When an extremely funny movie, like Shrek, puts out an extremely funny sequel, like Shrek 2, the expectations for the third entry into the series are only heightened. Thus, when the third entry is a disappointment, like Shrek the Third, the disappointment is greater. Where exactly the third entry in the franchise went awry is unclear. Certainly, however, the result is a 92 minute film that feels much longer.
The plot for Shrek's third outing revolves around the death of King Harold (John Cleese), Fiona's (Cameron Diaz) father and ruler of Far, Far Away. Nominally, this puts Shrek (Mike Myers) in charge of the land, a task the ogre does not relish (why exactly Harold's only child, Fiona, cannot rule is never established). In King Harold's dying words, Shrek finds solace, there is another possible ruler for the kingdom.
Shrek quickly sets off on a mission to find the replacement, one Arthur Pendragon (King Arthur of Camelot to you and me), or Artie (Justin Timberlake) as he likes to be called. With the help of Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) Shrek finds young Artie in, horror of horrors, a high school. The film attempts to derive much mirth from Artie's high school setting. Shrek, Donkey, and Puss apparently find the very notion of high school terrifying, and the school lives up to their worst, clichéd, expectations. Mocking and humiliation play a huge role at the school, which is replete with nerds, cool kids, dweebs, geeks, jocks, cheerleaders, and Artie, who is the low man on the totem pole. Artie is mocked by one and all, including Lancelot (John Krasinski). Upon learning that he is going to be king of Far, Far Away Artie is only too happy to leave the school.
All is not well though in Far, Far Away as Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) is convinced that he ought to be King (see Shrek 2 for his backstory). Charming teams up with a bunch of fairytale baddies, including Captain Hook (Ian McShane), and stages a take over of the kingdom. Upon Shrek's return our ogre hero, with more than a little help from his wife and her mother, Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews), are able to restore peace to the kingdom and live happily ever after. At least, that is, until Shrek Goes Fourth is released on May 21, 2010 (tickets on sale soon!).
While the first two Shrek movies managed to find wit and enjoyment in mocking fairytales while creating enjoyable yarns of their own, this installment does neither of these things. There is no subversive humor present this go around, and what jokes are present are hugely predictable. Jokey story signs (Versarchery) do not a funny movie make.
It is possible that the series has mined all the humor it can from making referencing other fairytales. But, this movie could have been enjoyable without that element, the bigger failing of the film is that its plot is in no way enjoyable. As a villain, Prince Charming is bland and boring, he lacks the over-the-top true evil of Lord Farquaad from the original or the wonderfully different take on Fairy Godmother of the second. Prince Charming is as bland as the dinner theatre productions he acts in.
One of the other main plot points of Shrek the Third is Shrek's impending fatherhood and fears thereof. Shrek's fears, complete with nightmares, feel like a bad sitcom plot, particularly following Donkey and Dragon having children in the last film.
There are a multitude of special features included with DVD, including the usual “making of” behind-the-scenes featurettes. There is one that includes the cast members discussing the film, and another has members of the DreamWorks team pitching various scenes that did not make it into the film.
The most interesting of the special features is a “yearbook” that goes through a plethora of characters from Arthur's high school. This feature is both funny and depressing. The sheer number of characters included in the yearbook is staggering. There is a profile for each, and while somewhat formulaic, the characters are interesting. However, sadly, most of the characters say nary a word in the main film. Yet, here they are, thought out and complete on the DVD. Clearly the ideas about the movie and its characters are far more deep than what appears on screen during the feature.
Shrek the Third certainly has funny moments, but they are few and far between. If the bar had not been set so high by the previous films this one would not be nearly as disappointing.