Happily Ever After, After All
Shrek the Third
The Shrek series has been a dependable franchise for Dreamworks. While the main studio struggled to stay open, eventually closing its doors and becoming little more than a subsidiary in name under the Amblin group. The Animation section, though, was a solid performer for the studio, raking in enough cash that eventually it's part of the company was bought out by Universal Pictures. You can thank Shrek for the animation studio success.
The first movie did well. Very well, pulling in just under half a Mil at the Box Office. It's sequel, though, doubled that, with Shrek 2 pulling up just shy at $928 Mil. If the first sequel was a forgone conclusion, the next absolutely had to happen; you don't ignore a (near) Billion dollar film. So very quickly a three-part movie set was put into production, with the Shrek series expected to top out at five films. The third came out in 2007, three years after the second (and keeping to the standard pace of the franchise) and, well, it was fine. It was a movie.
I caught Shrek the Third in theaters when it came out and I was underwhelmed. At that point Id see each of the Shreks in theaters because once you start something, and it's decent, you keep that going. That run ended with the third film because, well, it sucked. It was a bland and boring series extension that really didn't need to exist. While the snarky among us would say, "no sequel needs to exist," with this third one it really felt like the franchise had already run out of steam. This was a film that tested the patience of its audience... and yet it too made a ton of money. Well over $800 Mil. What did others see that I didn't?
Frankly I still don't have an answer for that but I will say that time has softened my stance some. Knowing how I felt about the film the first time I saw it, I went in with reasonable expectations this second time around and, yeah, it's fine. It hardly lives up to the bar set by the second film (which itself was nowhere near the heights of the 2001's Shrek) but I didn't find it to be entirely objectionable. It was cute without really managing to be much of anything at all. Notably, though, my wife hated it, calling it a total waste of time. Apparently it can elicit vitriol from others on first watching and not just me.
The film picks up some time after the evens of the second film, with Shrek (still Mike Myers) and Fiona (still Cameron Diaz) still in Far Far Away, tending to the needs of the state while her father is sick in bed. Things take a turn for the worst, though, and the King dies, leaving Shrek as heir. This is a role, though, that Shrek doesn't want. He's had a taste of royalty and he wants nothing to do with it. He'd much rather go back to his swamp, with his wife, and have a nice peaceful life. Just the two of them. Except Fiona is pregnant and that throws him for a loop
So Shrek hatches a plan to ignore this part of his life and, instead, track down the only other possible heir for the crown: Arthur "Artie" Pendragon (Justin Timeberlake). He travels across the sea to the kid's boarding school and, with the help of Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss (Antonia Banderas), he drags the kid out of school to be king. Except Artie doesn't want the pressure of ruling anymore than Shrek. Worse, while Shrek is away, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) returns and, with the help of the villains of the various fairy tales, takes over Far Far Away. Shrek will have to organize his allies and invade the kingdom he doesn't want to free it once again.
As with the second film, there are parts of this three-quel that show some merit. I like the idea of Shrek being thrust into the role of King (or Queen Consort, at the very minimum), forced to take on duties that he, an ogre, doesn't want. The film rushes through a montage of these moments, which does this idea some disservice; pushing Shrek and making him have to be more than just an ogre is a great way to grow the character. It's where the previous films found their best heart and this film could have been the same.
I also don't mind the return of Prince Charming to push Shrek. Charming wants to be king and highlights all the ways that he's not as good for the role as Shrek would be. With the development Charming received in the previous film, he works as a perfect foil for our heroic ogre right out of the gate. If only the film would have had the sense to really push Shrek in this direction, to make him realize that he very well was the hero Far Far Away needed and deserved. That, however, is not the film we got.
Instead we get a whole plot line about King Arthur (Artie here) that is as under-baked as it could get. Shrek goes to Artie's school which gives us about three minutes of riffing on high school tropes, then it gets bored and wanders away. Artie is setup to be the heir, and the film wants us to buy into his story, but the whole time he's on screen he acts petulant or simply gets drowned out by the other characters. The cast of these films us already large enough; we didn't need yet another character added to Shrek's merry band, especially when he adds so little to the story.
Of course, if we really want to be nit-picky, the film shouldn't have been about Shrek being the heir. Instead it should have set Fiona up as the heir, as she's actually royal. Considering the king was just a frog (as established in the previous film), it needed to be the death of the Queen that set off this whole issue about heirs. Then &iona, diligently of course, would take up the crown which would put her in opposition with Shrek as he realizes the life he wants back in the swamp is gone. That's solid character drama, it pushes the characters, and it could end with Shrek realizing her had to change once more to make his wife happy. Then, just maybe, the film could have ended with her building him a swampy home in the back gardens of the castle. Best of both worlds for them.
I think the big issue with Shrek the Third (which is a terrible title as he would have bee the first Shrek to serve as king, had he even taken the role) is that is has an interesting idea for a setup but no way to execute it. The film rushes its story, packing in a lot of half-baked humor, and can't even do right by its characters. I found it to be passable on second watching, but even then I lamented the potential films that could have been. This was the film Dreamworks hatched up as the start of a trilogy to cap their series? Really? It just felt sad.
And yet it did make $800 Mil so someone liked this unoffensive, totally bland sequel. So... I guess there's that.