Ogre and out

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Evan Wil­liams

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

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