Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 25, 2021)
Was it just me, or did 2007’s Shrek the Third hit screens with less fanfare than expected? After all, 2004’s Shrek 2 became that year’s biggest hit and took in $436 million in the US.
Without adjustment for inflation, only Titanic and Star Wars had earned more money as of 2007. Against that background, I’d have anticipated much more hype for Third.
In a summer packed with big-name sequels, though, Third got a little lost in the shuffle. Not that it did poorly, of course.
With a $320 million US gross, it became inevitable that we’d get a fourth chapter in the Shrek series. The movie simply failed to garner as much attention as you’d anticipate from a third chapter in such a hugely successful series.
At the film’s start, we saw what happened to Prince Charming (voiced by Rupert Everett), the defeated baddie of the second movie. Humiliated and left in exile, he dreams of revenge upon Shrek, and he decides on a new plan.
In the meantime, Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) do their best to fill in for Far Far Away’s ailing king (John Cleese). When the ruler dies, he wants Shrek to take over as the new leader, but our ogre hero resists this call.
Instead, he prefers to find Arthur (Justin Timberlake), an awkward teen who also has a place in the royal lineage. This sets Shrek on a quest to find Arthur and place him on the throne – and also to deal with Fiona’s announcement that she’s pregnant.
While this occurs, Charming becomes the leader of all the various fairy tale villains. He appeals to them to create their own “happily ever after” and they take over Far Far Away. The movie follows these two main stories.
The first Shrek wasn’t great, but at least it managed to offer something different via its skewed take on famous fairy tales. Shrek 2 lacked the same sense of originality, and I still can’t quite account for its success. The movie presented some amusement but wasn’t anything particularly dynamic or inventive.
Against that backdrop, you should expect more of the same from Third. For better or for worse, this chapter falls into the same realm as its predecessors.
We get more lampooning of fairy tale characters and scenarios, though Third branches out into slightly different territory. The King Arthur legend may be mythological, but it feels like an odd piece to link to the world of ogres and talking animals.
Even if we accept that – and we probably should, since we’re willing to swallow so much - Third only intermittently succeeds. Actually, I think we find at least as many laughs as usual, and probably more.
Granted, the first two never amused me too much, but this one offers a decent number of chuckles. I particularly like two bits during the scene when Charming tries to find Shrek and Fiona.
We see Gingy’s life flash before his eyes in amusing fashion, and Pinocchio’s obfuscation is a hoot. A few other sequences also stand out as among the series’ funniest.
But plenty fall flat as well. We get too many of the usual bodily function jokes, and the attempts to show modern life in a fantasy setting get a little old. Yeah, these are inevitable and part of the series’ tendencies, but they start to sag after three movies.
One problem with a third chapter in a cinematic series comes from all the characters they amass. Third wants to give us most of the personalities from the first two flicks and add new ones as well.
This means some of our old favorites get a bit lost in the shuffle and don’t have much to do. Actually, the film balances them about as well as it could, but it would’ve worked better with fewer participants on display.
At least Third manages a reasonably concise and efficient story. With so many characters, it could’ve indulged in 47 different plot threads, but it really concentrates pretty heavily on the two I mentioned.
The issues with the heir and Charming’s revenge take the forefront, while Shrek’s family anxieties act more as a subtext. The movie blends the sides pretty well and ties them together semi-neatly in the end.
I must admit I could live without the parental aspects of Third, though. I think it would’ve been enough for Shrek to battle a sense of responsibility versus his natural inclination toward sloth and self-centeredness.
I guess the Arthur elements meant the filmmakers needed some payoff for Shrek other than as king, but I think the parental side of things feels forced – like it exists more as fodder for another sequel than as a natural story point.
I suppose if I directly compared the animation of Third with the original Shrek, I’d notice growth. However, it continues to feature the same look, for good and for bad.
On one hand, it’s positive that the series maintains a sense of continuity. We wouldn’t want a Shrek film that doesn’t fit in with the others.
Unfortunately, this means that many of the characters continue to look off-putting and odd. The human renderings still fare poorly, as they try too hard to be photo-real, and they just don’t work.
Poor Artie often looks like clay-mation more than anything else, and the moderate ugliness of the figures makes it tough to get into the story at times. I prefer the Pixar approach, which uses the advantages of CG animation but still manages to make its work look like cartoons.
If you read my reviews for the first two films, you’ll see that I thought both offered moderate entertainment but not much more. My feelings remain the same in regard to Shrek the Third.
This is a perfectly enjoyable film, though one that seems rather hit or miss much of the time. For every funny bit, there are plenty more than go nowhere. Third offers an amusing but forgettable 90 minutes.