The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water Review

Spongebob

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water is absolutely baffling. It takes the surrealistic elements that have grown into the television series, and uses its theatrical budget to push them to the extreme. The end result is something that is often hilarious, and often disjointed, but it is always unmistakably Spongebob.

2004’s The Spongebob Squarepants Movie served as a fitting transition from small screen to big screen for Spongebob’s trademark nautical nonsense. It was appropriately bigger, but very much accessible for those unfamiliar with the series. It was ridiculous, but it felt focused, at least considering it was an hour and a half expansion of a normally eleven-minute format.

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water is much less focused, and unapologetically inaccessible to anyone outside of the Spongebob fanbase. In some instances, it works for its benefit, in others it feels lost in its own weirdness.

Many fans cry foul that Spongebob lost his way after the first movie, and that the series became dumbed-down, relying on gimmicks and an over reliance on surrealism over the clever writing of the older episodes.

One could say that Sponge Out of Water brings with it the good and the bad that has been attributed to the series over the years. It’s well-written and witty when it wants to be, but oftentimes it abandons it own intelligence just to weird-out its audience, which can feel like a cheap and easy way to fill its running time after a while.

SpongebobThe story – or what there is of one – is simple in explanation, but head-scratching in execution. Plankton is once again in the midst of trying to steal the Krabby Patty secret recipe when he gets into a scuffle with Spongebob. As they fight over the recipe, it magically vanishes from sight. Mr. Krabs, and every other Bikini Bottom citizen, suspect Plankton to be behind the recipe’s disappearance. Spongebob, having witnessed the inexplicable occurrence, defends Plankton. This leads to both Plankton and Spongbob being run out of town, and it’s up to them to set things right.

It’s more complicated than that, however. It turns out, a pirate named Burger Beard (portrayed by a live-action Antonio Banderas, who seems to be having a blast in the role) has stolen a magic book – which inexplicably controls the events of Bikini Bottom – and by writing in it, gave himself the Krabby Patty recipe, as well as making the few who knew the secret recipe forget it. Naturally, this sends Bikini Bottom into a Mad Max-inspired apocalypse.

SpongebobBefore all is said and done, events like time-travel, an encounter with a psychic, rapping dolphin from the future, and Plankton’s umpteenth venture into Spongebob’s brain occur. It all culminates with a giant parody of The Avengers, in which Spongebob and company become super-powered CG versions of themselves, travel to the surface and do battle with Burger Beard. Again, this is a weird movie.

On one hand, I applaud Sponge Out of Water for its weirdness. You’ve got to give credit to a movie like this for being itself and not pandering to audiences. When the weirdness works with the plot it’s hilarious (the aforementioned dolphin is involved with Spongebob becoming CG in a moment that feels like pure cinematic insanity).

SpongebobThe problems arise when Sponge Out of Water’s weirdness works against the story. The primary plot seems to get abandoned entirely for a good chunk of the movie, and the partnering of Spongebob and Plankton – which seems to be the movie’s core relationship – kind of disappears in the third act. While the first Spongebob movie kept things simplified and focused, Sponge Out of Water is so determined to prove its weirdness that it forsakes its own story to do so. Because of that, the movie often doesn’t feel like a movie. Instead, Sponge Out of Water feels like a series of small episodic events, with the larger story only taking part in the earlier moments and the very end.

But when it works, it works. Sponge Out of Water makes subtle nods to the show’s early years without forcing them, the movie parodies are clever, and when the writing and weirdness work together it’s close to genius. It’s just a shame it’s all so inconsistent.

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water is definitely the best Spongebob has been in years, but it still falls victim to some of the problems of the series’ more recent seasons. There are some humorous diamonds in the rough here, but with a little more attention given to the writing, it could have been a comedy goldmine.

 

6

My Favorite Film of 2014

Princess Kaguya

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is my favorite film of 2014. The idea of me naming a Studio Ghibli film as the best of its year isn’t exactly unpredictable, but it’s with reason. No one makes films like Studio Ghibli. They weave together their stories with an unrivaled sense of imagination. They’re capable of  creating senses of awe and wonder even in their simplest moments. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is another of the studio’s triumphs.

Princess Kaguya tells the story of Japan’s oldest folktale. A bamboo cutter finds a tiny princess from the heavens in a bamboo stalk, and the princess transforms into a baby. She is to grow up as humans do, with the bamboo cutter and his wife serving as her parents.

