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Your first look at "Shrek the Third," DreamWorks Animation's Summer 2007 release

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Your first look at "Shrek the Third," DreamWorks Animation's Summer 2007 release

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It's one of the most highly anticipated films of 2007. The third installment of the very popular (and highly profitable) "Shrek" series.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation

But is "Shrek the Third" actually any good? DreamWorks Animation execs obviously want to know. Which is why they held a test screening of this still-in-production picture this past weekend.

Lucky for us, loyal JHM reader Buddy Glass actually managed to attend this screening. And what follows is his highly detailed look at this very early version of "Shrek the Third." WARNING! Spoilers abound in this particular article. So if you want to avoid learning too much about this animated feature a full eight months before it hits theaters, you probably want to bail out of this story now.

Still with us? Okay. Buddy Glass' story starts with he & his family picking up tickets for a test screening ...

.... thinking we were going to see a slightly early preview of “Flushed Away” and were absolutely stunned to get into the theater and be told we were going to be the first audience ‘ever’ to see “Shrek The Third”. The kids and adults in the audience went wild but we were told the movie was only about 40% done and some would feature animation without lighting and a fair amount would be just storyboards (in some cases, extremely rough storyboards). They had metal detectors and were very firm on security (couldn't bring in cell phones with cameras or recorders - understandable).

My impression is that they have a lot of work to do – especially making this movie a lot funnier. My kids agreed and thought it was just okay, definitely worse than the first two. The story is actually fine, although it drags seriously in the middle, and the ending is kind of ho-hum. They seriously need to hire some folks to bring in more gags – especially for the adults. As it is now, they have a film with a decidedly different tone than the others, with flashes of good material in amongst a more adventure-oriented script interested in hitting a fair number of plot points more than giving the audience some chuckles. I think it is definitely salvageable but they need good joke writers – there are so many lines where I was just trying to write their jokes in for them because they hadn’t bothered to include one!

The film’s opening introduces a subplot that sounds funnier on paper than in action. Prince Charming is shown riding through the forest, proclaiming the wondrous actions he’s going to do (sounds like saving Fiona) and we pull back to find out he’s actually on stage, performing a skit at a pub. After a moment, another actor in a rough but obvious Shrek costume wanders onto stage and, to Charming’s dismay, the crowd cheers. The whole thing stage apart after that and every starts to laugh as he rushes off stage and into his dressing room (which is actually an alley door and his setup is out there – cute joke). He vows to claim the throne of Far Far Away.

Soon, we’re up in the castle and find out that Shrek and Fiona are filling in for the king, who is sick. So, they are showing up to events, knighting people (Shrek accidentally stabs a guy he then dubs “Sir Bleed-a-lot”), and it all culminates in them being dolled up with Elizabethan-looking costumes (complete with face-makeup) and they cannot move their arms. Shrek and Fiona are waiting on stage and he gets a page to take a stick and scratch his rear (since he can’t reach it), which, of course, leads to someone opening the curtain and revealing them as this page is poking at Shrek’s posterior. The whole place goes slapstick and it is pretty funny. In fact, this whole “Shrek covers for the King” sequence is good, although, like the rest of the movie, it needs those wall-to-wall gags like in Shrek 2 (which, for my money, was a hilarious film that was much funnier and much more clever film than the first). Donkey and Puss run around but with very little to do and not much that is funny (a couple of good jokes but these are great characters and they aren’t used very well here).

But, then they find out that the king is dying. There is a funny (although, again, could be funnier) sequence where the frog king (still done nicely by Cleese) keeps almost dying. Before he finally croaks (and they don’t use anywhere near the frog puns they could), he tells them that Shrek should be king but if he really doesn’t want to do so, then there is a cousin, Arthur, who is the next in line.

Leaving Fiona & the Queen back at the castle, Shrek, Donkey & Puss in boats sail off to a place called Worstershire – a joke they belabor (in Shrek 2, that would have been a throwaway line but the jokes are in short supply so they need to put up signs). It turns out, this is a high school, which gives then a chance to make a lot of jokes about a medieval-fantasy high school, some funny (D&D geeks, stoners falling out of a van with ‘frankincense and myrrh’, some Valley Maiden-talk) and some bits that are boring (everything else).

They eventually find Arthur (“Artie”) in the exact circumstance out of Screenplay 101 – they find a tough knight on the high school jousting a small guy who falls over and they assume the rough-and-tumble guy is Arthur (turns out, he’s Lancelot but they miss the chances for jokes here). The sad-sack little guy is Artie and he slinks away, people call him names as Shrek and Donkey/Puss pursue, and when Shrek says he is the new king (and someone says he should only be the king of losers or something – need good joke, please!) eventually it is decided he should run over to try and take out the Sword In The Stone (which is, conveniently, on school grounds and just outside the room they are in – why isn’t there a joke here!?!? They just rush past it).

