I made my first trip to a "regular" (non-drive-in, non-IMAX) theater this weekend to see Shrek the Third. I'd seen each of the first two films only once (in English, anyway — don't ask) and was surprised at how well the second movie lived up to the standard of its predecessor. I thought the balance of kiddie and adult humor that creatively employed a variety of pop culture references created an attractive package for all audiences.
I guess Dreamworks was pushing their luck hoping for a three-peat. Oddly, I had exactly the opposite interpretation as David Ansen, who wrote, "It's a movie at war with itself: a kiddie movie that doesn't really want to be one." Though there were more than enough laughable moments for me to call this an enjoyable film, I felt it fell short of the Shrek and Shrek 2 by lacking a certain sophistication to its humor and a significance to its plot elements. For examples: in Shrek 2, Puss in Boots was introduced as a major character, and the connection between Prince Charming and the fairy godmother was developed slowly and naturally. In Shrek the Third, the character Merlin is almost trivial, as is the swapping of Puss and Donkey's bodies. And we get the gist of the plot far too soon, leaving no surprises for later.
But regardless of any story quibbles, Shrek the Third is a visual triumph. I've previously commented that CGI has become so commonplace that it's no longer a gimmick. That's not to say its quality is on par with hand-drawn animation; the two styles are distinctly unique, and I lament that the latter is falling by the wayside. But the level of detail possible in CGI is simply astounding. There were times I was marvelling not necessarily at the main action, but at Artie's hair, or Rapunzel's eyes. These minor elements don't add to the story, but they do make the the land of Far, Far Away seem not so distant.
Overall, an enjoyable film when taken on its own. Maybe films just don't stand up well to unplanned trilogies, as was the case with X-Men 3 and Terminator 3, both which fell far short of their earlier entries. Even earlier this month was Spider-Man 3, which was good but not great (though I hear Pirates 3 is better than its immediate predecessor). Leave it to Hollywood to try giving us too much of a good thing…
Nonetheless, if three films still isn't enough for you, fear not: our heroic party will be returning in a variety of formats. Look for the fourth film (possibly a prequel) in 2010 alongside a Puss spinoff, The Story of an Ogre Killer. And more immediately, the holiday special Shrek the Halls will be on TV this calendar year. You will believe donkeys can fly!