Princess KaguyaDirected by the legendary Isao Takahata (his first film in 14 years), The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is told with a sense of emotion and honesty that many animated films lack. It’s immediately inviting with the simplicity of its opening moments, and it grows into something deeper and emotionally complex as it goes on. Its story is told earnestly, and is crafted with such an elegance that it becomes something entirely unique, even among the Ghibli library.

Kaguya is depicted as a real person. She is not perfect, nor manufactured (even if the world around her wants her to be). She is a girl who (rapidly) grows into a woman. She is a bright and hopeful individual, but she has concerns and troubles of her own. Her life is filled with ups and downs, happiness and sadness. Life is never easy, not even for a princess, and Kaguya’s story is told with both beauty and tragedy in a simple, direct way.

Her parents lavish her with heavenly riches and the life of a princess, believing that anything short of the best is unworthy of her. But Kaguya simply wants to live a simple, peaceful, happy life. Her conflicts with her parents are never depicted as simple rebellion, nor are her parents made out to be antagonists (as they probably would be in most animated features). They’re simply people who are trying to do what they think is best, even if they don’t know how.

Princess KaguyaIsao Takahata takes this folktale, and turns it into a character-driven, emotional epic. And it’s all displayed with some of the most beautiful animation I’ve ever seen. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya ranks alongside Ghibli’s own Spirited Away and Ponyo as one of the most visually captivating of animated films. It’s visuals are minimalistic, and have the look of simple paintings and sketches brought to life. Princess Kaguya is arresting from its very first frame, and it never lets go.

The superb visuals make The Tale of the Princess Kaguya one of the most striking of animated films, but the best part about them is that their beauty is only complimentary to the artistry of the story and its depth of character. It combines a human element with a sense of magic and wonder, as all the best Studio Ghibli films do, and it does so with a subtlety and gentleness that’s all its own.

For its heartfelt, emotional story and its incomparable presentation, Isao Takahata’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is, without a doubt, my favorite film of 2014.

Princess Kaguya

 

Runners-up

Guardians of the Galaxy

Big Hero 6

The Imitation Game

Song of the Sea

My Favorite Film of 2013

*This blog was originally written in February of 2014. It has been resurrected here for historical purposes (I may periodically write about my favorite films of other years of my life later). And also because Frozen is freakin’ awesome.*

Frozen

Frozen is my favorite film of 2013. I haven’t been so enamored with an animated film since Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo back in 2009, and I haven’t felt so strongly for an American animated feature since The Incredibles back in 2004. I will even go so far as to say Frozen has become my favorite Disney film. But what is it that makes it so special?

The marketing campaign that Disney created for Frozen may have been the most misleading I have ever seen. The film’s first teaser – which focused on a snowman and a reindeer fighting over a carrot – was fun, but didn’t exactly tell you Disney was aiming to create an animated masterpiece. The later trailers and commercials were even less forgivable. The advertisements contained music that was too sugary, and seemed like they were trying too hard to make the film look “cool” for today’s youngsters. Once again, they featured that snowman so prominently it would be easy for someone to think the movie was about little more than the wisecracks and slapstick of this sidekick. You might not have even noticed the two sisters who would end up being the stars of the show.

Well, this was either the worst marketing I’ve ever seen, or the very best, depending on how you look at things. I went into Frozen with very little expectations. But after my attention was grabbed by the delightful short film Get a Horse (it in itself an absolute delight), I was surprised to realize that, well, I was surprised. From its opening moments to its heartfelt finale, Frozen was one of the most joyous movie experiences I’ve ever had.

Disney films, as much as I love them, are often predictable. It’s something most Disney fans don’t want to admit, but Disney characters are often more archetypal than deep. The songs are often meant to regain our attention after slower moments, and the stories, while undeniably charming, go in the exact directions you would expect.

How delighted I was then, that Frozen’s characters are not dictated by the plot, but the story is instead centered around the emotional depths and relationships of its characters. It’s soundtrack is the very best in the studio’s history, and the non-musical moments are equally entertaining. Oh, and that snowman, who looked so forced on the advertisements, ended up being as endearing as any character that has ever come out of the Disney brand.

In short, no Disney film has surprised and delighted me in the way Frozen has.

Frozen

At the heart of the story are Anna and Elsa, the two strongest and most likable female leads Disney has ever created. This is a film that is entirely focused on, and driven by, these two sisters. There’s still adventure, action, comedy and romance, just as there is in most Disney films. But at the heart of it all is the relationship between Anna and Elsa, two sisters who love each other, but have forgotten what it means to love.

