Shrek the Third

Year: 2007
Studio: Dreamworks Animation
Director: Chris Miller
Producer: Andrew Adamson
Writer: Andrew Adamson
Cast: Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Justin Timberlake, Julie Andrews, John Cleese, Ruperet Everett, Eric Idle, Ian McShane, Amy Poehler
There's a curious phenomenon in society where the first examples of any institutional change are usually failures. A startling new invention promising untold potential will more often as not be dismal in its first few incantations until the workability bugs have been ironed out. Just look at the history of specialised ebook readers, littered with the corpses of countless machines that didn't sell.

It's the same in Hollywood. Every time there's a new technological threshold to be breached, there's a crop of producers and studios ever-ready to capitalise on it by exploiting it to the full. Think of the first few talkies, which were so exciting because they had sound the moviemakers forgot to make them actually any good. The same thing happened in the late 90s with the crop of CG-aided disaster movies (Volcano, Twister, et al) that used the power of computers beautifully but failed to support them with decent plots, characters or dialogue.

Now computer-generated cartoons are so mainstream, it's time to ask; what are they delivering? The magic of pixel-driven filmmaking, or stories and characters we care about? In most cases, they shovel up the same hackneyed, hero's-journey plots and same kindergarten morals. Scripts are peppered with movie references and though we share the nudge nudge, wink wink laughs with the movie, it's not an incentive to invest in caring about the characters.

Which is where the Shrek series has always got it right. It starts from the same jumping off point as all the others, but the script gets plenty of early passes by people who are genuinely funny and warm, and therein lies the films' success.

A few critics have carped about the movie being more didactic in its approach, but show me a Hollywood movie that doesn't have its theme on its sleeve and I'll show you a successful actress who hasn't forged her career horizontally on a few casting couches.

Shrek the Third plays the life lessons hand stronger than any other, but the gags are still there as good as ever, and if you think this is the weakest in the series, you're putting too much weight on the shoulders of the other two.

Shrek and Fiona are filling in for King Harold, on his deathbed (or death lily-pad, since he's still a frog). Shrek hates it and can't wait to get Fiona back to the swamp where they can live in peace. But when Harold declares him the only heir... besides one other, Shrek, Puss and Donkey take off to track down Fiona's long lost cousin Arthur (Timberlake), a nerdy kid at a high school where the cultural collision of medieval times and modern teens is played up to the max.

Meanwhile, Prince Charming (Everett) is launching a new assault on the throne and those who foiled his dastardly plans last time. He's collected the villains from a dozen fairy stories and leads them on an attack on Far Far Away to reclaim the throne by force. With nobody to help them, Fiona and her posse - a Tupperware party-like suburban clique that includes Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel - have to fight off Charming's minions until Shrek returns with the rightful heir.

It finishes off a little weakly, but all the elements are there, and any bad reception the film's had has been simply because we've seen it three times - there's nothing new in it.

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