Ogre and out
ANYTHING that was state- of- the- art in far- off 2001 is by definition obsolete and boring, especially in a field as wedded to gadgets and technological novelty as computer animation. Audiences will be pleased to know — and I quote from the DreamWorks press kit — that during the production of Shrek the Third , ‘‘ DL145 HP ProLiant servers and HP xw9300 workstations powered by AMD Opteron processors were used by DreamWorks animation artists’’.
That’s great. But I have to confess that I wasn’t immediately struck by any enhancement in the quality of the imagery. Yes, the characters look more lifelike ( if that’s the word), and yes, we can now count the hairs in Merlin’s beard. But does it matter? What we really love in the Shrek films is the great green ogre himself, the sparkle in his lines, the winning combination of comedy, adventure and romance; even, perhaps, one or two of the songs. Above all, we enjoy the stories.
It seems that since the previous instalment there has been a reshuffle in the Shrek leadership team. Given the success of the earlier films, one wonders why. A new director, Chris Miller, has replaced New Zealander Andrew Adamson, who is credited with the story. Adamson had one codirector ( Vicky Jenson) for Shrek and two ( Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon) for Shrek 2 . All have vanished, presumably under one of Merlin’s spells, along with the original writers. Of the four writers credited with Shrek the Third , none worked as a writer on either of the earlier films, though one of them ( Aron Warner) doubles as a producer. There’s also a new co- director, Raman Hui, to help Miller, who doubles as a writer. None of this seemed promising. But at least the voice talents remain unchanged, even if they have to struggle with some pretty ordinary material.
This is, I fear, a strangely flat and lacklustre sequel. We begin with the death of the old Frog King, whose dying wish is that Shrek ( Mike Myers) should succeed to the throne of Far Far Away with his bride Princess Fiona ( Cameron Diaz). But Shrek is unwilling to shoulder the kingly burden. He longs to return with Fiona to his cottage in the swamp. And his princely career has so far been disappointing. Unaware of his own strength, he’s quite likely when launching a ship to swing the champagne bottle too vigorously and smash a great hole in the hull.
To thwart the ambitious and scheming Prince Charming ( Rupert Everett), Shrek sets out to persuade Fiona’s shy cousin Arthur ( Justin Timberlake) to groom himself for the job. But Arthur is no future king, either. He has been sent off to a posh medieval school called Worcestershire ( as if the name itself were a joke), where he’s nervous, lonely and bullied. It takes all of Shrek’s charm — assisted by his sidekick Donkey ( Eddie Murphy) and the incomparably suave Puss in Boots ( Antonio Banderos) — to persuade Arthur he’s the man for the job.
I wouldn’t dream of revealing vital plot details, but can tell you that Princess Fiona gets pregnant. Strangely, the prospect of baby ogres fills Shrek with consternation. He has a nightmare vision of a swarm of baby ogres like something from Pirates of the Caribbean. Can this be the manly, confident and benevolent Shrek we know and love? A Shrek who doesn’t like children?
The best things in this film seem to be incidental to the main story. The Donkey lacks his usual wisecracking zest and there’s none of the pleasing satirical bite of the earlier films. Everything here seems blander, flatter, more prettified. Fiona’s band of militant fairytale losers — ugly sisters, wicked queens, abandoned princesses and the like — could do with some better jokes. And the final comic sequence with ogre triplets looks like a last- minute gesture to fans who like their gross- out humour served up with as much cuteness as possible.
Which leaves us with the moral of the story. All fairytales must have one, and the message in Shrek and Shrek 2 was that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I could go along with that. In Shrek the Third , we get an extra message or two. Poor shy Arthur comes to understand that kingly virtues lie in strength of character and self- belief. Or as Shrek says, forget what others think of you and remember that ‘‘ the thing that matters most is what you think of yourself’’. This trite ( and questionable) observation may be of some use to audiences. If critics don’t like a film, what matters is what you think of it yourself. Can it be that, deep down, Shrek the Third is wittier, subtler, more creative and inventive than it seems?
Blander and fatter: Shrek mistakes a knight for Artie, watched by Puss in Boots and Donkey