Elsa possesses magical powers that are as dangerous as they are beautiful. In order to protect the people she loves from herself, she locks herself away in her room, shutting out the rest of the world. Fear effectively takes control of Elsa’s life, and Anna’s life becomes equally as lonely because of it.

The opening moments of the film, which explains this emotional setup through the song “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” has been compared to the opening moments from Pixar’s Up, famous for bringing audiences to tears. I’d say Frozen’s opening matches up to it beautifully. Even with all the humor and charm, the emotion that begins at the start of the film permeates at the core of the story throughout.

In these moments we see the changes that occur within Anna and Elsa. As children they are as close as can be, but as they get older we see how fear, loneliness and loss make them grow distant. Anna knocks on her sister’s door daily, at first asking Elsa if she wants to play and build a snowman. Eventually her enthusiasm disappears, and she simply pleads with her sister to let her in (literally she means for her sister to open her door, thematically she means for Elsa to open her heart to her again).

Despite the melancholy, Frozen is a joyous film. The emotional conflict between the sisters is always present, but Frozen isn’t about breaking hearts. As the leader of a group of trolls makes quite apparent in the latter half of the movie, this is a film all about warming our hearts. It’s as funny and well-written as it is heartfelt.Elsa

It’s all too easy to call Frozen a beautiful film. Its settings and visual effects are as eye-popping as any CG animated film yet made. The snowy landscapes and magical happenings are nothing short of stunning. But the film’s most beautiful aspect is the honesty of its story.

In this day and age, there’s a sense of sarcasm, and often cynicism, that accompanies animated movies. The CG animated pictures we see coming from most studios relish on wisecracking characters and smarmy references. Pixar has always stood out, sure, but they’re surrounded and outnumbered by far more obnoxious and insipid pictures.

But with Frozen, Disney has created a story, a fairy tale, as honest and sincere as any they’ve made. It’s modernized in the right ways (again, you won’t find female leads as strong and independent as Frozen’s in the older Disney films), but it never feels contrived to grab today’s audiences. It feels timeless, as all the best animated features do.

Disney has been getting back into their A-game for a few years now, with the likes of The Princess and the Frog, Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph being among the best animated films released in their respective years. But while all these films were great in their own right, they could, at times, feel a little forced, or not quite fulfill their concepts. But Frozen feels complete. Everything comes together fluidly and seamlessly. And in a rarity for Disney, Frozen takes many unexpected turns. When things start looking like they’ll fall right where we expect them to, Frozen finds ways to turn things on their heads.

Frozen

As previously stated, the characters here are deeper and more complex than what we usually see from Disney. Not just Elsa and Anna, but the supporting cast as well. Kristoff isn’t exactly a prince charming, and like Anna, is a lonely individual who’s resorted to providing the voice of his own pet reindeer just to have someone to talk to. Frozen’s equivalent of prince charming, Prince Hans, also reveals to be a more layered character than his demeanor at first suggest. Even Olaf, that snowman we were introduced to before all the other characters, could have easily become an overbearing source for comic relief. Instead he’s a genuinely charming character who, in a rarity for Disney sidekicks, feels necessary to the story, as he serves an emotional connection between the main characters.

FrozenPerhaps the moment that best showcases what makes Frozen so thematically different from other Disney works is the musical number “Let it Go.” An obvious choice, sure. It’s only the film’s signature song, but it’s earned it’s reputation for a reason. For all intents and purposes, Elsa is Frozen’s primary antagonist. She’s certainly no villain, but her conflicts become everyone else’s conflicts. Her dilemmas create the obstacles for Anna to overcome. So while she may not wear villainy on her sleeve, she is, as far as narrative goes, the primary antagonist.

If this were any other Disney film, the character filling Elsa’s role would no doubt be a lot more sinister, and their defining musical number might include an expository ballad explaining their evil intentions. In its place, Frozen instead features a triumphant musical number. Let it Go is as celebratory as it is liberating, as it expresses Elsa freeing herself from the fear that has ruled her life. It’s thoughtful and empowering, and far more effective than simply having a villain sing of their evil deeds.

