by Rob Gonsalves
'Shrek the Third,' the latest summer-season event to gross $500 billion within two hours of its release (or whatever), follows the irascible ogre (Mike Myers) into the terrifying prospect of fatherhood.At first, Shrek balks: he just wants to live in his swamp hovel with his beloved ogre wife Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz). But the movie is about rising to your destiny and heeding the scary call of adulthood, which in Shrek’s case must mean reproduction. The Shrek films have tried awfully hard to preach acceptance and progressive thought, but the happily child-free in the audience may feel a bit left out in the cold. According to this film’s schematic, you get married, you have babies, and you don’t question it.
"Nicely done, but enough is probably enough."
That aside, Shrek the Third is about on par with its 2004 predecessor, leaving behind the overt fairy-tale parodies of the first film and bringing the hoary old characters to new witty life. For instance, here we have the kaffeeklatch of Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Rapunzel, voiced respectively by Amy Poehler, Amy Sedaris, Cheri Oteri, and Maya Rudolph. Except for Sedaris, who has considerable comedy chops of her own, that’s a formidable grouping of Saturday Night Live vets, to put alongside Myers and Eddie Murphy (who returns as the voice of the irrepressible Donkey). When the quartet of fairy-tale heroines bands together with Fiona, the soundtrack kicks into Kill Bill’s “Battle Without Honor or Humanity,” one of many free-floating adult pop-culture references.
The frog king (voiced too briefly by John Cleese, whose Python colleague Eric Idle turns up as Merlin) is on his last frog legs, and the throne must be passed to someone. Certainly not Shrek, who is offered the gig but swiftly demurs. No, it seems there’s another heir out there, a high-school dweeb named Arthur (Justin Timberlake), unaware of his destiny. Meanwhile, the blond, handsome and slimy Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), doomed to humiliating dinner theater, seeks to claw his way into the respect he feels is rightfully his; he gathers a group of villainous malcontents and launches an attack on the vulnerable kingdom.
It’s a recent tradition for second sequels to be a bit busy; Spider-Man 3 threw in everything including the kitchen sink, and the same looks to be true of the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean: At Franchise’s End. The third Shrek boasts a lot of diversions, including a body-switch between Donkey and the suave Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), but at 93 minutes it gets in and out fast while still leaving room for Myers to develop Shrek with layers of melancholy and doubt — at this point, with Austin Powers long played out, Shrek’s about the only bid for posterity he’s got. The animation gets sleeker with each entry — a shot of Prince Charming unleashing his hair in a Pantene-commercial moment subtly tells us how far computer imaging has come — and not many other $160 million blockbusters would make time for a rendition of “Live and Let Die” by grieving frogs. (The Shrek films have a history of musical hipness; Prince Charming rattles off a phrase that pays tribute to Bob Dylan.)
There’s the obligatory burp and fart humor for the kiddies, of course, but any film with the wherewithal to cast Ian McShane as Captain Hook has more going for it than flatulence. The Shrek franchise started out bumpy for me but has improved with each chapter, though I wonder how many more films this concept can hold. A trilogy is a nice neat number, though a $750 trillion opening weekend (or whatever) may make it hard for DreamWorks to leave well enough alone, and a fourth go-round has already been announced for 2010.The cynical suspicion arises that Shrek faces fatherhood so that his progeny can star in direct-to-DVD sequels without having to pay Mike Myers seven figures. Get married, have kids, make money for the corporation.
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originally posted: 05/21/07 07:58:27