Sunday, June 03, 2007


Shrek the Third

Shrek the Third was the one movie I was really banking on this summer. And it's let me down.

I mean, it's probably my own fault. They make these movies for kids, not pathetic twenty-something geeks. Well, no, scratch that, they are clearly shooting for an older set with some of the humor that you see through the series. It's just...

Well, here. Let me do that incohesive rambling thing.

Shrek the First

The world went gaga over the first Shrek. I wasn't very impressed.

Don't get me wrong. It was pretty to look at. There is a place in this world for movies that are pure spectacle. I will watch a movie that looks interesting repeatedly. Thing is, I wasn't wooed by their style. It just... it just never clicked with me.

The premise was decent. Ever since my first exposure to the Rocky & Bullwinkle show, I've had a soft spot for a good fractured fairy tale. There was a lot of potential for skewed humor here. But... they didn't really go anywhere with it. Give or take The Gingerbread Man, none of the famous fairy tale critters offered more than a cameo or a one-off joke. Maybe I'm just spoiled by, say, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, which made the tropes and foibles of fairy tales central to its plot, but I was sort of expecting that a movie that brought together so many characters would try to do something with them.

And it all sort of went downhill from there. The story had no real surprises, no twists or turns. There's nothing new about Shrek himself -- he's the same poor, misunderstood protagonist who shows up in countless other kids' stories. The blossoming love, tragic misunderstanding, happy resolution arc between Shrek and Fiona is just plain boring -- you never doubt that he'll get the girl. Farquaad is pretty lame as fairy tale villains go -- he's the impetus that gets the story started, but then he's practically out of the picture.

Still, it had a Cool Dragon, so it wasn't all bad. It just wasn't all that great, either.

Shrek the Second

The first movie didn't really suggest the potential for a sequel (except, of course, the fact that it would make buckets and buckets of money). It was a story about a nasty little man who hated fairy tale people and got completely eaten by a dragon. Also, an ogre and a princess fell in love, got married, and promised to live happily ever after together. There are seemingly no loose ends.

But a sequel was required. So the creators had to figure out how to keep the story going after its happy ending. And a funny thing happened.

They did it perfectly.

They took Shrek's world, ripped it wide open, and found all of the gooey goodness that was hiding inside. The scope expanded, and we started to see new and unexpected aspects, angles, and consequences of Shrek and Fiona's marriage. And we started to see lots and lots of character-driven stuff going on.

We meet The Fairy Godmother, an absolutely wonderful villain, and a stark contrast to Farquaad. Her workings are subtle, her disposition is deceptively sweet. She puts on a pretty face for the public, all while manipulating everyone -- right up to King Harold himself! -- toward her own nefarious ends. Also in contrast, she's directly involved in the story every step of the way.

And we meet King Harold. A wonderful character. As far as I'm concerned, his story is the very heart and soul of the movie. He's a man being torn in so many directions, and given so very many good reasons not to do the right thing. He's clearly unhappy about how his daughter's curse has been resolved, and he has every right to be upset that she plans to spend the rest of her life living with an ogre in a swamp. And, as we find out, the Fairy Godmother has him under her wicked thumb. If he lets them stay together, he risks having his own fairy tale ending revoked. But in the end, he stands up for his daughter's happiness, even when it means spending the rest of his life as a frog again.

Which isn't to say that Shrek's story isn't touching. Frustrated with their reception at the castle, he gets into a shouting match with Fiona, and she makes a rather poignant point -- she's made changes for Shrek, but he hasn't reciprocated. And there's something that didn't quite fit in with the simple fairy tale ending in the original movie. Fiona has been a princess all her life, and suddenly she's become an ogre living in a swamp. She's clearly happy with Shrek, but what a change of lifestyle! And what has Shrek had to sacrifice in return?

Well, in the sequel, he gets the chance to meet her halfway. The first movie was all about Shrek's happiness -- whether or not he'd end up with the girl. Now he's starting to think about what Fiona might want. He's willing to undergo a magical transformation himself -- being sexy might not seem like much of a sacrifice, but hey, it's clearly not for his own vanity. He's even willing to let her stay with Prince Charming because he's led to believe that she'll be happier with him. And, most importantly, he lets her choose the ending that she wants. That compulsive desire to make Fiona happy really makes their love for each other seem more... well-rounded than it was in the first one.

And, of course, the movie is just plain fun. Shrek's fairy tale friends get bigger parts, better jokes, and slightly broader personalities. Fairy Godmother does a spoof of Disney musical numbers. Puss in Boots adds a certain panache to the proceedings. And there's two musical sequences -- to go with "Changes" and "I Need a Hero" -- that give me goosebumps every time I see them.

All in all, it was my favorite movie of the summer. I saw it twice in theaters, several times on DVD, and yes, a couple times on Game Boy Advance video.

I really had some high hopes for the next movie in the series.


Shrek 3

And so we come to this year's Shrek.


I mean... clearly, a lot of things happen in this one. It's just... nothing sticks. There's no heart or soul to any of it.

The story again takes place in Far Far Away, but this time around, there's very little that's new to see. Sure, we see a couple of cameos of characters from the King Arthur legends -- Arthur, Guenivere, Lancelot, Merlin -- but they're present in name only. There's barely any reference to the legends that they come from, not even so much as a sword in a stone. We do get to meet some fairy tale princesses -- Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Sleeping Beauty -- who haven't had speaking roles in the past, but they don't have much function beyond being stereotypical spoiled divas.

The story has too many things going on, and a lot of interesting ideas get lost in the shuffle. Shrek is worried about becoming a father because he thinks he's not up to the task. But there just plain isn't any time for him to confront this -- he's too busy trying to get Cousin Artie to be the new king while stopping Prince Charming from usurping the throne. And there's the plotline where Puss and Donkey go all Freaky Friday, which leads to... nothing. Nothing whatever. And there's Artie's teenage angst that just sort of... dribbles along.

And then there's Charming himself. He was never the brains of the operation, and now that Mommy's not around to help him, well... he doesn't make for a very good villain.

But there was so much potential for him there. He begins the story reduced to being an actor in a cruddy dinner theater, where he's mercilessly heckled and abused. But he finds the courage and the resilience to fight back against what he sees as an unfair ending to his story. Yeah, I know, he's tragically flawed, he only ever wanted Fiona for her kingdom, his reaction was completely inapropriate, whatever. When I saw him stuck with a changing room in an alley, I was pulling for the guy. I wanted to see him come to a good end.

All well. At least we got to see the Gingerbread Man's life flash before his eyes.

On the bright side, I happened to see the new Pirates of the Caribbean, even though I hadn't especially wanted to, and I was surprised to find that I loved it. So at least the summer isn't all bad.


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