It’s true, some characters with sinister intentions do show up in the film, but their presence is secondary (and still serves thematic purposes) and more notably, they are never the driving force in the story. While most Disney movies feel completely reliant on their villains, Frozen is built entirely around its two heroines. Frozen isn’t about Anna and Elsa putting a stop to a villainous plot, it’s about the two sisters reconnecting.Anna

This perhaps reflects Frozen’s greatest strengths. It’s a film that feels structured like the very best Disney movies, but narratively, it takes risks, and changes things up in ways most Disney films wouldn’t think to attempt. The marketing of the film alone showed Disney’s uncertainty to how audiences would take to the movie’s core relationship being between two sisters, but all the greater still is that the film constantly delights and surprises. It’s a testament to the skills of the filmmakers involved that Frozen’s surprises feel genuine. It doesn’t feel like it’s trying to avoid stereotypes and cliches, rather, it feels like a film that’s studied its predecessors, took the assets that worked, and used them as a backdrop to tell its own story.

Just about every Disney trope is either rewritten, reinvented, or written-off entirely. But unlike the aforementioned sarcastic animated films of today, Frozen never feels like a parody of its lineage. It celebrates the things we love about Disney movies while admitting to their faults. In turn it tells a story that’s more than deserving of being in the Disney canon, but it tells a story that’s all its own.

Frozen is a pure joy from start to finish. Its opening outdoes Pixar in the emotional department. And its final scene – which doesn’t focus on a kiss between one of the heroines and their love interest (though there is that too), but instead is the simple image of two sisters ice skating – is possibly the sweetest image in any Disney film. And everything in between is delightful, entertaining and magical.

On the surface, Frozen represents Disney  doing what they do best, at their best. In its depth, Frozen is unlike anything Disney has ever done before.

Anna and Elsa

Runner-up: The Wind Rises

The Croods Review

The Croods

The Croods is a more appealing movie than its bland title might suggest. But it also won’t be ranked alongside Dreamworks’ best work. It’s ambitious in scale and filled with colorful character designs, but it’s also restrained when it comes to narrative. The Croods is a solid entry in the Dreamworks canon, but one that won’t exactly win over those who claim they prefer style over substance.

The film stars a family of cavemen, the titular Croods. At the head of the family is the patriarch, Grug (Nicholas Cage), who dedicates himself to his family’s survival in the hostile prehistoric environment. He’s well-meaning enough, but a bit paranoid of the world, which leads him to often butt heads with his rebellious daughter Eep (Emma Stone), who wants nothing more than to go out and see the world. The rest of the family gets considerably less screen time, but they include the mother Ugga, the brother Thunk, and baby sister Sandy, as well as Grug’s mother-in-law Gran. They’re a fun lot of characters when they need to be, though they do feel a bit archetypal.

The CroodsEvery day is the same in the Crood household (cavehold?), they wake up, scavenge for food, and avoid being eaten by sabertoothed cats and other such creatures, only to return to the cave to hide until the next morning. But their world is turned upside down when Eep meets a guy named Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who informs her that the end of the world is coming, and that he’s heading for the land of “Tomorrow” which is safe from the impending apocalypse. It isn’t long before the Croods’ home is destroyed in the ensuing chaos, and they seek help from Guy to find a safe home in tomorrow. Along the way, the Croods (specifically Grug) may learn a thing or two about opening up to the world and having unique ideas outside the status quo.

It’s a simple enough story, livened up by some smart writing and humorous running gags, as well as some solid voice work. There is a bit of a downside in that the movie has more characters than it knows what to do with (you may wonder why the story even needed Eep’s siblings), and the story is a bit on the predictable side, with the messages – simple truths that they may be – feeling a tad ham-fisted.

The CroodsBut it’s all made more enjoyable by the film’s real highlight: The animation. The Croods showcases some of Dreamworks’ best visuals, with just about every scene being a display of color and detail. Best of all are the character designs for all the prehistoric beasts the Croods run across. The creatures in The Croods feel more inspired by prehistoric animals than based off them, which allowed Dreamworks to get creative with the character designs. Among these creatures are quadrupedal whales and swarms of piranha-birds. The strange creatures littered throughout The Croods help give the film some imaginative spark.

The animation and designs are where The Croods’ creativity shines. It’s just unfortunate that the story, while technically sound, is so much less creative. The characters and their relationships all fit neatly into the exact roles you expect them to, and it’s only in the last fifteen or so minutes that it gets any real emotional oomph.

It may not reinvent the wheel, but The Croods has a fun time with the tools it has at its disposal. If Dreamworks isn’t your cup of tea, The Croods isn’t about to change that. But for the initiated, it’s a fun, and ever so colorful ride.

