actually just about to kick in, they’ll weird anyone out who remembers the twins in Tod Browning’s macabre and hauntingly fantastic Freaks, an image I couldn’t shake from my head – was this an in-joke? Or just a sick joke? Still, by this end of things, nothing has really been resolved, and even the villains’ royal hijack attempts just sort of peter out to nothing, the big climax of the film being a majestic-worthy speech delivered by Shrek. On a stage. In the middle of nowhere. It just doesn’t work. As a TV special – heck a feature length pilot for a Shrek series – it would play fine, but this is supposed to not only be a major theatrical movie, but one in an apparently planned saga. Yeah right, and George Lucas really did have the Force all sewn up before he shot the very first Star Wars.

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There’s simply nothing new or groundbreaking here, and that’s Shrek The Third’s biggest fault. Of the new characters, Justin Timberlake’s Arthur isn’t good or bad; he just “is”, though the arrogant teenager turned responsible young adult arc is as tried and tested as to ultimately be boring. Likewise, Eric Idle’s Merlin The Magician (another renegade from any fairytale stories I ever read) is just what you’ll be expecting: a bungler who manages to get things right at opportune moments. Idle was apparently peeved that a “joke” ripped off one he’d put in his Monty Python musical Spamalot, but I firstly recall it was Terry Gilliam slapping the coconuts together in The Holy Grail and, secondly, the use of these shells has been used in radio programs to indicate horses’ hooves long before there even was a Monty Python! Shrek The Thirdly, and in a rare display of defence for the film, there’s nothing in the slightest similar between the two. I like Idle and what he’s done away from Python, but sometimes the guy doth protest too much, and I’ll doubt that Merlin will now be one character who returns to the Shrekiverse (though that could have always been the plan, in retrospect of course).

The other returning characters are just as from the stock-pile as ever, with few minor new twists but nothing that compares to the wit on display in Shrek or Shrek 2. For the first half, I had to question if Mike Myers really was Shrek, or if he was having an off day. These opening scenes especially merely sound like Myers is doing an impression of the not-so-jolly green ogre, and not the soft Scottish brogue itself. There’s a whole “what?” subplot with Donkey and Puss swapping voices, for some reason, which doesn’t make any sense and only unbalances the slim story even more. These kind of jokes were done in the second picture, much more originally and far more amusingly. The villains come off as bored, only seemingly reluctantly going along with Charming’s wishes as if they have nothing else to do. It might have made for a better picture if Shrek The Third had been what was promised in the trailers, with Shrek actually coming to terms with what being a father means and possibly drafting Charming in as a royal advisor only for him to sabotage Shrek’s attempts at royal duties.

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The whole “new parents” angle doesn’t even find its way into Fiona’s thankless scenes: when going gung-ho with the other Princesses at the end, why is there no apparent concern for the offspring she is carrying? Should she really be kicking and fighting her way about? Why don’t her royal “friends” help protect her during these moments? How come Queen Lillian waited for the right moment to smash their way out of jail instead of performing the same trick earlier? It’s lazy, made up storytelling, and more than four years after the music from the Kill Bill trailer made such an impact, the Princesses actually prepare to fight to the same track – actually, a rip off of the same track, Battle Without Honor Or Humanity, by Tomoyasu Hotei. Didn’t DreamWorks want to pay to license the original?

This overall tone is unfortunately repeated in the animation itself, which tends to look pretty ropey for a DreamWorks offering. There’s nothing here to really offend, but some shots do stick out like a sore thumb: the horse movement cycles – which were so spectacular in the second film – are simply not on par. And instead of a smooth keyframed action whenever anyone slides into a move (like standing up from a seated or kneeling position), the models just seem to bound into life like in a Barbie video, and not with the grace that was perfected in Shrek 2. As for the notion that the whole endeavor is intended as part three of a much larger story, well, all I can say is that Shrek The Third fills like drab, middle act filler. It’s main purpose is for one scene: to introduce the idea of “Shrek as Dad” for the fourth movie: everything else here is pointless, witless and bland: Shrek The Turd, more like; diminishing returns, indeed.

