TOO MANY THOUGHTS TO TWEET
Rather randomly my mind went to the "Shrek" series this morning... Really not sure what sparked it, but one thought led to another and I realized I had more than 140 characters would allow. I usually take my thoughts to Twitter when I can keep them succinct, but sometime you just gotta blog it. Roll with me folks. Roll in ze hay!
ONCE UPON A THEATER...
So, Shrek... Shreky, Shreky, Shrek. I was twelve when the first film came out. I loved it. My mother and I even went to see it a second time dragging my older sister along who would have much rather been hanging out with her friends. There was no choice in the matter for her, it was an FFA (forced family activity). I vividly remember sitting through that storybook forward for a second time at the multiplex. I knew Shrek was about the shut the cover irreverently and we would realize it was just reading material for an ogre while he stunk up the swamp's outhouse. I remember looking over at my mom and smiling. She smiled back. Sure, she was also in on the joke but she was really smiling because I was. Then there was my stubborn sister who looked from one of us to the other still mad about being here instead of near some guy she liked at the time. I do not remember her attitude after the picture, but I like to guess it won her over.
Dreamworks Animation's "Shrek" (2001) is a modern classic in my tome. It came crashing through the fairy tale and nursery rhyme wall that Western children have built over the years (brick by brick) in the most bombastic way: unforgettable characters (and voice-work), twisting the conventional hero's journey tropes and proving to be genuinely entertaining though crude. Some of the strongest and weakest elements of "Shrek" are the abundant pop-culture references, especially in nods to action entertainment of the day. I felt the first entry struck the right balance between bringing its own style and gags with those they we could point out as influences (i.e. "Oh, Princess Fiona is pulling a Neo!"). This balance is where "Shrek 2" and "Shrek the Third" became overkill.
Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson team-directed "Shrek." The thanks for the screenplay belongs to a small army of writers. The character and idea goes to William Steig. (I had a "This was a book?" moment while writing this... I never knew. It's true. But after flipping through some digital pages on Amazon I can see it was a base adaptation. The aforementioned creators brought plenty to the films.)
Perhaps the worst thing that ever happened to the "Shrek" series was that it became a series. "They all lived happily ever after" came with a significant asterisk. But let's be realistic. After its initial success (in the box office and in reviews) Dreamworks was not going to just let it be. The film industry is an industry, a business. They know a good thing when they got it, but don't always know how to keep it a good thing. The Shrek IP was far from retiring. They were gonna milk those ogre-y nipples for all their worth.
"Shrek 2" was promising when it showed up three years later. With the rampant references and world-killing aside (actually throwing a Starbucks into Never Ever Land, c'mon!) it was a solid piece of entertainment that you could bring the whole family too. Puss in Boots was a welcome addition to the Shrek and Donkey buddy dynamic that worked so well. "Shrek 2" still boasts an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes for whatever it's worth (the same rating the original bears).
SHREK THE THIRD
Another three years pass and "Shrek the Third" releases, the one I try to forget about most. More characters were introduced but they were neither all that interesting or entertaining. Just plot points to give Shrek another reason to get out of bed.
SHREK FOREVER AFTER
Three years later (see a trend here?) "Shrek Forever After" hit theaters. I was so done with the franchise by this point. I was not even going to bother with Dreamwork's fourth installment, but then one night Nancy and I found ourselves going to the "dollar theater" in our college town. What the hell, y'know? I was sure I was going to regret it.... and I didn't. You can read my review here, but know I was pleasantly surprised.
PUSS IN BOOTS
The following year (development is getting faster...) DreamWorks released "Puss in Boots," a spin-off of that swashbuckling, Zorro-esque house cat that we were initially introduced to in "Shrek 2." Even though Shrek, Donkey, Fiona and the gang are nowhere to be seen I still consider this a (loose) part of the series. For the most part, critics, audiences and myself were surprised by how fine it was. (Notice the absence of pop-culture references in "Puss in Boots.") Here is my review.
To sum things up, here is how I simply consider the trajectory of the series:
"Shrek" (2001) - Truly great.
"Shrek 2" (2004) - It's fun.
"Shrek the Third" (2007) - It's just not fun.
"Shrek Forever After" (2010) - It's certainly a step up.
"Puss in Boots" (2011) - Wow, this is really good!
HAPPILY EVER AFTER
At some point in my life I will get around to re-watching "Shrek 2" and, yes, even "Shrek the Third" for the purposes of reviewing them in my tome. And I still owe it to the original.