 

6

Turbo Review

Turbo

It’s often said that Dreanworks has an inconsistent track record with their animated features. They’ll pop out some really good ones when they want to, but then they seem to toss in some less-than memorable ones in between. Some claim this inconsistency is due to Dreamworks trying too hard to one-up the competition, leaving them to often feel more excessive than genuine. While these complaints aren’t always warranted, consider Turbo to be one of the reasons they’re still brought up.

 

Turbo tells the story of a snail named Theo (Ryan Reynolds), who dreams of being a famous race car driver like the ones he watches on TV. His brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) tells him to get his head out of the clouds, but a freak accident ends up fusing Theo’s DNA with nitrous oxide, giving him super speed and car-like abilities, and he is renamed ‘Turbo’. This leads to a series of events that ultimately leads Theo and Chet in the company of a group of humans and a small parade of fellow snail characters, who help Turbo enter the Indy 500.

 

The preposterous premise helps make the film a little more entertaining than it might otherwise be. Unfortunately this premise seems like a very thin guise for Dreamworks to capitalize on the popularity of Pixar’s Cars franchise (the snail characters themselves might bring to mind Lightning McQueen and friends transformed into mollusks).

The story feels like your typical “follow your dreams” plotline that accompanies the majority of animated movies, with Turbo having little to no other defining character traits than his desire to be a racer. Chet is your atypical stick in the mud, while the other snails seem defined solely by their running gags, and the humans by their racial stereotypes.

TurboWhat gets these characters from point A to point B has a tendency to be exactly what you think it would be. The movie offers nothing in the realm of surprises, but at the very least, it does have some funny moments when it wants to (though an insistence on humor based around social media and autotuned remixes in the second half feels a bit cheap).

To its credit, Turbo does include a quality voice cast, with Reynolds and Giammatti being joined by a small army of celebrity voices that give the movie some energy as well as credibility. And it boasts some lively, colorful animation.

The problem is that Turbo’s tank is running on empty when it comes to storytelling. It follows just about every cliche in the book without a second thought. It’s telling when the movie’s very best moments feel like its siphoning the creative gases of other films, never bearing the same results as its inspirations.

It may have a fresh coat of paint, but there’s nothing under turbo’s hood.

 

4

Shrek Forever After Review

Shrek Forever After

When Shrek Forever After was released in 2010, it had two goals in mind: The first was to redeem the series after it lost its groove with Shrek the Third. The second was to bring the series to a close. The good news is that it partially succeeded in these goals. The bad news is that, in the end, it’s still in the shadows of the first two entries in the Shrek series.

Shrek Forever After sees Shrek in the midst of a mid-life crisis. Family life is stressful for the once-curmudgeonly ogre, and (in perhaps a bit of a commentary on the nature of the third film) his new celebrity status has made him feel less like the ogre he once was.

Shrek Forever AfterAfter a spat with his wife Fiona, Shrek stumbles upon one Rumplestiltskin, who makes a deal with Shrek to give him one day to feel like an ogre again, in exchange for one day from Shrek’s past. Rumplestiltskin, having evil motivation, takes away the day Shrek was born, which sends Shrek into a parallel universe where he never rescued Fiona, Donkey is a vagabond, Puss in Boots is overweight and Rumplestiltskin has taken over the kingdom of Far Far Away. Think of it as Shrek’s take on It’s a Wonderful Life.

The story may not stack up to those of the first two Shrek’s, but it is far more focused and better structured than the clunky, disjointed plots of Shrek the Third. And it has some honest goes at some emotion, which were also lacking from the third film.

It’s the writing and humor that aren’t up to par with Shrek or Shrek 2. The jokes here are less witty, sometimes relying on callbacks to the first two entries instead of springing the originality that made those films such a joy. There are still some fun jokes to be had, but they’re lightly spread out in between more bland and uninspired gags. Even Shrek himself seems a little worn out with all the fairy tale parodies and pop culture references.

Another downside is that Rumplestiltskin is the weakest villain of the series. He lacks the conniving charm of Lord Farquaad, and is never as entertaining as Fairy Godmother or Prince Charming. Audiences may even find they dislike him more for being annoying than for being a villain.

Shrek Forever AfterHowever, Shrek Forever After does benefit for keeping the story focused on Shrek and his journey to end Rumple’s curse and set things right. Some new characters – like a parade of ogre freedom fighters- are introduced, but the movie wisely keeps them in minor roles. Rumplestiltskin is the only major new player, otherwise it’s only the core Shrek characters who have major parts in the story. After Shrek the Third sidetracked with characters like Artie and Merlin (who, not surprisingly, don’t return here), this is all the more refreshing.