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Unfortunately, this third go around really does follow the rule of most follow-ups in going for a sequel too far, and we’ve got another handful of ’em to come yet! This can only mean creative bankruptcy for the Shreks…if things are as tired and waterlogged as this after just three attempts, how knackered are things going to be feeling after Shrek Goes Fourth and The Shrek Five, if ripping off the names from the Brit-com series Blackadder continues for each successive sequel. Obviously I’m in the minority, it seems: Shrek The Third did indeed go out and conquer, bringing back another box-office bonanza that makes Katzenberg’s future Shreks a sure thing. But that’s the problem: these things are now being made oh so transparently and strictly for the cash that any real life, truth or emotion has been sucked out. Original series director Andrew Adamson (now moved on to the land of Narnia) is truly missed, as is the originally announced outline of Shrek taking on the Arthurian legend, which this isn’t about at all. And it isn’t about the babies either. In the end, unquestionably DreamWorks’ weakest film isn’t about anything at all.

Except for that moment I opened this review on. One word: Gingy.

Is This Thing Loaded?

A safe bet with a DreamWorks disc is a hearty load of extras, and though Shrek’s third time around means there’s little new to reveal and be wowed by, there’s still enough here to satisfy those fans of the movie who bumped up the box office numbers and want a little meat on their bones. The disc begins with a preview for the Studio’s latest film, Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie, employing the same typewriter cue from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil that Pixar’s WALL-E has been using in their trailers. As is DWs tradition, a starring name from their next picture, in this case Jack Black, makes an onscreen introduction for Kung Fu Panda, due in theaters summer 2008. Black is an acquired taste that comes and goes with me, but the movie does look great (previewed here in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen) and will hopefully find the Studio back on form. The previews, which can all be skipped with the Menu key, end with Paramount’s hugely derivative theatrical hope The Spiderwick Chronicles, coming in February, in which young Freddie Highmore seems to have lost his lovely British accent for American to appear in another fantasy clone that looks to blend Narnia, Lemony Snicket’s Unfortunate Events and Bridge To Terabithia. Ho-hum…

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All of the menu screens, are quite fun, combining elements from the movie in a stage setting, accompanied by score selections and lavish animation. Heading into the Special Features and none of the options look too enticing, the first of which, the Worcestershire Academy Yearbook is as pointless as it sounds. Funnier, yet placed without context for those not knowing what they are looking at, are two minutes of Big Green Goofs. These are another series of render tests in which computer code has gone nuts and created sometimes hilarious consequences. Unfortunately, there’s no explanation for newcomers what these “goofs” are, so they’ll fly over many a head for those expecting Pixar type dialogue blunders and not sure what’s actually wrong with them.

The Lost Scenes Of Shrek The Third finds the artists in the story pitching room, throwing out boarded ideas for three sequences cut from the movie: The Fauxly Grail, Hot Lunch and Cyrano De Artie. In a Play All configuration, the pitches run to over 18 minutes in a 24-style split-screen, but they’re only sporadically entertaining, with the first – a quest for a grail from an earlier version that strayed closer to the King Arthur legend – dragging along for half that length. What’s clear though, is the amount of fun the crew have making these movies (even if the material doesn’t quite warrant the raucous laughter it elicits), and how much the artists throw themselves into selling each moment. The grail sequence’s fairly exciting action scene could well have been cut for similarities to the dragon chase in the first film despite the fact that it could have enlivened proceedings in the finished movie, but funniest is probably Hot Lunch, which plays as an alternate introduction to Artie at Worcestershire Academy even though, again, there’s no explanation as to where these scenes were intended.

