3-D movies ‘Shrek,’ ‘Alice’ safe and flat

Posted May 27, 2010, at 7:12 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:50 p.m.

In theaters

Shrek Forever After,

directed by Mike Mitchell, written by Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke, 93 minutes, rated PG.

Hollywood hasn’t run out of ideas — it just won’t risk bringing fresh ideas to the screen. In an effort to protect what’s increasingly a nine-figure investment, every new major release is second-guessed by legions of terrified executives, all fretting over how to protect the bottom line, which usually is by embracing a name brand.

The result? Too often, the films are safe, one note and rote, with audiences getting hammered by homogenization along the way.

That was the case with the last film in the “Shrek” franchise, “Shrek the Third,” and in some ways, it’s the case with the slightly better (and presumably) last film in the franchise, “Shrek Forever After.” The movie features impressive animation and a few bright spots of humor, but its midsection is dull and unimaginative, a sterile effort served cold to the masses.

Working from John Klausner and Darren Lemke’s script, director Mike Mitchell (“Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo”) nudges “Shrek” into the 3D movement, but to what end? Already, 3D has become tired, if only because it’s quickly being used not as a way to deepen the art form, as “Avatar” and “Coraline” did, but to employ it as a gimmick, which doesn’t serve the film as much as it does the bottom line.

There is little in this movie worth pixilating your pants over.

The film finds Shrek (voice of Mike Myers) irritated that he has become less an ogre and more of a celebrity. Tour busses now hunt him down. He can’t use the outhouse without being bothered by someone wanting him to autograph a pitchfork. Beyond that, everything in his life is routine.

The triplets he had with Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) need to be fed, farted and burped time and again, rinse and repeat. There’s no reprieve from it. Now in a slump, he wishes he could be feared again, which is where the movie’s new villain, Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), comes in. He promises Shrek that he can have one full day of his old life back again if he signs a lengthy piece of paper peppered with small print. Shrek agrees — and bam! He’s back to being the old Shrek.

But at what cost? In this altered universe, Fiona doesn’t know him, and neither do Donkey (Eddie Murphy) or Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), the latter of whom has been coddled so much by Fiona, he has gained some serious weight, which offers the movie a handful of serious laughs. Meanwhile, along the periphery is the mincing Rumpelstiltskin, who tricked Shrek in ways that won’t be revealed here.

If the “Shrek” franchise proves anything, it’s just how far we’ve come since Pixar-Disney’s groundbreaking “Toy Story” hit theaters in 1995. Back then, the story mattered as much as the groundbreaking animation. The studios continue to see the importance placed on each, which is why they continue to win Academy Awards. Sometimes, you want to send notes to the terrified Hollywood executives mentioned above and shake them with the truth — what matters are the story and the characters, stupid, and that never will change.

Really, if you don’t have the best of them, you’re “Shrek” out of luck. Grade: C+

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On DVD and Blu-ray disc

Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton, written by Linda Woolverton, 108 minutes, rated PG.

When it was released less than three months ago, Tim Burton’s “Alice: Struck Down by Banality,” (sorry) “Alice: What a God Awful Bore Your Movie Is” (sorry, let’s try this again), “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” — (okay, fine) — “Alice in Wonderland,” was presented in 3D, which is ironic because the movie itself lacks dimension.

From Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass,” the story is updated to feature Alice not as a child caught in another world, but as a 19-year-old young woman (Mia Masikowska) seeking to escape the possible ruins of a bad marriage to a man with irritable bowel syndrome.

And that’s just one of the ways the story has been updated. Since Alice is being pressured into a marriage she wants no part of, this curious girl takes flight from the situation when a rabbit (voice of Michael Sheen) catches her eye. She chases after it and falls down a rabbit hole into another world called Underworld.

But is this Alice that Alice? Many want to know, including Dormouse (Barbara Windsor), March Hare (Paul Whitehouse), Tall Flower Faces (Imelda Staunton), Absolem the Caterpillar (Alan Rickman), and Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Matt Lucas). All have their doubts that she is that she save for the one person who knows that this is the Alice of their memories. That person is Mad Hatter, who is played by Johnny Depp in a role he obviously was game to play, so it’s a shame that the script didn’t play back.

The movie is colorful and colorless, with Burton tossing so much at the screen as he parades through the theme park that is 3D — it does nothing to enhance the movie — that this usually terrific director misses his mark by forgetting to tell the sort of unforgettable story audiences have come to expect from him. There is mold all over this “Alice,” and while some of it features the brightest of greens, a lot of it is predictably grim, but not in the way that Burton fans have come to savor.

The story goes down like this: Since the last time we saw Alice, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter, terrific) is taking on her sister, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway, miscast), in a battle royale that is offing its share of heads as the Red Queen presses on with her quest for power. With her bobble head wrapped in ropes of red hair, she goes for it, which causes all sorts of problems, all of which Alice finds herself in the middle of with the crazed Mad Hatter (among others) as her guide.

Of course, the whole idea of Alice’s presumed hallucination is for her to go to war with her own psyche and come away a stronger person (Dorothy, anyone?), one who, for instance, could walk away from an arranged marriage to a farting old lord. Whether she finds that fortitude, we’ll leave for you, but getting there is a struggle, so much so that it literally involves a battle against the Red Queen’s army. Unfortunately, what we’re left with is a predictable coming-of-age tale.

While just that might be all the rage in pop culture — one only has to turn to the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” movies to find recent exclamation points — it doesn’t quite work here. The emotional arc competes with the film’s lack of structure, something Carroll himself faced in his own writing. How he overcame it was with wit, satire and imagination. So while on paper you’d think that his mind would be perfect for Burton to tap, it isn’t. Something went missing in the translation. Grade: C-

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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