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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Shrek the Third

So what’s not to like about Shrek? I’ve been slap-down amazed to hear some of the hardcore famous critics bleating about how Shrek the Third is a faded memory of the wit and ingenuity of the original. To that, I say “Horsefeathers!” You’ve practically got to be an ogre yourself to not love Shrek the Third, and, frankly, if you don’t, it’s most likely because you’ve turned positively green with envy because you don’t own a piece of this lucrative franchise (not that we could tell, you being green with envy and all, since if you are an ogre in the first place you'd already be green, don'tcha know).

Of course
Shrek the Third is not going to be as eye-opening original as the first movie since we already know the characters and can predict some, if not most, of their reactions to the situation they face. We also have grown used to the magnificent level of animation, which remains better than anything else in the world today. But how can the critics complain that because we have the best of the best it is less than satisfying? It’s like arguing that having a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cake for your birthday three years in a row is some kind of torture.

I happen to love that I know the characters in Land of Far Far Away so well. By this time, who doesn’t know that Shrek (Mike Myers; The Cat in the Hat) may be a gigantic green ogre, but one with a heart of gold under that grouchy, albeit it gruff, exterior? And what is there not to adore about Shrek’s wife, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz; The Holiday)? She gave up her enchanted beauty to become a full-time ogre herself for her husband and sees only the goodness inside the beast, by far more important than his scary outer countenance. Just as wonderful are the ogre’s best pals, Donkey and Puss in Boots. Donkey (Eddie Murphy; Dreamgirls) has been Shrek’s “annoying talking sidekick” as he calls himself since we first met the big green guy. He is completely devoted yet daft, a true optimist in the face of danger, as much because he is too naïve to know better than to anticipate failure. As for Puss (Antonio Banderas; Take the Lead), he is the Casanova of this fairy tale land, a smooth Latin lover as well as a loyal subject to the King and to Shrek. Donkey and Puss, as everyone knows by now, should be locked up for grand theft for all the scene stealing they do. If anything, they are the real stars of this show, and scribe Andrew Adamson (who also wrote Shrek 2 and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) gives them the best lines and the most funny bits to do. I rather imagine we’d all like to be blessed with a bit more of Donkey’s sense of humor and Puss’ irresistible charisma with the opposite sex. What a killer combination that would make!

The biggest drawback to
Shrek the Third that I can see anybody complaining about is that it is just too much of a feast for one sitting. In the two previous outings we’ve been given so many great characters to play with, and Shrek the Third tries to incorporate everybody in this chapter, with the exception of the notorious Fairy Godmother of Shrek 2, blasted by her own wand into who-knows-where. Her son, though, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett; The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), is here with all his hair-tossing, sparkling teeth and self-assured glory, determined to seize the crown when Frog King Harold (John Cleese; Charlotte’s Web) finally croaks (sorry), er, um, passes away. Of course, before Harold goes to that great lily pad in the sky he actually asks Shrek, his son-in-law, to assume the throne, but, when Shrek says he’d prefer to go back to his quiet life in the swamp with Fiona, Harold’s last wish is for Shrek to retrieve Fiona’s distant cousin Arthur (yep, THAT one!) and bring him to Far Far Away to rule as King. So while Shrek, Donkey, and Puss leave on a quest to find the future King Arthur (Justin Timberlake; Black Snake Moan), the film opens up some time for the other existing characters to shine. Little Gingy, the Gingerbread Man (sadly left unbilled), Pinocchio (Cody Cameron; Open Season), the Three Blind Mice (Christopher Knights; Flushed Away), the Three Little Pigs (more Cameron), the Big, Bad Wolf (Aron Warner; producer of the Shrek trilogy), Cinderella’s Ugly Stepsister Doris (CNN’s walking dead interviewer Larry King), and Fiona’s mom, Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews; The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement) all get their special moments of shtick.

This would be enough of a cast to pack two hours to the brim, but with Charming up to no good, he also brings on even more famous (or infamous) fairytale folk to aid in his insurrection. In short time, he has a forest full of talking evil trees (think of those pesky apple-tossers from The Wizard of Oz), Snow White’s nemesis, the Evil Queen (Susan Blakeslee; tv’s "The Fairly OddParents"), Captain Hook (Ian McShane; cable’s “Deadwood”), Cyclops (Mark Valley; tv’s “Boston Legal”), Rumplestiltskin (Conrad Vernon; Flushed Away), the Headless Horseman (ditto Vernon), and that other Ugly Stepsister of Cinderella’s, Mabel (tv legend Regis Philbin). You get the idea.

The landscape’s getting overpopulated already, and we haven’t even included the girlie show going on at the palace, where Fiona has assembled a few of her own friends for a special occasion of her own ~ a baby shower ~ with guests Rapunzel (Maya Rudoph; tv’s “Saturday Night Live”), Snow White (Amy Poehler; also of tv’s “Saturday Night Live”), barmaid Doris (Philbin), Cinderella (Amy Sedaris; Puberty: The Movie), Sleeping Beauty (Cheri Oteri; ditto “Saturday Night Live”), and Donkey’s wife, an enormous magenta-hued flying dragon (also unbilled).

As you can imagine, it is hard to keep track of all the jokes flying with such a big cast, and if critics are less than enthusiastic about the film as a whole and calling it “tired” it is not because the series is tired, but because they are. Shrek the Third will wear a person out with its non-stop action and rapid-fire delivery of joke after joke after joke. You’ll never remember all of them, so don’t even try. Heck, you probably won’t even get half of the jokes since the writers take aim for all different ages and groups from toddlers to seniors and the social and cultural references may mean nothing to you if you aren’t a part of that particular crowd.

A new senior favorite may indeed be the inclusion of yet another new character (at least new to this franchise) when Arthur enlists the help of his “old high school magic teacher” Mr. Merlin (Eric Idle; Ella Enchanted) to aid in the big fight to clean up the mess Prince Charming has made of the kingdom while Shrek was away.

The bottom-line beauty of
Shrek the Third though lies in its terrific message for both kids and adults everywhere. As Arthur sums up to the people of Far Far Away at the end of the film, we need to believe in ourselves most of all, and that if we don’t think we can do something we should probably just ask ourselves if it just our own fears that are standing in the way and then charge on through to success. I felt like I was watching the birth of Dale Carnegie and “The Power of Positive Thinking.” If Artie was African-Far Far Awayan and female I might have thought it was Oprah getting ready to unveil a new issue of O! magazine.

Speaking of giving birth, it’s not much of a spoiler since it hit the cover of Newsweek, which used to deal with real life news like wars, Presidential corruption, and the like, that Shrek and Fiona become parents in this episode of the saga. So, who am I to deny the obvious? Besides all the other action involved, there is also the whole pregnancy, birth, and new family adjustments sub-plot to experience and enjoy. Parents of wee ones though might want to be prepared for the obvious questions from their three and four year olds who are bound to ask what “pregnant” means and where the babies came from. That may be a discussion you hadn’t planned on having when you took the little nippers to an afternoon matinee, but it could end up turning you greener than Shrek himself if you aren’t prepared.

Be sure to stick around for at least the first half of the end credits just so you can enjoy some fine song and dance by Puss in Boots and Donkey, who are at their absolute best and make watching a cast scroll more fun than you’ve ever seen before. As for the critics who have been whining, they’re just plain squirrelier than Snow White’s forest as far as I’m concerned. Shrek the Third is pure, unadulterated, delicious fun, exactly what we all need once in a while. Come on down to the newly redecorated Essex Cinemas and enjoy a few minutes taking in the fabulously redone lobby, now painted in stunning Shrek green just to keep a smile on your face. Then enjoy an enchanted evening with Shrek the Third and his menagerie of magical minions.

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