Monday, August 22, 2011

Film Review: Shrek the Third

If it seems like I've been ranting a lot this month, I apologize.  Although it does help that I'm doing so from the safety of my own blog, and not in some forum or comments field where I can be counter-flamed.  But, I have to throw another log onto my personal fire: Shrek.  Ladies, and gentlemen, I hate the entire Shrek franchise with a burning passion and I am not [verb]ing kidding.  To be honest, I used to be able to watch the first two films willingly, although I disliked them for their plots (FIONA!  Y U NO STAY HUMAN?) ...and I still thought they were ugly.  But it wasn't until, say, 2006 that my hate for the franchise - and computer animation in general - solidified.  It seemed every month there was some new [noun]ty CG cartoon in theatres, ripping off Shrek's already-stale formula of age-appropriate (?) scatological humour and pop-culture references.  Like Hoodwinked, Doogal, The Wild, Barnyard... yeah, I'm glad we got those out of our collective cultural memory at all.  Really, the only "good" ones, or at least those I cared about were Cars - at least Pixar gets it - and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, which doesn't really count since it was only released direct-to-video in America.  But seriously, the only traditionally-animated film in wide release in America that year was a Curious George film.  Curious.  Freaking.  George.

My hatred for the evil Shrek empire is partly based on scapegoating, but by no means entirely.  Looking at the grand scheme of things, the trend of computer-animated feature films did kick off with Pixar in 1995, but if it weren't for Shrek, they wouldn't be nearly as popular (and poor-quality) as they are now.  But the truth isn't black and white: eventually I came to acknowledge CGI films that were *gasp* good: not counting Pixar's entire output thus far (save Ratatouille), I kinda liked stuff like Kung Fu Panda (by Dreamworks themselves, no less!) and Despicable Me.  I also find it weird that some high-budget video games, particularly from teams like Square Enix, feature pre-rendered CGI clips with a much more realistic art style that happens to be more to my liking.  Perhaps computer animation is just an extention of traditional cartooning art styles; if the original Shrek was a hand-drawn cartoon, as was planned at one point, it may not have been any better, even if I didn't grow to hate it as much.

Which brings me back to the first entry in the Shrek money-trap series that existed after I had internally declared war on them: 2007's Shrek the Third.  NB I did not pay any money to watch this, a fact I am 100% proud of, but rather rented it from the library.  (I also happened to chance on a copy of Akira that same trip, so at least my karma was balanced out.)  Also notably, I wrote comments on Twitter, which will be worked into the review as needed, whilst watching the movie.  Now I'm going back to it.  May Sabrina have mercy on my soul.  (NB To any Baptists or non-Pokemon fans who are unlikely enough to read my feed, that was not a legally binding prayer.)

Shrek the Third
  • Publisher: Paramount
  • Studio: DreamWorks Animation
  • Director: Chris Miller, Raman Hui
  • Release: 18 May 2007
  • Genre: Comedy, Family

So we start out with Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) racing off on horseback to someplace except... it's only part of some cheap stage show.  I canNOT believe I laughed in the first minute.  At this point I hereby repeat my (not) prayer.  In the next scene we meet our... *sigh* hero (Mike Myers), now the prince to the throne of Far, Far Away, waking up with his wife-turned-ogre Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz).  I could never wake up next to an ugly mug like that - I only wake up with the King, baby... Burger King that is.  We are "treated" to a montage of Shrek (Mke Myers) doing king-like duties (even though he's not the king yet) and failing in ways I could sense a mile away, for example christening a new ship (the bottle breaks the ship's hull), knighting someone (he cuts him with the sword he's supposed to tap him on the shoulders with), and attending a dinner party (the button on his suit breaks loose and causes massive collateral damage).  If this is what he's gonna be like as king, someone please invent the Magna Carta.  Apparently Shrek has the same idea himself.  See, Fiona's father King Harold (John Cleese) is dying, and once Shrek insists he's a bad man... ogre for the job, the King recommends he seek out his nephew Arthur, just before kicking it and... becoming a frog.  Waitaminute, the king was a frog the whole time?  "Flesh wound" my pants.  A funeral ensues, inexplicably set to a recording of "Live And Let Die" by Wings.  Paul McCartney would be rolling in his grave now.  ...He's the dead one, right?

So Shrek, Donkey (Eddie Murphy), and Puss-In-Boots (Antonio Banderas) send off on ship to try and find Arthur, however Shrek just barely gets the news that his wife is pregnant.  It takes a while for him to get it, but he does, and next we see him back at his old tree house (as in, lest you forget, made out of a whole tree) to discover his ogre baby.  Yeah, the Uncanny Valley has not been kind to this filmHOLY CROW!!  THAT BABY JUST VOMITED IN SHREK'S FACE LIKE THE SHOOP DA WHOOP GUY!  And now he's being covered in an avalanche of ogre babies...  Oh wait, if I know Doug, then this has got to be a dream sequence.  And indeed it is (with two wake-ups in a row, I might add).  Finally awake and out of the nightmare(s), the three disembark and come across Worcestershire Academy, which is basically all your typical Hollywood high school tropes re-themed for medieval times.  I don't know about you, but I'm sick to death of these cliches, especially since my personal high school experiences didn't follow them to the letter.  Not that I want to remember them, but that's beside the point.  So, do you know the MacGuffin Man?  Why, he's on the field for jousting practice... being used as the target.  Yes sir, Arthur Pendragon (Justin Timberlake) - as in King Arthur - is the meek and weak whipping boy of the entire school - even the infinitely more dweeby Hollywood nerds.  Seriously, this guy could pass as a bishonen... you don't suppose this could be some kind of subtle anti-gay commentary?  ...Nah, better save that for a target which deserves it.  So for once you're getting off easy.