So they get out by the Sword and just as Artie is about to try and give it go, Shrek says he needs ‘inspiration’ and Puss suddenly conducts the school band to distract them while Shrek tries to loosen it up for him. The loosening idea is terrific, but ‘striking up the band’ and all is really boring, not funny and is a stretch to make any sense at all. My eight year old actually leaned over and said, “why would the band start playing?” I didn’t say it but I thought, “Um, lazy screenwriters?” So he pulls the sword out, Shrek grabs him and they are off.

On the trip back, Artie and Shrek fight a bit and eventually end up crashing the boat (at some point, their Viking-for-no-reason captain just disappears but whatever) on an island. They eventually find their way to a door (by now, Artie is furious and doesn’t want to go back to be king) which Artie bangs on and proclaims that he is being kidnapped. This part was storyboarded so I can’t tell you how it will look but some big apparition comes out and a loud voice says something about fearing whoever-something. Then, it short-circuits a bit and the real guy comes out. Ho-hum. I’ve seen the Wizard of Oz.

We find out that this old guy is Merlin (Artie says he used to be a teacher at the school but had a nervous breakdown – not funny at all! Can’t they come up with something better and a term that means something to eight year olds?) He is voiced by the great Eric Idle (although some of the work was in progress). This character, second only to Artie, is so underdeveloped that this whole sequence, despite one funny joke about underwear stew, just drags and drags. Typical second act problems but since they focus on Artie and Merlin, two uninteresting and underdeveloped characters, you are practically begging for Donkey and Puss to cut up or Shrek to be his usual grumpy self (this is in short supply throughout the movie, but it is funny when he does act like himself – like Donkey telling him to change his tactic of yelling at Artie to get him to be king and Shrek picking up a big log to beat him with). Shrek bonds with Artie when it is revealed that he was abandoned by his parents. Shrek eventually says that what people think of you is not the same as what you are (oh, they say it in a nicer way, but you get it) and Artie finally thinks maybe he could be king.

So, after wasting some time on the island there, they suddenly decide to head back and have Merlin teleport them back to Far Far Away and it works.

But while all of this is happening, Charming has gone back to the nasty pub in the second movie and rouses all the villains there to join him in taking over Far Far Away. He appeals to them by saying a version of the same homily Shrek convinced Artie with – “Why should we be denied our Happily Ever After because some else says so!?!” The idea here, again, is great and some of the lines he uses to convince them (the evil queen is there, Captain Hook) but so much more could be done! And, yes, Regis is here as the Uglier Stepsister. That works okay but it is hardly a revelation. They agree to join in storming the castle. Yay, we have our villains. Nowhere near as interesting as the way things work out in Shrek 2 but oh well.

Meanwhile, Fiona meets with Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, and the Ugly Stepsister (now reformed) there. This scene is some fun, although there are frequently chances for funny jokes that are just lost. Almost everything out of a character’s mouth in Shrek 2 was funny. If only that were the case here…still, there are some good bits.

As the villains descend on the castle, the princesses go off to hide in the bowels of the castle (and there is an inspired joke here in the moving wall and statuary they are hiding behind where they come together and make the Frog King kiss a Horses rear – why aren’t there more wonderful throwaway jokes like this!) There is one funny scene where they confront the highly-underused minor characters (Gingerbread Man, Wolf, Three Little Pigs, and Pinochio) and, in the funniest bit in the film, Charming tries to get Pinochio to tell them where Shrek is by saying he can’t possibly lie but Pinochio combats this with a bunch of confusing double-triple-and-quadruple negatives. This is wonderfully done and a window into the level of often sophisticated humor in Shrek 2. But it is short-lived.

The Princesses, Queen and Fiona wander around (for too long) but eventually come out and Rapunzel betrays them to Charming so she can be queen. What a missed opportunity to say that she was made she didn’t get her own movie! (Rapunzel Unbraided notwithstanding – what a lovely in-joke) The princesses are all captured and put into a cell.

Shrek and gang return but as they confront Charming, Artie runs off when Charming reveals that Shrek is supposed to be king but wanted to ‘pawn it off’ on Artie – and that he loosened the sword for him back at school. The kid takes off and Shrek is captured by the villains. The most striking thing here is that Shrek seems so weak! In the past, he always kicks butt but he’s strangely subdued in this one. It doesn’t work to well, especially when you think he should be winning these fights.

