Hello all! Welcome to the first installment of "Shrek Improvements", a blog sub-series where I examine the worst of the Shrek franchise with an attempt to "fix" any issues. For today, I'll be taking a look at the polarized Shrek the Third, and what I believe could've helped the film from being a mediocre inclusion to a great installment.
To put it simply, this film was certainly wasted potential. It seemed like it was trying to achieve what the first film did in an ambitious crossover of various fairy tale characters, but just barely hits the mark. Characters are introduced or given more depth, and some don't even get enough recognition despite gaining a more prominent role. The worst victims being the villains minus Prince Charming, and Merlin; with the only thing that was well achieved (at least in my opinion) was the inclusion of Worcestershire Academy, the King Arthur-inspired high school. Not only is it where most of the comedy shines, but the attention to detail of the characters who are parodies of the many Arthurian legends should be applauded. If you have seen the yearbook special feature on the DVD of Shrek the Third, you'll certainly understand what I'm talking about. Even when Arthur is being ridiculed and pushed around, it perfectly reflects the legend's reign of Camelot as he was disrespected by his most trust-worthy companions (i.e. Lancelot dating his wife Guinevere behind his back). Of course, he gains full respect in Far Far Away when he takes the throne never to be picked on again, but in general, he is probably the best animated underdog version of King Arthur I've seen. I'd even argue that he's better than The Sword in the Stone version of the legend, simply due to how he's more engaging as a protagonist. But I don't want to off-rail too much.
Unfortunately, with the King Arthur representation out of the way, there's way too much to complain about upon watching the film. For one, most, if not all of the supporting characters are either underdeveloped, or developed with no real purpose to the story. You have someone like Cyclops who is a really good turning point for Shrek's view of fatherhood, and then there's Merlin who is probably (in my opinion) the worst thing to ever come out of the Shrek franchise. I seriously can't stand Merlin in the film, and he serves no real purpose other than to be "quirky" and bring in some Monty Python charm. However it only comes off as irritating to sit through, and he's simply not funny. Okay sure, he uses magic to bring Shrek and his friends back to Far Far Away, but you could literally throw in a way better character in his place to progress the story further. Maybe an original character? Who knows. This applies to the rest of the supporting cast, as most of them are just thrown in for unecessary twists and turns (Rapunzel) or built up to be huge threats only to be thrown away (Captain Hook). It doesn't even just apply to those who don't need to be in the film, but even characters who should've been included.
Considering that the main gimmick is bringing together all of these fairy tale villains to fight back against those who wronged them, wouldn't it have made sense to include more of their foes? I mean you got the Evil Queen, Puppet Master/Stromboli, Mabel, and Little Red Riding Hood having established enemies appear in the film, but there's a few voids that are a little troublesome. Captain Hook and the Headless Horseman in particular could've had their rivals at least show up during the climax. Peter Pan (who was established in the first film) is wasted for a joke with Hook mistaking two civilians for both him and Wendy Darling, and the filmmakers truly missed a bullseye with including Ichabod Crane. And altough it ay fly through many people's heads, a reference to the writings of legendary author Homer would've been nice. Especially with the Cyclops in mind, a cameo from Odysseyus or even a Medusa head could help with bringing some extra life to the lore of Shrek. It's more of a minor thing to criticize, but then again, it would've helped to at least give the film more of an identity with being experimental with the inclusion of characters.
Speaking of making the film stand out, my biggest problem with Shrek the Third is something more technical, but ultimately ruins every experience I have when viewing it. That issue in question is the entire look of the movie, which I believe is extremely dull and sometimes extremely grainy. Characters wear clothing that barely stand out, and while the textures on the flesh for the humans is great to look at, it only helps blend with the bland environments. The lighting especially does not do justice for anything, as most of the film takes place around late afternoon or worse, extremely dark areas. Sometimes I think my copy is that bootleg I had when I was a child instead of projecting an actual technical issue from the actual product. This not only causes it to be extremely unappealing, but extremely forgettable. You wonder why people mostly skip this one when doing a marathon of the films. It might be the story and how its handled or the awful characterizations, but I believe it's how the entire movie looks that kills the entire thing.
I know this isn't exactly a hugly detailed essay or anything, as I did leave out Shrek's own conflict as well as other characters such as the princesses. Although I honestly had nothing to say about the princesses and I'm saving Shrek's role for a psychoanalysis about his character and attitudes in the quadrilogy. Hopefully you enjoyed this and let me know if you have any other aspects of the franchise you would like to see me try to improve upon!
Your friend, Wilson Hyde