The 2007 summer movie season is loaded with big-time sequels, with Paramount/Dreamworks' Shrek the Third ranking among the most anticipated of the lot. Paramount recently hosted an exclusive preview event at the PDI/Dreamworks Animation facility in Redwood City, California, where Shrek the Third co-director Chris Miller unveiled about 20 minutes of footage from the film. Though some of the scenes were still unfinished, the exclusive footage provided more than enough proof that Miller and his crew are determined to make Shrek the Third a worthy follow-up to two of the most successful animated features of all time.
Watching the scenes, it didn't take long to notice that the quality of the animation has improved by leaps and bounds over Shrek 2. It's as if animators have enhanced every detail – especially in regards to background images – while still adhering to the uniquely stylized visual aesthetic that defines the franchise.
The story of Shrek the Third begins a few months after the events depicted in Shrek 2, with Shrek and Fiona happily married and living the good life in a castle in Far Far Away. When Shrek’s “frogger-in-law” King Harold falls ill, the big green ogre himself is designated as the heir to the throne. Wanting no part in ruling over an entire kingdom, Shrek sets out on a quest -- aided by pals Donkey and Puss-in-Boots, of course -- to find his only possible replacement: Fiona’s long-lost cousin Artie.
The storyline remains faithful to the tenets established in Shrek and Shrek 2. "It's very similar in tone," said Shrek the Third producer Aron Warner. "It's a full-on comedy, as the other two are. I guess the differences would be that there are a lot more characters. It's a bit more of a character-driven story."
"There's a really strong story to it that propels everybody along," Warner added. "Not to say there isn't a ton of humor to go along with it, but it feels a little more rooted in the story to some extent than the other two."
Shrek veterans Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Rupert Everett and Antonio Banderas all return to reprise their trademark roles for Shrek the Third. They’re joined by newcomers Justin Timberlake, John Krasinski, Amy Sedaris and SNL players Cheri Oteri, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph.
Miller described Timberlake as "A really natural comedian -- but really strong actor, too. The great thing about working with him is that was one of the hardest characters, a 16 year-old high school student...the more we got together with him, the more the character developed and became more like him and more his sensibilities and comedic sensibilities."
The latest installment integrates elements of the Arthurian Legend into its story, introducing the characters of Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot and Guinevere to Shrek’s fairy tale universe. "They’re fairy tale creatures that we haven’t given voices to before," said Miller. "I think that’s something new. We’re really getting into the fairytale world and tying in all their stories."
With so many characters, creating a coherent story arch for each of them was no easy feat. "It’s almost impossible to do when you go down the list," said Warner. "At the end of the film we were like, 'Oh my god, how do we close all these stories and do it without feeling like there are 20 endings to the film?' But I think we managed to do it."
The comedic tone Shrek the Third is less dependent on the pop culture satire that distinguished the first two Shrek movies. "We don’t have a lot of pop culture references in this one," said Warner. "There are a few here and there, but it's not our mainstay."
"It seems like since the first Shrek came out, a lot of animated films have sort of grabbed on to that idea," added Miller. "So we’ve gone away from that."
It's been three years since the last Shrek -- a lifetime as far as CGI technology is concerned. "It's pretty amazing now we can handle a lot of things that we couldn't have done in the first one," said Miller's directing partner, Raman Hui. "We have a big shot with all the fairytale villains and all the fairytale creatures and all the princesses and everyone in town. We couldn't do it before and now we can handle all that."
Despite the new tools available to them, they have no intention of going through the previous films and updating them, as Star Wars mogul George Lucas famously did with his prized trilogy. "Oh god no," laughed Warner. "That would be horrible."
"That sounds more like a punishment for the afterlife," added Miller.
The filmmakers expect to have Shrek the Third finished just in time for its star-studded premiere, after which they'll return to work -- on the fourth Shrek film. "We just started working on the story," said Warner, "and I think from what we have so far it's great. It's incredibly compelling and I feel really good about it."
With the deadline looming, Miller dismissed suggestions that he might be feeling the pressure. "If we worried about that, we would be paralyzed," said Miller. "We really worked hard to just concentrate on making the best movie. We wanted to make something that we love -- the best possible film -- and not worry about the rest of it."
Shrek the Third opens May 18th.
Check out reelz.com's Shrek the Third page for clips from the film and more!