Meanwhile, a force of evil fairy-tale characters led by Prince Charming has invaded Far, Far Away.  Well, at 35 minutes in, I was not expecting a plot twist this early, I said in sincerity mode.  Fiona and a collection of other princesses, including Snow White (Amy Poehler), Sleeping Beauty (Cheri Oteri) and Rapunzel (Maya Rudolph... I'm sensing a pattern here.), endeavour to escape the castle.  Seeing a Rapunzel parody now that Tangled is out is... jarring.  Like everything else in this movie.  Speaking of which, Rapunzel betrays the group out of love for Prince Charming, the other princesses are thrown in jail, and the villainous force has renamed "Far Far Away" to "Go Go Away".  It's almost as if they want you to go, go away from this movie.  SYMBOLISM!!!

Also meanwhile, the ship that was supposed to take Shrek, Artie, back to Far, Far Away crash-landed on an island inhabited by Merlin (Eric Idle), and Artie, initially excited to take up his role as king, gets turned off by Donkey & Puss's ramblings of the responsibilities and dangers associated with the job, including the apparently-hard-to-pin-down-chronologically "plague".  Yeah, nice job breaking it... *sigh* heroes.  Merlin tries and fails to bring Artie's spirits up until Captain Hook and his unit invades the island and lets slip about the crisis in Far Far Go Go Away.  Spurred into action, the heroes are warped back home by Merlin's magic, albeit with the side effect of Donkey and Puss switching bodies.  Normally I happen to enjoy this kind of comedy, but not when someone as annoying as Donkey is involved.  ...Puss I'll give a free pass to.  An attempt to take down Prince Charming goes awry and the four are captured, and although Artie's life is spared when Shrek spills the beans about Artie just being a patsy to fill in the king's shoes with, he... doesn't take it well.  Temporarily, anyway.

Back to the imprisoned princesses.  The others complain about how useless they are, since in their respective universes the only thing they do is wait to be rescued.  Princesses admitting they wait to be rescued provide the second genuine laugh I've had so far.  But Fiona and Queen Lilian (Julie Andrews) encourage them to use their other traits to their advantage and help them to break out, rescue Shrek, and re-take Far Far Away.  For example, Snow White sings to the birds and forest creatures to gather them to her side, then sends them to attack some gate guards with that scream from Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song".  Pretty cool move, sis; too bad they had to switch to a different song (a cover of Heart's "Barracuda") for the next scene instead of letting it sink in.  Still not the most inappropriate use of music by Dreamworks Animation, given their commercials.

In case you've been wondering about the specifics of Prince Charming's evil plan, he puts on a stage show (and not a good one at that) wherein he intends to "rescue" Rapunzel and slay Shrek - for real.  Sorry bub, Simpsons did it.  He is stopped by the other heroes, who are stopped by Charming's sentries, who are in turn stopped by Artie, who gives the following inspirational speech: "Just because some people treat you like a loser, it doesn't mean you are one. The thing that matters most is what you think of yourself."  By no means, not a bad one when you think about it, but nothing too inspirational.  After all, lots of movies have inspirational speeches, so this ain't reaching memetic status any time soon.  But Artie's speech is lost on Charming, who stabs and kills Shrek - Yay! - except for the fact that he only got him under the arm, as stage actors are wont to do - D'oh!  It takes the tower from the set getting knocked down onto Charming to put him out for good and instate Artie as the new king of Far Far Away.  With that taken care of, we end with scenes of Shrek and Fiona with their new triplets, and a ten-minute credits sequence.  Finally, something I can skip!

So now that I've stared my archnemesis in the face, what did I think of it?  Surprisingly... it's not as bad I could've imagined, but it's still bad in the grand scheme of things.  The plot elements fall back on too many cliches: Shrek dreading the prospect of becoming a father, Artie having to get over the fear of becoming king (although this was still payed with), and of course, the whole school scene says hi.  Personal bias aside, I'll say the animation is good enough to compete in its market, although still not up to the higher standards of Pixar and the Japanese - and I'm talking about stuff that was already made or being made at the time, like Ratatouille and the aforementioned Advent Children.  (Incidentally, I consider Ratatouille to be way overrated, with a hackneyed plot I could follow a mile away, but that's a review for another day.)  But personally, I still hate this movie and the franchise as a whole with the intensity of over nine thousand suns.  (Excuse me while I calculate that.)  Therefore I urge you NOT to buy this movie or any related merchandise.  ...And before you ask, yes, I said that in sincerity mode.  Think about that.

This is IchigoRyu.

You are the resistance.

Writing: 1 fairy tale character out of 5
Acting: 3 fairy tale characters out of 5
Technical: 2 fairy tale characters out of 5
The Call: 40% (F) 

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