Keeping up appearances with a filthy ogre
The motor that powers the Shrek movies is subversion. The first film was a surprise as it put everything about fairytales on its head: the brutish ogre was the hero, his sidekick an annoying donkey and in the end even the princess turned out to be a monster. The follow-up proved equally entertaining, providing a magical kingdom built on the ideals of Hollywood and run by an industrious, corrupt fairy. At this point Shrek himself has become the norm. He is a hero just like any other. Can Shrek The Third really provide the same subversive qualities as the others, or is it just a thin veneer underneath which runs a standard fantasy comedy?
After the events of Shrek 2, the green monstrosity (Mike Myers) and his bride Fiona (Cameron Diaz) find themselves thrust into the shoes of their parents as rulers of the kingdom of Far, Far Away. Shrek is ill-suited to the task of being king and goes off on a quest to find the next-in-line: dorky Arthur who is having problems adjusting to high school life. Meanwhile, last movie’s rogue Prince Charming plots his revenge and tries taking over the kingdom in Shrek’s absence. Oh, and Fiona is pregnant with a set of baby ogres. Becoming a father isn’t something Shrek saw for his future, but his time with Arthur proves an educational parenting experience.
The inclusion of kids is a move that often signals the end of a franchise (see the many straight-to-video/DVD/BluRay Disney sequels that invariably move to the next generation of heroes). Fortunately, the world of Shrek turns out to have just enough charm and wit to sustain itself around a humdrum plot. The jokes might not be so fresh as before, but they raise a chuckle nonetheless. The subversive element this time around comes from girl power, or rather, princess power. Usually relegated to being passive damsels-in-distress, here Fiona inspires her clique of famous ladies (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, &c) to stand up for themselves and save the day. That’s necessary too since this time it’s Shrek that is helplessly clapped in irons.
Visually the film is a step up from last time. The animation is smoother, the models look good (if still stylistically all over the place) and the scenery is nothing if not impressive. In terms of narrative though, I’d say there isn’t a whole lot more mileage left in Shrek.