The princesses and Fiona whine a bit before the Queen inexplicably breaks down the wall with a shrug (“Didn’t think you got your fighting skills from your father, did you?” Whatever) and they get out. Suddenly, they start kicking butt and it is fun with Snow White sending the birds that come when she sings to attack an evil tree, Cinderella using her glass slippers as boomerangs, and Sleeping Beauty tripping people by falling asleep in front of them while they run up to her. Some good bits here (with a sort of reference to the new Charlie’s Angels in the actions and the Kill Bill ladies in the music).

In the midst of all this, Artie wanders off and finds Merlin again in the forest. Suddenly, he’s told the real Sword in the Stone is nearby and he pulls it up and realizes he IS supposed to be king. Boring, slow scene! Not funny at all. All of this was storyboarded so hopefully they will come up with some better writing here.

They end up breaking up a reenactment of the show at the beginning of the movie, with Charming now using the real Shrek all tied up. This sequence was all in storyboard so it was hard to tell what was going on but, essentially, they all fight a bit until Artie comes in and tells Charming that everything is fine because you don’t need to be what other people say you are (the lesson Shrek taught him). Merlin pops in, everything works out and Artie becomes king.

So, there you go – an idea of where they are with Shrek The Third. My impressions:

  • Mike Myers is so subdued here that he almost disappears from the movie for long stretches - but it’s not his fault. Few lines give him much to do.
  • Cameron Diaz does well with what she has. No problem there.
  • Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas are in the same boat –talented voice actors wishing they had more and better lines. Why don’t they use the comic duo and have a lot of fun with them? Too much exposition for the gags.
  • Justin Timberlake barely registers. It is not a horrible misfire but also nothing special at all. Again, the script doesn’t develop Artie at all. Why make him a sort-of wimp but not really very interesting. He's just a dull character. Why not an ADD fratboy or something more inclined to give us laughs? Some kind of traits that would make him funnier would be nice. As it is, Artie gets plenty of screen time but not much development. Their take on characters like Fairy Godmother and so many others have been so inventive. Why is Artie such a bore with nothing to do?
  • Eric Idle – What a waste that they don’t give Merlin more. They could have some fun with it but they miss the chance. Eric Idle is one funny guy but they don’t give him anything to do (seems like a lot of his lines are not in there yet anyway, so maybe he’ll help them out with some adlibs). This character needs to be seriously redeveloped – just a crotchety old guy who lost some of his abilities. What a bore! They need to find a way to reimagine Merlin in an interesting way – not just toss him in there with no development. Artie and Merlin are so carelessly and humorlessly shoehorned into this movie, they hardly seem to be from the Shrek universe.
  • Charming – Rupert Everett gives it a good try but the character that was so witty in Shrek 2 is reduced to little more than a revenge-minded buffoon. I wish they’d let him be a little more inspired like he is when recruiting the others. I wish his plan would be more interesting than running in there and taking everything over. He ends with a whimper, too. Ho-hum again.
  • Saturday Night Live Princesses – A funny idea and, in action, it works okay. These are hysterical ladies and they could do a lot more if given better material. As it is, they make do with occasionally witty lines that mostly lack bite. Maya Rudolph (Rapunzel) is the only one that seems a little out of it. Tiny Fey might have been better.
  • Minor characters – Most of the best humor is from the minor characters and they just don’t get used. The Three Blind Mice are barely in one scene. The rest of the other characters are so rarely show it is just a shame (making way for the one-joke princesses (although it is a good joke) and the underdeveloped Merlin and Artie. The Gingerbread Man is hysterical but other than one brilliant moment of his life flashing before his eyes (another absolute high point and one of the few times I laughed out loud), he’s not given much to do.
That’s a lot, I know. But the biggest problem with the movie is that it lacks the fast and furious humor of the others (especially Shrek 2), the witty songs (like the Be Our Guest parody), and the endless throwaway gags that made people NEED to see Shrek 2 over and over again. This is their main problem and they need to hire some funny script doctors that can bring in a lot more gags-per-minute than they have now. My kids were really fidgety during a lot of it and I became bored numerous times, rarely laughing heartily. Asked afterward to name favorite moments and they had a hard time.

As it is, they have a long work-in-progress that they need to tighten, strengthen in the middle and make a lot funnier. If Artie and Merlin are going to take up so much space, they will need to be more compelling if they plan to obscure so deeply the guy who the movie is named after – Shrek, who really is submerged in the second and third acts. I’m stunned Mike Myers didn’t give them more good ideas.

But let’s not be too harsh! They still have months and months to work on it. They have the parts, they just need writing help to work those characters out and inject some humor. Then, they will have another blockbuster on their hands.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation

So there you have it. "Shrek the Third." Which sounds like it still needs a lot of work before its May 18, 2007 release.

