The genius of the first Shrek movie was that it managed to simultaneously provide a wry commentary on the cultural ideology embedded in children's fairy tales and tell a lovely story. It did a particularly brilliant job of peppering the film with bits of adult humor that children wouldn't get, but grown-ups would love, thus making it a great kids movie that parents would also get a kick out of. I don't really remember that much of Shrek 2, I have to admit, but I seem to recall that it was a slightly inferior version, yet still a largely entertaining film. Shrek 3, sad to say, continues the downhill progression.
To start with the virtues, though, the animation is incredible. It makes the original Shrek look like garbage in comparison. The development of animation technology in such a short amount of time is truly amazing. The texture, the movement - it's incredibly well done. Although, as my friend Peter pointed out, there's something about speech that animation still can't quite capture in a lifelike manner, in other areas it's progressing in leaps and bounds in other areas.
Also, there are many, many very funny scenes in the movie. The first half of it is mostly quite humorous. After that though, the laughs drop off, and the sentimentalism kicks into high gear. Not to mention the painfully cheesy soundtrack. The original Shrek had a somewhat corny soundtrack, but it worked well with the film, and ended up seeming fun-loving and bouncy. This time, the music is heavy handed and rather obnoxious. When Led Zepplin's Immigrant Song comes on, it's hard to suppress a groan.
The real problem with the film is that it can't figure out what it really wants to do, and the attempt to balance its various goals turns it into a rather disastrous hodgepodge. It's not clever anymore - the humor is largely crude, and often misses the mark. Rather than the clever, subtle adult humor, you get scenes of adolescent fairy tale heroes emerging from smoke filled carriages saying something about frankincense and myrrh - come on. Grow up. Little kids probably won't find that funny, and it's not really subversive enough anymore to impress anyone else. And what's really weird, is how the movie can't seem to decide whether it wants to make gay jokes and milk humor out of transgendered people being unattractive, or whether it wants to gather everyone together to hold hands under a diversity rainbow. The movie is generally a bit confused about gender roles and what it thinks of them. Fiona is alternately a tough and independent modern woman and a simpering emotional wreck.
The worst of it, though, is the flipflopping between irony and sentimentalism, which borders on schizophrenic - it starts off throwing in some sentiment with a healthy dose of irony, but by the end, it gets totally swept up in an absolutely cringe inducing identity politics melodrama. When Captain Hook confesses that he grows daffodils, "and... they're beautiful" there's no trace of sarcasm. It's an O-channel group hug kind of moment, the kind that makes you want to kick puppies. Particularly interesting, given that earlier, the film seems to be mocking the earnest-ness of various identity politics revolutions. But at the same time, it wants to cling to the advances they've made. So, for instance, one makes fun of women for burning their bras, but cheers them on when they are independent and assertive.
You know, now that I think of it, it's actually a really bizarre movie, one that's not for kids at all. The story is really about the difficulties of marriage, pregnancy, and parenting. Sorry, but why on Earth would you make a movie for kids about that? It's not something they can relate to, really at all. I mean, basically, this is a stock adult emo comedy (see: Look Who's Talking, 3 Men and a Baby, perhaps the upcoming Knocked Up) with fairy tales creatures and fart jokes. And what it has to say about these coming of age adult themes is pretty much the same thing all such movies say about them - oh, it's so hard, but so rewarding, and you learn so much and become a better person and bla bla bla bla bla. Sure, it could be interesting to do that with fairy tale creatures - in fact, quite fascinating, to contrast, for instance, the traditional messages of those forms with a more modern version. Sad to say, this isn't what the movie does. It trades in stock cliches and delivers bland messages. Does anyone find pregnancy cravings jokes funny anymore?
All in all, a flop. Unfortunate, especially given how good the first movie was. Sad to say, it seems likely that there will be more Shrek movies, and I suspect that they'll continue to get progressively worse.