2007 reminds me a lot of 2004 in terms of DreamWorks Animation’s cinematic output. In both years, they released a Shrek sequel in May and in the fall, a comedy featuring anthropomorphic animals starring a well-known comedian. We’ll talk about Bee Movie next time, but one big difference between the two years is that Shrek 2 is frequently cited as the best of the Shrek films, while Shrek the Third is commonly considered the worst of the four. I remember seeing Shrek the Third in theaters with my family, but I didn’t remember much about the movie itself. The scenes that I could clearly remember 14 years later were so bad that we all just kind of looked around at each other like, “Really?” And I’ve never had any urge to revisit the film until now, and only for this review. That being said, our tastes change all the time, and when I was a kid, my taste in film was limited and pretty bad, actually. Like many people, I’ve found some of my childhood favorites don’t hold up now, and vice versa. So, is Shrek the Third a hidden gem that garnered unwarranted hate, or is it really just that bad? Let’s take a look.
Shrek the Third finds Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) riding a horse and giving a narration not unlike the one he delivered at the start of Shrek 2. However, it’s quickly revealed that he’s an actor in a play based on his “happily ever after” that he feels Shrek stole from him. The audience, including many of Shrek’s fans, boo Charming off stage, and he retreats to his “dressing room,” a back alley with a vanity mirror and a picture of his mother. He goes to The Poison Apple Tavern and woos various fairy tale villains with a plot to take over the Kingdom of Far Far Away and reclaim their lost happy endings. Meanwhile, King Harold (John Cleese) is gravely ill, so Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) step up to take over his duties until he gets well again. However, the King’s health only deteriorates more until he tells Shrek that he has to take the throne as King of Far Far Away. Naturally, Shrek protests, and Harold tells him that there’s one other heir, a boy named Arthur Pendragon (Justin Timberlake). Shrek, Donkey (Eddie Murphy), and Puss (Antonio Banderas) head off to find him, but not before Fiona surprises Shrek with the news that he’s going to be a father. With Shrek gone, it’s left to Fiona and her Princess friends Rapunzel, Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty to stave off Charming and the villains’ coup.
Ignoring that I’ve seen Shrek the Third and know how everything plays out, even just typing that makes it clear that this movie’s plot is overstuffed. You’ve got Charming, who’s almost as much of a lead in this movie as Shrek, with his resentment towards his lot in life. He feels that Shrek stole everything from him the moment he rescued Fiona from the tower. But that’s not the only threat Far Far Away faces; the King is dying, Charming rounds up and recruits every villain you can think of, and Shrek and his friends are out of town. But wait, there’s more! Fiona is expecting a baby, so Shrek has to contend with the fear of being King and the fear of being a father. Things get more complicated when Shrek finds Arthur (who goes by Artie), who has no interest in leading a Kingdom once he realizes the responsibility that comes with it. There are films that can pull off a complex narrative with multiple point-of-view characters, but Shrek the Third isn’t one of them. For that matter, I don’t understand why they tried to pull this off. The story is so needlessly complicated when the answer was sitting right in front of them: pick one of these ideas. That’s it. I think the best bet would have been to focus entirely on Shrek’s anxieties about becoming a father. You can still include Arthur as the King’s heir and let Shrek bond with him; this actually could have tied in very nicely. It feels like they’re trying to use Shrek’s growing bond with Artie to show that he could be a great dad. That’s actually not a bad idea, and I’m not sure why they shoved so much extra stuff into what could have been a sweet, simple story. They also could have tied this into Harold’s relationship with Shrek and Fiona. This kind of seems like a no-brainer; he’s the only father figure Shrek has. How does Shrek feel about becoming a dad just as his own surrogate father dies? This especially could have been interesting given how rocky things started out between Harold and Shrek. When Harold is dying, Shrek calls him dad, and this time he seems to mean it. It’s kind of frustrating how good this movie could have been.
