Judge Gordon Sullivan won't be waiting in line for Shrek IV: A New Hope.
Our reviews of Shrek The Third (published November 30th, 2007), Shrek The Third (Blu-Ray) (published September 26th, 2008), and Shrek: The Whole Story (Blu-Ray) (published December 15th, 2010) are also available.
"The only thing you're ever gonna be king of, is king of the stupids!"
Facts of the Case
The king of Far Far Away (John Cleese, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) "croaks," leaving Shrek (Mike Myers, The Cat in the Hat) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz, There's Something About Mary) as his heirs. However, Shrek has other plans, most of them involving an isolated swamp. So, he decides to pass the buck to Fiona's cousin, Artie, a.k.a. the future King Arthur (Justin Timberlake, Black Snake Moan). While Shrek is away retrieving Artie, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett, Stage Beauty) decides to stage a coup, enlisting the help of famous fairytale villains like Capt. Hook (Ian McShane, Deadwood). Of course Shrek has to bring Artie back and restore order to the kingdom.
I had pretty low expectations for Shrek the Third, and I wasn't disappointed. I really just wanted an entertaining story, some clever fairytale references, and gorgeous visuals. One out of three ain't bad. Oh wait, yeah it is.
On the surface the plots seems okay, as the reluctant hero Shrek quests for a suitable replacement. Sadly however, so little is done with Artie's character that his presence becomes more like an excuse to get Shrek out of the kingdom rather than a full-fledged subplot. The idea of Shrek as a father also feels tacked on, like the writers thought that it was the only way to increase the poop-joke quotient from the previous films and provide sequel-fodder. Also, while I liked the triumph of the princesses over Prince Charming, he never quite makes a convincing villain, which makes their triumph (and Shrek's) feel a little cheap.
The plot also demonstrates the lackluster attention to fairy-detail. Where Shrek was once the reluctant hero, ironically sent to play the knight and rescue the princess, here he jumps at the chance to quest for Arthur. This about-face is the kind of flaw this movie is rife with, committing the sins its predecessors lambasted. The original Shrek was a story with lots of crude humor that became heartwarming; Shrek the Third is a heartwarming story that has crude humor added. So while there are clever nods here and there (I especially enjoyed the keg of "Poison Apple Cider" in the villains' tavern), there is little that turns convention on its head as the first two films did.
Instead, the entire affair comes off as conventional.
What is not conventional, however, is the film's visual flair: the animation is simply stunning. Although not photorealistic in the slightest, the film convincingly creates a world that I could believe existed somewhere. Character motion has been refined, texture detail enhanced, and more stuff added into the frame. Even crowd scenes looked richly detailed with interesting clothes and fixtures. If only the detail served the story instead of just being eye candy.
While I wasn't a fan of the film, this HD DVD is demo quality in its audio/visual presentation. With no film between the final rendering and the bits on this disc, all the fine detail is preserved. Due to technological improvements, the animators were able to provide much more variety in the lighting, and this disc captures those changes effortlessly. Overcast days look appropriately gloomy, tavern scenes look warm as if lit by a fire, and the spotlights during the finale highlight dust motes. The variety of hair and clothing texture gets a special mention as well. On the aural side, things were similarly impressive. The lively mix of music and sound effects was well balanced, and I never found myself reaching for the remote to change the volume during action or dialogue scenes.
For the kid-oriented extras, this set really should be called Shrek the Third: Babysitter Edition, as so many of the extras seem to be features that promote interaction between child and one of the characters from the film, like Donkey. For instance, the "Ask Merlin" extra is a Magic Eight Ball, but with clips of Merlin from the film interspersed with cryptic answers like "None of your beeswax." Light stuff, and depending on the age of your child, it may keep them entertained for hours.
For the adults, there is the advertised HD DVD exclusive "Animators' Corner" feature, which is a picture-in-picture feature which runs over the film and shows storyboards for the scene. It didn't hold my attention for long, but fans of the process of animation are sure to love it. The web-enable extras include some bios of the characters and a trivia track that runs along with the film. "The Tech of Shrek" featurette plays as half commercial for AMD/HP and half as an excuse for the tech people to gush about what they can do now that they couldn't on the last movie. I guess because the technology has improved so much, the included goofs didn't seem as fun as the ones I remember from the initial Shrek DVD, while the "Lost Scenes" are pitches from writers for scenes they'd like to see in the movie. The passion and enthusiasm that these individuals brought was amazing, but this feature is probably of interest primarily to animation junkies.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I knew going in that I wasn't the primary audience for this film, so I watched it with a youngster. She was tickled by the movie, never once seeming bored or restless. Many of the gags that I found distasteful (like the torrent of baby vomit) she loved, and she was obviously more invested in the characters and their fate. So, while I still don't think this is a great movie, it's probably going to entertain its target demographic.
If you're looking for demo material for your home theater, this disc is worth a rental. Likewise, if you have kids they'll probably enjoy the film. Everyone else is warned that the crude humor and threadbare story might leave you wanting.
The films is guilty of taking a good idea and milking it dry. DreamWorks is acquitted for their magnificent technical presentation.
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Scales of Justice
• The Animators' Corner: Picture-in-Picture Interactive Storyboards
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