The voice work remains consistent, with Mike Meyers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas still giving the movie some energy, but the animation looks like it’s still running on Shrek 2’s character models, which is more than a little noticeable given the six-year gap between the two movies.

In some ways, Shrek Forever After has a lot going for it: It, unlike its predecessor, knows a thing or two about storytelling. It has good intentions and even a little bit of heart. But it’s also a movie that looks more dated than it should, and one that lacks the smarts and creativity in writing that its forebears exuded.

Shrek Forever After may not be the satisfying ending the series deserved, but it does get an A for effort. And effort is more than you could say about Shrek the Third.

 

5

Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return Review

Legends of Oz

The Wizard of Oz is one of the most beloved films of all time, and has captured the imaginations of audiences for generations. Set in a world of talking scarecrows, flying monkeys and wicked witches, an animated offshoot of The Wizard of Oz doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. That is unless said animated offshoot seems constructed out of bad ideas. Enter Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return.

The movie is as uninspired as its title. An evil Jester – who happens to be the younger brother of the late Wicked Witch – has taken control of the Emerald City, leaving the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Formerly-Cowardly Lion to summon Dorothy back to Oz to save the day. That’s about the size of it.

Should you actually wanted to see more of the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion, Return to Oz  is sure to give them a backseat in the story. They spend the majority of the movie trapped in Emerald City. Instead, Dorothy and Toto are joined by a quartet of forgettable characters: A rotund owl named Wiser, a marshmallow man named Marshal Mallow, a porcelain doll princess, and a talking tree who allows Dorothy and friends to make him into a boat. To call them Oz’s B-team would be more than generous.

The bland story and forgettable cast are ‘complimented’ by a number of musical numbers that range from insipid to irritating. All of them ooze a ‘written-on-a-napkin’ quality. At the very least, their sheer forgettability will likely prevent them from getting stuck in your head.

Just in case the movie wasn’t cardboard enough, the animation looks more along the lines of a 2001 direct-to-video release than a 2014 theatrical animated feature. The character designs also showcase a lack of inspiration. The entire visual look of Legends of Oz is aged and boring.

If there’s anything of merit to be found here, it’s probably in the movie’s opening moments, which shows the devastation caused to Dorothy’s hometown in Kansas from the iconic twister that sent her to Oz in the first place. It’s nothing emotional (and even it gets ruined by one of the aforementioned songs), but it’s somewhat interesting to see the ‘Oz tornado’ treated as a disaster and not just a transport to another world.

But that’s really searching hard for a redeeming quality, isn’t it? The long and the short of it is that Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is a bad movie. It feels entirely thrown together, rushed, and creatively empty. Within minutes you may find yourself wishing you had a pair of ruby slippers so you could click them together and whisk you away from this movie.

 

2

Shrek the Third Review

Shrek the Third

If Shrek the Third proved anything when it arrived in 2007, it’s that sometimes you really can have too much of a good thing. Even a franchise as entertaining as Shrek could go wrong. And boy, did it go wrong.

 

The first Shrek is still one of Dreamworks’ best movies, and Shrek 2 isn’t too far behind, being one of the better sequels out there. But Shrek the Third is not only a disappointment in relation to its predecessors. It is, quite simply, a bad movie.

The first two Shrek’s were smart, well-written, and were built around the clever motif of turning the world of fairy tales on its head. That motif is still present in Shrek the Third. But the smarts, the writing, and the cleverness didn’t come with it.

Shrek the ThirdThe story – or more accurately, stories – lack any real focus, and the results feel more like a series of unconnected events loosely roped together than a proper story. The movie begins with Fiona’s father, the king of Far Far Away, dying. Shrek would then be the proper heir to the throne, but being an ogre is the furthest thing from royalty in Shrek’s eyes, and so he – along with Donkey and Puss in Boots – sets off to find Fiona’s cousin “Artie” who is next in line.

That setup alone is already pretty weak, which might explain why Dreamworks saw fit to toss in two other major plots: One of which, as it turns out, is that Fiona is pregnant, which gives Shrek something to think about while on his journey. Meanwhile, Prince Charming, still angry about the events that occurred in Shrek 2, seeks revenge on Far Far Away by recruiting a small army of fairy tale villains to siege an attack on the kingdom.