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There’s another lack of context for Donkey Dance, a thirty second clip of, well, Donkey dancing that was created for…? Your guess is as good as mine, and while it’s fairly amusing, there’s not much point to it. Meet The Cast needs no context and is quite self explanatory, being the first promotional featurette we come across here. Running 10:40, this is a very welcome peek behind the microphones – something I always like to see in an animated movie’s extras and that only DreamWorks seems to like to share. The cast reveal what it’s like to come back for thirds, with Puss’ Antonio Banderas explaining that he finally feels part of the group this time around after being introduced in Shrek 2. It’s a good piece, zapped through quickly to avoid anything other than soundbites (primarily from new additions Justin Timberlake, Eric Idle and the Saturday Night Live girls), but it’s always fun to catch the voices in the booths.

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Jumping to the second page of extras and the only other worthwhile video extra is The Tech Of Shrek 3, which reveals how all those voice performances were turned into the animated characters onscreen. This 9:53 featurette covers all the bases nicely, and particular attention is given to some technological advances with cloth simulation, which is something of a revelation to me as I actually remember thinking how thick, drab and heavy the clothes moved when I saw Shrek 3 in the theater. Head honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg claims that co-DreamWorks partners, the heavily logo featured HP and AMD, have allowed the Studio to progress “beyond the cutting edge of where CG work is today”, which may be true of the company’s upcoming films but certainly isn’t a quote that warrants being directly attached to Shrek 3. It’s fair to say that he’s talking mainly about processing power, which allows the animators to work faster and create the film in less time, though maybe it’s a combination of computer chips and more time that would result in better movie making. Not that it matters: Shrek The Third made a ton of dough, right? Ultimately, this only goes to spotlight that the crew seem to have been so caught up developing their tricks, they forgot that all the fancy-schmancy technical innovations in the world can’t beat an engaging story and consistent characters.

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Unfortunately, there’s more of the pointless bonus variety with the remainder of the supplements: Shrek’s Guide To Parenting is anything but, being words of wisdom from a bunch of awful soundalike characters rather than anything substantial or funny, while the DreamWorks Animation Video Jukebox is just an excuse to run song moments from six of the Studio’s movies. As noted before with one of these features on another disc, DreamWorks aren’t exactly known for their extensive song catalog, and most of these songs are in fact cover versions or source music, making the jukebox nothing more than a way to advertise the fact that these titles are all conveniently available on DVD, and waste several minutes of disc space. An option for Previews re-runs the trailers already encountered at the top of the disc, along with a push for Charlotte’s Web and – again pointlessly – the Jukebox clips for Shrek and Shrek 2. On the Main Menu, this exact same Jukebox clip is repeated again when one selects the Shrek icon at the end of the Menu options. And there I was hoping for something really cool.

Moving into DreamWorks Kids, we find the usual selection of younger oriented fare, as if most of the features already experienced aren’t simple enough. Merlin’s Magic Crystal Ball is a set top “game” in which Merlin “answers” your yes or no questions, randomly selecting positive, negative or neutral responses and really isn’t any better than it sounds. How To Be Green uses the color of Shrek’s skin to work in an environmentally friendly theme, suggesting the many ways kids can help save the planet (hey, at least it uses original cast voices rather than the non-soundalikes) using four minutes’ worth of footage from all three movies, and Learn The Donkey Dance repeats the dancing Donkey footage from the Special Features three times: once as before, once with narrated instructions and once again with on-screen prompts. Not only does this seem pointless, but why include the clip as a standalone elsewhere?

Finally, a Shrek-tivities DVD-ROM section offers the usual amount of impressive DreamWorks bolt-ons, including printables, coloring pages, guides, Merlin’s Magic Tricks and more. Some pretty well made Flash games, probably from the theatrical website, play along the same lines as other computer diversions, with the gingerbread racing Gingy’s Dreamz and Tickle Fight (Puss vs. Pinocchio in a spoof of Mortal Kombat) being the most amusing and entertaining. Shrek Shmash Ups appears to be cool idea at first, being where the viewer can jump in and edit their own Shrek 3 scenes along with other embellishments, but wastes a lot of time quickly and ultimately doesn’t allow for any sound level tweaking or personalisation via importing your own images.