Your thoughts?

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  • I know this is an early screening but it doesn't surprise me that they are running out of ideas. They were running out of them in the second one. If it wasn't for the Puss n Boots character the second one would have been boring. I hope this is the final one. I loved the first one, thought the second one was ok and so far it is looking like the third one is going to be mediocre.
  • I'm not a fan of Shrek, but this review left me with a mixed reaction.  See, one of my huge problems with the franchise as a whole has been the reliance on the "throwaway gags" that are called for in this review.  As far as I'm concerned, such a gag is called throwaway for a reason.  Sure, Matrix parodies once seemed topical and slightly funny- and they haven't aged well at all.  And jabs at Disney that feel more like Katzenberg saying "I'll show them!" than actualy humor?

    I hate to be one of those "Pixar this, Pixar that" people, but maybe Pixar is why I can't stand Shrek.  Shrek just has always been about the fart jokes and the movie parodies and the throwaway gags, and when I go to a movie, I'd like something a bit more substantial.  Maybe they're going in a different direction, away from the stupid gags?  I hope so.  But I doubt there's any real growth.
  • Shrek mostly worked because it made fun of the (often) saccharine, sanitized, and ham-fisted style of traditionally animated Disney fairy tales.  Guess what?  Shrek won.  There are NO MORE traditionally animated Disney fairy tales.  Increasingly, this series will have all the cultural relevance of an extended series of Dan Quayle jokes.  What does one shoot at when the target has disappeared?
  • I know that it is very challenging watching these early versions of DWA movies. I've seen a few of them and have always been amazed at how they have evolved by release. Like any comedy, it is all about timing and believability. I almost have to apologize that you have seen the movie in this form. If you want to see a movie before it has been released, you should really get a director's pitch. That is amazing! I have seen director's pitches for all of the DWA movies (except Over The Hedge, for which I saw the raw version). The energy that you see from the director is much closer to what one will see in the final movie, than in a test screening. Rest assured, the timing, wording and scenery can change quite a bit. Without the context of the fully developed scene, with background sounds, fully rendered/animated characters, and the polish of a final movie, any comedy will seem quite dry. It is kind of like seeing a super-model without her makeup on...

    That having been said, I have had the honor seeing a director's pitch for Shrek the Third and I am confident that it will live up to the quality of the first two, although quite different.

    An interesting challenge that this movie will face is the same that any sequel 3D animated feature faces. The studio has develop their technology so much that it is hard to maintain a consistent look without "dumbing down" the rendering or animation. For example, look at Shrek 1 again and notice the groundcover at the beginning of the movie. Technically, it is made up of very simple shapes with lots of detail in the bitmap. Contrast that with Madagascar, where the jungle is very lush and full of detail. If you could see the concept boards that were developed for Shrek the Third, you would see that they have some brilliant visual ideas that are begging for the latest, greatest technology that DWA has.

    Without being too specific, I would just encourage everyone to be ready to be very pleasantly surprised by Shrek the Third once it is complete. Buddy, please do see the movie once again when it is in final release and let us know your thoughts.
  • I have to say that I'm not quite surprised by this article, either. Unfortunately when I hear of a sequel being made for a blockbuster hit I receive the same reaction that about eighty percent of the population get, and that's, "Ohhhhhhh, god...they're going to screw it up."

    That's why "Shrek 2" really knocked me off my feet: it was actually a more than decent sequel in my eyes. While it definitely did center more on throwaway gags and pop culture references than the first one seemed to, it didn't completely abandon the substance and character drama that the first dealt with. However, even before I read this review I have been dreading a third "Shrek" because I fear that the team by now should either have lost all interest in making the project spectacular (in the heart-warming story-telling sense) or that they should have lost their original wit. Many sequels fail because there is the eternal need to outdue that which has been done before, and updating the graphics never seems to satiate that need. My fear is that now that they have this plot mapped out, they're not going to work to create more substantial material for once-chief characters like Shrek and Fiona, but rather they're going to try to clutter the script with as many recycled gags as a response to the less-than-impressive test screening.

    This is all speculation, of course...and I do plan on seeing the film despite my concerns. "Shrek" isn't a bad series, in fact I really enjoy it. I don't see it as being a film trilogy that I will treasure over and over down the road like I will with the majority of the Disney films, films that I will want my kids to grow up on. As bhb007 pointed out, "Shrek"'s initial target has pretty much disappeared from the box office, a target which goes silently missed and appreciated by animation buffs and common famillies everywhere. The CGI glut was inspired from Pixar and "Shrek's" success, and most definitely from "Shrek's" sense of humor. It was that style of fast-paced, in your face humor that won out for the exectutives...and now that style seems to have no means of developing further, and nowhere to go.
  • Wait.....do I have to be the first one to point this out???

