Shrek the ThirdShrek the Third on DVD

Dreamworks' third dip at the animated ogre well is worth seeing for several reasons, though it's also the weakest of the three Shrek movies.

Sure looks great on Blu-ray, though!

This time around, Shrek and Fiona are still living in Far Far Away and her father, the king (John Cleese), is on his deathbed. An heir is needed, obviously, and it appears that, since Shrek is married to the royal daughter, it's his gig for the taking.

"Ogreat!" Being a king is the last thing Shrek wants. He has far too low a BS threshold for that job - as witnessed by a major appearance he makes before movers and shakers of the kingdom that, well, doesn't go off quite as successfully as everyone may have wanted.

Fiona's a little more hip to being queen; she was brought up that way. But even she has more important things in mind than playing monarch all day: it's time for her and her big green lug to think about raising a family, about listening to the pitter patter (well, maybe the "clump, clump, clump") of little ogre feet.

And of course we have Prince Charming from Shrek 2, who thinks his is the logical bum to sit on the throne but who is now reduced to performing dinner theater and whining about the unfairness of life.

What to do?

Ah, but there's one other heir - fortunately for the unhappy Shrek. His name is Arthur and he lives, well, far far away, prompting Shrek and his little donkey and pussycat friends to partake on an epic journey to find Artie and finagle a way to get him to come back to Far Far Away and take his rightful (since Shrek doesn't want it) place on the throne.

This takes us to a quite funny scene set in what the producers envision as a high school of that magical age, with its requisite modern joke references (that work, for the most part), where Shrek and party discover the nerdy Arthur and try to convince him to return with them.

All isn't sweetness and light back home while this is going on. Prince Charming has imprisoned Fiona and her fellow storybook Princesses (Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel) as part of his scheme to get the throne for himself. Are they going to just sit there and take it, or is there some inner strength to these ladies that's just waiting to be revealed?

"Shrek The Third" lacks the originality of the original film (and even its first sequel), but despite that it's still very worth your while. The situations are a little trite this time around, but there are enough laughs and pop culture moments that help to make up for any shortcomings in the writing. For every fart joke, there's a nice bit that isn't quite so juvenile, enough of them that they also make up for the crude humor that creeps in periodically. And we must admit to laughing out loud more than once.

Then there's the animation.  PDI and Dreamworks have pushed the technological envelope in competition with the good folks at Pixar, and each movie becomes more amazing to behold. Shrek the Third is quite simply dazzling to watch. The cast moves realistically, the characters exhibit real depth (not so much in their personalities as in their rendering) and the backgrounds and "sets" look positively glorious. Even if there were no plot, Shrek the Third would be worth watching.

The Blu-ray's widescreen 1080p picture quality is superb and we were pleased from bottom to top. Colors are rich and beautiful, the contrast is superb and the overall image is extremely pleasing, with real depth.

The audio, in TrueHD 5.1 Surround, is also very good. The characters come through loudly and clearly, while the music and effects are used well across all of the home theater's audio channels. This may not be a reference quality soundtrack, but the only flies on it are animated ones that buzz happily from speaker to speaker.

You also get an abundance of extras on the single disc presentation, including an interesting look at the technology of Shrek (though it's also a blatant commercial for HP and AMD) and a featurette featuring the cast of characters.

And there's a selection of deleted scenes and "bloopers", Shrek's Guide to Parenthood, and a lot more. It's a compelling package that offers good value, but we're so happy with the movie's presentation that everything else is gravy.

Shrek the Third, from Dreamworks Home Entertainment
92 min.1080p widescreen (1.85:1), Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround
Starring the voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Justin Timberlake, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, Rupert Everett, John Cleese
Produced by Aron Warner,
written by Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman and Chris Miller & Aron Warner, directed by Chris Miller

Shrek Forever AfterShrek Forever After on Blu-ray

The fourth time's definitely the charm with the Shrek series, as it goes out with a legitimate bang.

Well, we assume it's going out. We thought Shrek 3 would be the last in the series! And, to be honest, it's nice that we were wrong, because Three was the weakest of the Shrek movies and Shrek Forever After is good enough to wipe any bad taste left by Three out of our mouths.

Once again, Shrek (Mike Myers) and his wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are living supposedly happily ever after, but this supposed bliss doesn't sit well with the big orgre. He wants a quiet, peaceful life with his wife and family – and friends, of course, including Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), along with their families and/or assorted storybook hangers on.

'Twasn't to be, though. Their peaceful and idyllic existence is interrupted constantly by celebrity tours that bring rubberneckers to his swamp to check them out like those Hollywood celebrity tours undoubtedly do in the real storybook world. And that's just one of his issues.

As in Three, Shrek looks for a way out, this time not from any kingly duties by finding a substitute but by making a devilish deal with this tale's evil villain Rumpelstiltskin, who signs Shrek up for an agreement that, as such deals in fables are wont, turns out to be about the worst thing Shrek could have done.

And so Shrek finds that his world has indeed changed – and everything he knew and loved with it. It's kind of like "It's a Wonderful Life meets Back to the Future 2" in that the world becomes as if Shrek had never been born like with George Bailey in "Life" – while the new world is now ruled by Rumpelstiltskin and his minions kind of like how Biff took over in "Future 2" – and Shrek must find a way to change everything back again to restore his life and his loves.

The story moves along at breakneck speed, and never takes itself particularly seriously and we were very pleasantly surprised to find that we enjoyed it very much – especially after the comparative disappointment of Both Shrek 3 and Toy Story 3.  

Hmmm. Maybe Pixar needs to visit Andy's room once more as well...

The Blu-ray, which also comes with a DVD in the box, is definitely up to the task. We only saw "Three" on Blu-ray before, but it was definitely a world class transfer – and Shrek Forever After is even better. It's also wider: the first three films were presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, which fills the 16x9 screen completely, but the new film has been given the wider, 2.35:1 ratio. This leaves black bars above and below the picture, of course, but that's okay with us.

And the picture is gorgeous! Detail is very fine, indeed – the technology used by the Dreamworks folk has advanced from film to film and this means more fine detail is possible in the picture – stuff such as Donkey's and Puss' fur, skin textures, whatever. Color is top notch and there's very nice depth as well. In all, a first class 1080p presentation you can use to show off your system.

Ditto for the audio, which is presented in Dolby TrueHD 7.1 – a format you don't seem to see as much of any more, since studios seem to be embracing dts HD Master Audio more these days. But that's fine – Dolby TrueHD works great, and the busy and enveloping sound field of Shrek 4 is also a fabulous showcase for your equipment, let alone your ears.  

We "only" have a 5.1 audio system and so the two extra speakers are missing, but while it might be cool to have those rear surrounds working the "regular" configuration works just fine, as it always does.

And you get an abundance of extras as well, beginning with an audio commentary track featuring director Mike Mitchell, Head of Story Walt Dohrn and Producers Gina Shay and Teresa Cheng.

Blu-ray exclusive features include "The Animators Corner", which is some pretty cool commentary on the part of the animation department folk, who talk about the technology they could use this time around as well as the old standby technology for movies, storyboarding.

Also included is "Donkey's Christmas Shrektacular," a new short that gives us Murphy's Donkey singing Christmas songs – and you can sing along using on screen lyrics if you want.

Cameron Diaz takes us on a tour of "Shrek the Musical" in what's really a commercial for the show and we also get the song "Who I'd Be" from the musical in a separate feature. There's also the music video "Darling I Do" from this movie.

Add in a couple more Christmas-themed featurettes, including some holiday recipes from Cookie the Cooking Ogre, and you have  a pretty complete package.

It's nice to see Shrek go out on a high note!

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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