 

Admittedly, the plot with Prince Charming actually provides some fun. I’ve always enjoyed when a secondary villain gets promoted to big bad, and this particular instance gives us a few funny moments with the fairy tale villains, and it has an amusing resolution. But it never really meshes with the other plots, nor are those other plots particularly good on their own merits. It’s almost as though the three stories were all thrown around Dreamworks as pitches for a third Shrek film, and then the movie began production before any one of them were really decided on. But Dreamworks picked up the pieces anyway, slapped them together, and hoped for the best. It didn’t work.

The first Shrek was genius for making an ogre the hero in a fairy tale world, and for turning those fairy tales into a series of jokes for all ages. Shrek 2 was almost equally genius for showing us that even fairy tale couples can have marital issues after their happily ever afters. But Shrek the Third lacks anything near the levels of creativity of its predecessors. It really is little more than a cash-grab.

The animation remains more or less the same as Shrek 2. It doesn’t have the same leap as the second film had from the first, but there’s nothing particularly bad about it, either.

Shrek the ThirdEverything else, however, is either relying on recycled ideas that have run their course (Donkey and Puss’ comedic tandem feels like its out of steam), or are new additions that are poorly thought out and sloppily executed. Even the new characters introduced here aren’t memorable. Artie (or Arthur, as in “King Arthur”) is an annoying high school kid with very little to offer outside of that description, and only seems to serve as a means of getting Justin Timberlake into the franchise. Meanwhile, Merlin the wizard shows up (mainly for plot convenience), but his ‘crazy old man’ persona feels like a forced (and ineffective) source of humor.

The returning characters haven’t changed much, and their voice work is all good (Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas and Cameron Diaz all return), but even they seem like they’re just going through the motions. Shrek himself seems Shreked out.

 

Shrek the Third may promote itself as a comedy. But seeing Shrek fall this far from greatness, after he once boasted so much promise and exuded such entertainment, is nothing short of tragic.

 

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Shrek 2 Review

Shrek 2

Back in 2004, Shrek was all the rage. The first Shrek became one of the most beloved animated films of the time, so it was not too surprising when Dreamworks decided to make a sequel. Like the first Shrek, Shrek 2 proved to be an influential animated movie, with animated sequels now being common place due to the massive success of Shrek 2. And just like its predecessor, most of what was inspired in its wake may make Shrek 2’s influence a dubious honor, but Shrek 2 itself is still a very enjoyable film.

 

Most animated fairy tales end with a kiss, a marriage, and the promise of a happily ever after. Shrek 2 puts itself into a fun place where the happily ever after is the starting point. The fairy tale ending is replaced with the ups and downs of married life.

The movie begins with a montage of Shrek and Fiona’s honeymoon. It serves as a mostly-successful means to reintroduce us to the characters, though it also strangely feels as though Shrek himself became aware of his reputation in 2004. The opening moments of the film prove funny, but the heavier usage of parodies is a little foreshadowing to their stronger overall presence this time around.

The real story begins shortly after the honeymoon, and Princess Fiona’s parents invite her and her new husband – unaware that he’s an ogre – over to their castle for a visit and to receive the king’s royal blessing. So Shrek, Fiona and Donkey set off for the kingdom of Far, Far Away, unaware that a conniving Fairy Godmother and her son Prince Charming plan a takeover of the kingdom.

What’s interesting is that Dreamworks, rather than taking the “bigger” sequel route, actually went with a relatively smaller plot for this follow-up. Sure, the locations are bigger this time around and there are more characters, but the action set pieces are smaller, and the story less extravagant. Shrek went from rescuing a princess from a dragon to meeting his new in-laws.

Shrek 2But that’s exactly why Shrek 2 works. It isn’t just a sequel that relies on being a bigger spectacle than the original. Instead it shows us another side to the curmudgeonly ogre and his friends. The story allows for some added character moments, and the dialogue and writing are on par with the first film as Dreamworks’ most hilarious.

The animation also holds up better than the first film. Understandable, given the success of the original, Dreamworks’ now had more to work with, and could fine-tune their animation. It may not be the most eye-popping animated film around, but its colorful, full of energy, and the human characters look more believable than in its predecessor.

There are some drawbacks to Shrek 2, however, that prevent it from reaching the same heights as the first film in the series. The most notable being the overabundance of pop-culture gags and references. It’s not that they aren’t ever funny (some of them are hilarious), but too often they feel center-staged. The writing is still great, but sometimes it seems to take a backseat to the sight gags, which largely consist of modern references and parodies refitted for the fairy tale theme of the movie (the home video release regrettably features a post-credits American Idol tribute). They’re fun ideas a lot of the time, but it’s a bit much.