    Is the Jim Hill Media website trashing something other than Disney??!!??

    ....and no one noticed??

    .....is everyone recovering from their weekend ok?
  • I have no doubt this film will have a great opening weekend at least. But frankly, I'm getting tired of the cheap shots at Disney these Shrek films are built on. Really, it's pretty clear that without the Disney references, Shrek's world is as thin as onion skin (without the layers). It also sounds like there's no new powerful character to intrigue audiences, a la Puss in Boots.

    And if Dragon isn't in THIS one, I'm not going to see it!
  • Makes me wish they had gone with one of the rumored ideas that was thrown around before this movie went into production.  The idea was to have King Arthur and his hostile takeover of Far Far Away and the Knights of the Round Table would have featured in it as well and the surviving members of Monty Python would have voiced a good part of them with Shrek trying to prevent the impending attack.  Tha would have been comedy gold right there and not only would it have made for a funnier movie but it would have struck a chord with the Python fans.  

    The sad part is that if this is the version they release in theaters, we still have a part 4 to dread, as Katzenberg himself has said that he wants to do a part 4 explaining how it was that Shrek ended up in the swamp in the first place. The even sadder part is that Timberlake is in the movie and I'm sure it only because of Cameron Diaz.  If I am wrong, then I stand corrected.      
  • Why does everything have to be Joke after Joke after Joke after Joke in animated movies?  The Merlin/Arthur pulling the real sword out of the stone should be a touching moment, not just Joke after Joke.

    The King Arthur/Knights take over sounds much funnier than what they have now.  This doesn't sound all that interesting to me.
  • To me, Shrek is an example of the new way of thinking, namely  
                          big box office = good movie

    I didn't think the first Shrek was a good movie, so I'm not going to be disappointed by Shrek II, III, or XXVII. The film was a parody/rip-off/anti-homage of the classic Disney animated films without the advantage of having a Mel Brooks/Richard Pryor -caliber writer, or even a Carol Burnett show-caliber writer. Before it was released, all the buzz was about the nasty shocking Disney swipes contained in the movie. Anyone that's been inside the animation building on the Disney lot, or even a Disneyana convention has probably seen much nastier and funnier parodies. The movie simply aimed low and scored high.

    Oddly, some of today's "disappointing movies" (and you know who you are) will be in demand in the future when you can download a holographic movie display into your family room, because they have actual characters with a strong storyline coupled with character-driven gags. Topical reference comedy doesn't age so well - try watching Aladdin and explaining to an 8 year old who Arsenio Hall was.
  • I haven't really liked Shrek much because it is all about pop culture or current (at that time) references and digs at Disney.  Shrek 2 was funny, but not a movie I will want to see again and again.  I am sure the third movie will change a lot from this advanced screening.  I am surprised that more isn't done by now though.
  • Even back when it wasn't cool (remember?), I've always been raising the banner that the first Shrek coasted along not only what audiences -thought- was Katzenberg's nyah-nyah attack on Disney--back when Katz himself had beaten the Formula into the ground, and people were blaming Eisner for it--but also selling them on a few corporate-propaganda Big Lies[TM] about how different DW was going to be:
    Shrek 1 tried to persuade us that all Disney ever did were corny fairytales (before Lilo & Stitch came out) about twittering un-PC princesses (before Aladdin came back out on video), and that -their- CGI was the most emotional and detailed ever made (at least until Monsters Inc. came out six months later)...In other words, we liked it because we just didn't know any better.  :)

    And the fact that there was a bigger King Arthur story that they couldn't make, and had to cobble together a replacement in rescripting, would explain a -lot- about why we got this mess of remarketed running-gags without any real point--
    Up till now, I'd just thought 3 was there for the "peer pressure" of Katz getting to show off his own pre-sold franchise 3&4, just like the OTHER studios got with THEIR big presold multi-sequeled franchise hits (ahemyohoyoho)...
  • The descriptive writing in this article is unfair to a work in progress.  It would have sufficed to have had a simple 2 paragraph summary of the movie, rather than a scene by scene description.

    This film lacked animated scenes, a final audio mix, sound effects and music which all account for an enormous amount of the emotional imapct. It is unfair to Dreamworks to critique a movie to an audience (JHM viewers), who were not meant to be part of this test screening measurement process.

    This was a unique opportunity for Mr Glass to view an important work in progress that he misused.   Too bad he couldn't exercise better judgement.

  • throwing stones at mr glass?  now there's something the movie could use...
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