There was one brief scene in Shrek The Third (I'll just call it Shrek 3 here, it's easier for me) that moved me a little. It's when a one-eyed villainous minion who is in the midst of tying Shrek up reveals that it's Bring Your Child To Work day, and calls out his shy little young daughter (also one-eyed) for a loving hug.
"How did a monster like me deserve someone like her?" The villainous one-eyed minion asks as his daughter laughs in his arms, bringing shame to the fatherhood-shunning Shrek.
When watching Shrek 3, I cannot help but suddenly think of an interview with director Darren Aronofsky on TimeOut (one of my biggest personal influences as a filmmaker) I read few days ago. Let me paraphrase him: We now live in an era where cynicism is in the mainstream, When everything is being made fun of, cynicism overwhelms sincerity, and the result of that is Paris Hilton. Modern society kind of brought her on ourselves – this age of superficiality, of empty pop culture, of the Spice Girls, of people being famous for having no talent and adding nothing to the culture.
The Shrek films are products of such an era, with its constant pop cultural references, innuendos and lots of nudging and winking from the filmmakers, the rare moments when they try to be emotional and sentimental are not necessarily ineffective, but they tend to feel calculated and manipulated. A good message for the kids to learn and the parents to be happy about the money they spent on the films.
That's why the aforementioned scene, even though obviously just a plot device, just somehow feels like a tiny refreshing oasis of sincerity and sweetness in the middle of a desert of cynicism. I have mixed feelings towards the first two Shrek films, I tend to think that they are inferior when compared to Pixar films, and that their best gimmicks are their pop-culture references, swipes at Disney characters and perhaps, personally, seeing different fairy-tale characters living together in the same land. That's why the first Shrek film feels somewhat groundbreaking, while the second one is, to me, entertaining, but forgettable, so I can never understand how SHREK 2 is still the third top-grossing film of all-time (unadjusted for inflation) when it was released during the same summer as the vastly superior SPIDER-MAN 2 in 2004. Sure, to many, the pop culture references are ingenious, to me, they're just a gimmick.
Since then, many SHREK-like films have been released. Cynical 3D animated films who tend to cover their own shortcomings by assaulting audiences with running gags and lazy pop cultural references, they occasionally entertain, but sometimes, they leave a bad taste in my mouth. SHREK 3 feels more like one of those pretenders than the first two films of the series. As much as I was entertained and laughed through the film, there's really nothing special about the film.
The king of Far Far Away has died, Shrek (Mike Myers), supposedly next-in-line for the throne, decides to seek wife Fiona's (Cameron Diaz) cousin Artie to take over instead. Artie (Justin Timberlake) is, of course, King Arthur. Heading off for a journey to find the new king with his two trusted sidekicks, Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas), the trio ends up in a high school where Artie is a loser bullied not only by the jocks like Lancelot, but even by the Dungeons and Dragons nerds. Artie's life is like a teen movie, or the O.C. Meanwhile, Fiona's hanging out with other princesses like Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, who behave like some unnamed rich socialites, and who will turn out to be actual asskickers (but that's already revealed in the film trailers), unknown to everyone, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) has gathered many storybook villains to aid him in a siege upon Far Far Away.
No one's going to fault Shrek 3 for having a slow pace, since everything just happens in a flash, no one's going to feel bored since the film has a rather short running time (... compared to fellow threequels Spider-man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean 3 anyway) and is filled with gags that are either lame or funny to you. But to me, despite its production values, Shrek 3 really feels more like a straight-to-video sequel, it's sometimes entertaining, but very hollow, it achieves nothing more than just making you laugh, which makes it no different from something like, say, WILD HOGS. When it ends, I just wish that's the end of the Shrek franchise. The idea of a fourth Shrek movie, possibly a prequel, is too much for me to bear.
Tim and Eric review Shrek 3. A MUST-WATCH! (this video clip, not the movie)