I'd actually expected really good things from Shrek the Third, but it turns out this is a case of the funniest bits being in the trailer. Sure, the movie succeeds in the way all Shrek movies do: there's plenty of kid humor (physical gags, farts, etc.) and adult humor (cultural references, puns galore, songs we recognize) all played out with colorful animated fairy tale characters. In this sense, Shrek the Third is perfectly satisfying as a family movie everyone can enjoy. But is it as good as the first Shrek movie was? Nah.
At the movie's start, Shrek and Fiona are filling in for the ailing king of Far, Far Away with the help of Puss in Boots, Donkey and Donkey's brood of half-donkeys/half-dragons. Shrek and Fiona find the job of running a kingdom not to their liking, so when the king reveals that there is another heir to the throne, Arthur (or Artie as the bullies at his high school know him), Shrek sets off to make Artie the new king. In the meantime, Prince Charming is still determined to be king and rallies all the fairy tale villains to help him storm the kingdom. This doesn't sit well with the princesses, however, who take matters into their own hands rather than waiting for their men to rescue them. That's not all there is to this movie, though, so
As usual, the characters are lovably hilarious in the ways we've come to expect, with my personal favorites being Puss in Boots and the Gingerbread Man (who gets some more screen time in this one, to my delight). Yet as for the story lines, everything feels slightly forced. The element of discovery is gone, as is any interesting story development, since Shrek and his previously unlikely friendships with Donkey and Puss have been fully established, and ways to up the ante now are becoming limited.
The writers did well to push the stories forward by having the happily married Fiona and Shrek on the fast track to starting a family. In addition, there are new takes on old things, like the princesses breaking free from convention which, small thing though it may seem to be, I truly appreciate. I grew up on the old kinds of fairy tales complete with ladies waiting to be rescued, and it's nice to see new material with a message of strength and independence rather than helplessness. Also, there's a new spin on the concept of fairy tale villains, which is refreshing, even if the villains' storyline ends abruptly and without real reason. So, while most of the movie feels like a stretch they don't need to be making, it's a cute movie featuring some endearing characters, which is really all kids ask for. And for all its adultish cleverness, the Shrek movies are still kids' movies.
Photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures