Third movies in a series always concern me. By this point almost everyone in the known universe is well versed in the premise of the films. The catchphrases that were fresh and new in the first installment are now cliches. The original stars are demanding so much money to do another turn that the film's budget is reminiscent of the US national debt. And experienced moviegoers like me start to get a wee bit jaded.
So now you know how I felt as I lined up to go in and see Shrek the Third.
I was very excited by the prospect of seeing this film. I loved the first two movies. The first Shrek saw me laughing more at a movie than ever before. Shrek 2 was even better. The mere memory of scenes from that movie sends me into uncontrollable giggles, and my husband into a head shaking spasm. So it was with high hopes, and an empty travel mug, that I settled into my seat.
Shrek the Third finds its title hero and his one true love, Fiona, still in Far, Far Away. They are filling in for Fiona's father, who is approaching death faster than Frogger under the control of a five year-old. Daddy wants Shrek to follow in his footsteps. Shrek wants to go back to the swamp. Fiona wants a baby.
On his deathbed, Daddy mentions that there is another, and this launches Shrek on this movie's quest, to find Prince Artie and bring him back to be king. Along for the ride are Donkey and Puss. Fiona, who's managed to get what she wants without going anywhere, stays behind to mind the castle and attend a baby shower or two. Lurking in the background is Prince Charming, plotting to get revenge on Shrek and Fiona and become king of Far, Far Away.
And herein lies the biggest problem with a third movie. In order to continue the momentum this deep into a franchise, studios are driven to stack the cast with more and more main characters. (How else to explain the Ewoks in Jedi and Christopher Lloyd in The Search for Spock?) This normally means that the story is crammed full of new characters that need exposition and screen time. Every single shiny new face means less time for your old favorites. And for an actual plot.
Shrek the Third falls headfirst into this problem. We have Prince Artie and the students and staff of his high school. We have Fiona and the Princesses. We have Prince Charming and the hordes of evil. This de Millian cast of thousands comes together in a cataclysmic Helm's Deep clash that is Shrek the Third. The only reason you don't need a program to keep up is that this story relies on stock fairy tale and Disney characters. The resemblance is close enough that you know them instantly. And different enough to avoid a lawsuit. Still, there are times that you feel cheated out of character and plot development as the swirl of faces pass by.
But the news is not all bleak. The movie is full of funny lines. Some will make you giggle. Some will make you snort. And as with all comedy, it is the throw away lines that stick with you. Trust me on this, "Oh, my hip!" is perhaps the best line in the film.
Some of the new secondary characters (and the actors who play them) make the most of their limited screen time. Merlin (Eric Idle) steals every scene he graces. Snow White is the standout of the princesses, but keep an eye on Sleeping Beauty, she has some really clever bits. Finally, the casting of Regis Philbin as the second ugly stepsister was brilliant, even if he barely speaks.
And Mo Henry. Negatives have never been cut so well.
This movie is a fun ride, but it's a bit like going back for a third helping of dessert. Sure it tastes good at the time, but it will lead to regret later on. Let's hope the producers stop here, because I don't think we need the fourth installment, which has already been announced. For 2010. Sigh.