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As with Shrek The Third itself, the extras here seem to follow on from what we’ve previously experienced on the first two movies’ discs, and generally there are no introductions to set things up, the bonuses being, like the film, more of the same, only new. A good point is that in anticipation of the eventual move to high definition, most, if not all, the supplements are presented in 16×9, though predictably there are none of the teasers or trailers, which in hindsight turned out to probably be the best thing about Shrek The Third. And if you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned anything about an audio commentary track, it’s because there isn’t one here – a first for a DreamWorks title, I think – which only adds to the lacklustre feel and the feeling that things are being held back (an HD-DVD also gets a feature-length storyboarded version). A middling selection, then, that’s rewarding enough, but just could have used a little more thought.

Case Study:

Giving Shrek The Third the classy shelf respect that neither parts one or two had is a slipcover that forgoes the poster image and simply has the primary characters standing on the stage of the film’s finale. It’s not the most elaborate of slipcases, with only the title stamped out instead of the intricate detail we often get nowadays, and to be honest it feels a little plain. That the selected quote, Pat Collins’ “The Best Shrek Yet!”, is simply untrue, doesn’t help the desperate feel, as is the fact that they had to look to WWOR-TV to find those complimentary words. As with so much of this project, there’s hardly any consistency between the previous outings, making it all the clearer that the Shrek series has now become the DWs cash cow, to be milked in every way until the last dry drop has been squeezed out. Even the not-so-jolly green ogre looks annoyed to be on the cover. Worse still is that an Instant Win Game peel off sticker has been attached with that awfully gunky glue – even with careful handling it still took me ten minutes to prise it off slowly, with only two nicks on the slipcase. You’re guaranteed that “every DVD is a winner”, but not that you’ll get a clean slipcover.

Ink And Paint:

As a brand new film coming to disc a scant few months after its theatrical premiere (and likely digitally transferred direct from its CGI source files), Shrek The Third has been given the royal treatment, looking suitably fresh and shiny in its native widescreen format. A cropped fullscreen edition is out there too, no doubt looking awful, while the HD-DVD version (no Blu-Ray since Paramount opted to stir up the hi-def wars rather than keep their format neutral position) is sure to look even better than this. I noted some minor instances of color banding in a handful of shots, but for standard definition, this is as good as they come in this day and age.

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Scratch Tracks:

Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, the soundtrack more than does the job for this lacklustre film, playing up effects and trying to make up in directional effects what the movie lacks in direction. As with the image, Shrek The Third boasts top of the line technical values, resulting in a lively home theater experience that more than does the movie justice. An English 2.0 mix, French 5.1 and Spanish 2.0 tracks are also bundled in, with optional subtitles in all three languages.

Final Cut:

It’s rather disparaging to note that DreamWorks let the much more creative Aardman group go from their distribution contract in order to fine tune their attentions on poorly formulated, run of the mill efforts such as Shrek The Third, a film that truly struggles not only from comparison to its predecessors but also the extraordinary layered work in Pixar’s Ratatouille. Though the bottom line no doubt adds up, swapping innovative quirkiness and originality for over-bloated, empty sequels and threequels puts DreamWorks several notches below their lamp-logo’d competition in Emeryville, and even the company’s new Bee Movie comes to the screen feeling like some sort of follow up even though it’s the first (in another new franchise?). Those that enjoyed both previous Shreks may find something in here (Gingy!) to enjoy, but box office figures aside, even hard core fans may question the reasoning behind much of what’s happening on screen. DWs’ disc packs in the usual suspects, even if some could well have done with more to put them in context and let us in on what we were actually looking at, but the lack of a commentary verges on the outrageous. Truth be told, the wheels started feeling wobbly on the Shrek bandwagon with the 3D short produced for Universal’s theme park attraction, and unless the fourth part of the franchise can reverse the trend, it’s all downhill from here…

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

 

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