He's big, he's green and he wants to be
left alone by the humans that misunderstand him. Marvel
should either sue or take notes, because Dreamworks certainly
has figured out how to make their jade giant into
a beloved pop culture figure. Shrek returns in the eponymous
Shrek 3, and somehow, he's become even more lovable.
After the second film established a pattern
for Shrek's adventures, the multiple directors and writers
for Shrek the Third struggle to break it. Yet when
you've got a family - okay, children's - franchise, you've
got to acknowledge all the things that work. Everyone wants
to see Donkey (Eddie Murphy), they should want to see Puss
In Boots (Antonio Banderas) and you can't forget the other
random fairy tales.
In a reasonably clever twist, the film
opens on Prince Charming (an oily-voiced Rupert Everett)
reliving and rewriting his history as a bad piece of dinner
theater. Thank heavens for the astute criticism of the Gingerbread
Man, which sets Charming off to plot revenge.
For a character that wants to be left alone,
Shrek (Mike Meyers) sure has gathered himself an entourage.
But that's one of the points of the franchise, that after
a lifetime of being considered monstrous, it's hard to feel
comfortable when you're finally accepted.
Case in point: on his deathbed, frog king
Harold (John Cleese) names Shrek his heir. After awkwardly
admitting affection for his father-in-law, going so far
as to call him "Dad," Shrek refuses the crown. It doesn't
matter that the kingdom loves Shrek; he doesn't feel
Shrek's quest to find the next heir, Artie
(Justin Timberlake), will of course bring him full circle
and understand himself and his place in a world that now
loves him. We expect that. It is, of course, a family movie.
What may be off-putting to some people
is that Shrek really has become more than a cartoon character;
he's three dimensional and growing over the course of these
films. Though Shrek the Third still abounds with
lunacy, Shrek himself may be one of the most realistic characters
we're going to see this summer.
Wives can probably identify with Donkey
and Puss, too; they're the buddies that subtly annoy spouses.
Earnest Donkey is the goofy family man that talks a little
too loudly too often. Of course, Puss is that guy that won't
accept responsibility and keeps trying to tempt the good
husband away for moments of irresponsibility. Banderas plays
this to the hilt; Puss may not dominate as he did in the
last film, but he could very well be worthy of the rumored
Unfortunately, that does leave Artie a
little thin. Clearly a knock-off of King Arthur, getting
pushed around by high school bully Lancelot, Artie has little
in the way of personality but for a few nerd cliches. That's
where Dreamworks really needs to jettison some things; the
parodies of the modern world need to go. It's no longer
funny to see a shoebox from Ye Olde Foot Locker; where once
it was sharp and knowing (well, knowing anyway), now it
only reminds us this world isn't real.
Plenty of social commentary gets made without
brand-naming. Charming's plan to corrupt Far Far Away revolves
around a rock opera re-write of his earlier conflict with
Shrek. How perfect to underscore his essential shallowness,
and it's so cleverly realized that we can get swept up in
believing in this other world, and rooting for this mythical
to the writers: other characters probably shouldn't
refer to Shrek as a mythical creature when clearly, ogres
end of the film, in fact, Shrek has learned more than many
of his peers might. Though it no doubt will lead us into
a Shrek 4, we leave hiim on a satisfying note.
He's grown. He's learned. He's earned Dreamworks a ton of
money. Maybe we can let him rest a while.
He's still too much fun.