As for Shrek’s relationship with Artie as it is in Shrek the Third, it’s not good. Several different factors play into this. It feels like Shrek comes around too late; he genuinely cares about Artie for too short of a time. I also don’t like the joke about Artie being a nerd who gets swirlies while Lancelot is a star athlete, Guinevere is a popular cheerleader, etc. For a series that exists in a Medieval-ish, fairy tale universe, the Shrek movies pick some interesting story elements to modernize. The whole sequence in Arthur’s high school is just unpleasant, and not in an interesting or funny way. I also think Justin Timberlake is simply miscast as Artie. I actually like Timberlake as an actor, but he was too old for this role. He also has zero chemistry with Myers as Shrek. Artie also isn’t likable at all. He’s treated like a loser at school, but the movie doesn’t do anything to convince us otherwise. He gives a pretty unimpressive speech at the end, which convinces all the villains to stop what they’re doing. The speech not being very good isn’t helping, but this whole scene is ludicrous to begin with. Artie and Shrek share one good scene at a campfire outside Merlin’s hut. Arthur tells Shrek he’s afraid to be King and talks about how people see him at school. Shrek tells him about what he went through with his own father and the townsfolk around his swamp. This is the one scene that actually delves into its characters, exploring how they feel and who they are as people. Eric Idle is absolutely wasted as Merlin. He’s supposed to be funny, but he isn’t, and there’s nothing interesting about him to balance it out. That happens a lot in Shrek the Third. It’s also a shame two Monty Python actors – Cleese and Idle – appear in this film but never interact. This would have been a perfect opportunity to include some of that pop culture humor this series usually goes for.
Shrek the Third isn’t very funny at all, I’m afraid. Instead of clever jokes or character-based humor, they go for the easiest, most obvious joke every time. Let’s make fun of Charming because he misses his dead mother! Let’s make fun of the King’s death, which should probably not be played as a joke! Let’s make fun of Rapunzel because she’s bald! Not only are the movie’s one-liners and running gags unfunny, but they’re a window into the writing problems the film as a whole suffers from. A lot of the jokes in this movie are based on the suffering of the characters. This doesn’t work because we should be invested in and care about these characters; you can’t really do that when all of their problems and trials are played for laughs. The King’s death should have some meaning, both for the Kingdom itself and the individual characters the film follows. We see Fiona and the Queen cry, but the film is more interested in repeatedly faking-out Harold’s death and playing “Live and Let Die” at his funeral. Seriously, that’s really lame. It’s in bad taste, and it’s not even funny, so I’m not sure what the point was. I actually like that song but come on; during the funeral of one of your major characters? A lot of jokes about Charming in this film center on his love for his now-dead mother, the Fairy Godmother, as well as the fact that he lost in the previous movie. Again, even if you don’t think this is extremely tacky, it’s just not funny, so it’s kind of a moot point. Also, screw this movie for making Rapunzel a villain and revealing that she’s bald as punishment for being evil. Again, this isn’t funny, but I also kind of don’t get it. Rapunzel has long hair, so her being bald is ironic, but it’s not funny, and I don’t see what it has to do with her helping Charming and the villains. Rapunzel has always been my favorite fairytale, and I resent this movie for having the audacity to spoof it and not even do anything funny with it. Seriously, she’s bald? That’s the entire joke. Speaking of the villains, the idea of them wanting to take over the Kingdom and win for once is actually interesting. Unlike Arthur’s last-minute speech that saves the day, Charming’s rallying cry in the pub is actually good. A vengeful band of scorned fairy tale villains is a clever use of the fairy tale parody genre and yet another indication that this could have been a good movie. This is another aspect of the story that I wish the movie had taken seriously, at least long enough to make the villains seem like a real threat. Fiona’s group of Princesses is an obvious knock on the Disney Princess brand. I don’t really care about that concept one way or another, but yet again, it’s just not funny. They also make these Princesses badass fighters, like they’re showing Disney up or something. It makes you wonder if they had seen any Disney movies in the last two decades prior to Shrek the Third’s release. And, good Lord, I hate the part where Snow White starts out singing an old-timey show tune and transitions to “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin. This is harder to put into words and may just be a personal taste thing, but I detest this scene. It’s not funny, it’s not making any witty observation on pop culture, and it’s annoying as all get out.
The musical choices in Shrek the Third are baffling. I mentioned how the use of “Live and Let Die” is tonally jarring and unfunny, and most of the songs in the film, sadly, fit that description. I also think this is the least impressive Shrek soundtrack, even divorced from the film. I wasn’t wild about the first movie and some of its songs, but “Hallelujah” and “All Star” are extremely well utilized, and that movie’s soundtrack is iconic for a reason. The animation is okay, but there’s not much eye candy in this film, especially compared to Shrek 2. The dialogue is rote, dull, and unfunny more often than not.
What else can I say? Shrek the Third has no respect for its characters, the films that preceded it in the series, or its own audience. It’s not funny, it’s not heartfelt, and some of the jokes are genuinely so tacky it boggles the mind. Shrek 2 is the only Shrek film I love, but it’s easy for me to say Shrek the Third is by far the worst in the series. I wouldn’t recommend this to any adult, and there are plenty of better films out there for kids to watch as well.