Shrek 2Another aspect working against Shrek 2 is that, although the story is smaller than the first film, it has a lot more characters to work with. Shrek, Fiona and Donkey return, and along with new characters in Fiona’s parents, the Fairy Godmother and Prince Charming, there’s also Puss in Boots. Puss works great in small doses as his own character, but pairing him up with Donkey as a comic duo can feel more like extra baggage (weren’t Shrek and Donkey already the comic duo?). Then consider that minor characters from the first movie like Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs, and the Gingerbread Man all get promoted to bigger roles, and it becomes clear that Shrek 2 is trying to please too many people, and it ends up with more pieces than its smaller plot knows what to do with.

Shrek 2 doesn’t quite match it’s predecessor then, but it’s a much closer call than anyone would have predicted in 2004. After all these years it’s still one of Dreamworks’ most hilarious and heartwarming films.

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Shrek Review

Shrek

When it was released in 2001, Shrek was a revelation. An animated fairytale that was irreverent, sarcastic, and made just as much for the adult crowd as it was for kids (if not more so). It inspired countless other animated movies over the next decade that tried to replicate its style, none of which even began to approach the charm and wit of the originator. While these cheap imitators are (mercifully) falling out of favor, the original Shrek still holds up.

Shrek tells the story of its titular ogre Shrek (Mike Myers). Shrek prefers a life of solitude in his swamp, away from all the people who wish him ill for just being who he is. But Shrek’s world gets turned upside down when his swamp becomes overrun with fairy tale characters. It turns out, the fairy tale lot have been dumped in Shrek’s swamp by one Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). After Shrek ventures to meet Farquaad accompanied by a talking Donkey – aptly named Donkey (Eddie Murphy) – Farquaad agrees to give Shrek his swamp back, provided Shrek can rescue the fair Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from the clutches of a fire-breathing dragon.

So Shrek and Donkey set out to rescue the princess and get Shrek his swamp back. But along the way, Shrek realizes his swamp may not be the thing he needs most in his life.

What set Shrek apart from the crowd back in the day was its attitude. The 90s animated scene had been dominated by Disney musicals that largely followed the same formula. Audiences in the early 2000s wanted something different, and Shrek gave it to them.

ShrekIt’s still a fairy tale, like so many animated films, but Shrek is no Prince Charming. Shrek is large, cranky, and down-to-earth. He burps and scratches his rear whenever he feels the need to. And he’s immensely likable. Donkey may be an annoying sidekick, but he perfectly compliments (and irritates) the curmudgeonly hero. Princess Fiona similarly goes against many princess stereotypes. Lord Farquaad – while maybe deserving of a little more screen time – also proves to be a memorable and hilarious villain.

The main characters all went against the conventions Disney established into animated films, and they all became memorable, adult personalities. The overall flavor of the movie reflects this, with characters like Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs and the Gingerbread Man (referred to here as ‘Gingy’) all being turned into hilarious parodies of themselves. There are plenty of innuendos, sight gags, and winks to the adult crowd that made Shrek feel far more grownup than the movies of Disney and their contemporaries at the time. Yet, Shrek was, and is, still very much a movie kids can enjoy.

ShrekThe film remains bright and colorful, though the character models are looking dated by today’s standards. It’s forgivable when one considers the animation was groundbreaking in its day, but perhaps the attempt at making more ‘realistic’ looking humans is what has aged. Comparing it to the more exaggerated character designs of some other early CG animations (including Toy Story, released six years prior to Shrek), you may find that the human characters in Shrek no longer look nearly as believable as they once did.

But again, that’s forgivable. The one aspect of Shrek that simply doesn’t hold up is the soundtrack. Shrek makes extensive use of licensed songs, and while some of them are appropriate for their respective scenes, I’m afraid nothing screams “this movie was made in 2001” quite like Smash Mouth. While the story and humor of Shrek hold up brightly, the soundtrack is the aspect of the film that feels dated.

It’s a small price to pay, however. While the movies it inspired may have lacked its heart, Shrek is still a great film. It’s smart, hilarious, and appeals to all ages. The years may have proven that Dreamworks couldn’t consistently replicate this winning formula (Shrek’s own sequels fall short, though Shrek 2 comes close), but Shrek still represents Dreamworks at their best.

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