The appeal of the original "Shrek" movie was how it turned the classic fairy tale upside down: An ogre was the hero, Prince Charming was charmless, etc. As the series has continued, it's turned the classic fairy tale inside out: innocence defers to cynicism, naivete to knowingness, human nature to pop culture.
People must like the rising jaundice quotient. "Shrek the Third" has outgrossed "Ratatouille" by $120 million. No small part of that continuing success has been the vocal talent of Mike Myers, in the title role; Cameron Diaz, as his bride; Eddie Murphy, as Donkey; and, best of all, Antonio Banderas, as Puss in Boots.
They're all on hand in "Shrek the Halls," an original half-hour animated feature which airs tonight on Channel 5. You can guess the basic premise: Shrek wants nothing to do with Christmas, which horrifies one and all. "Ogres don't celebrate Christmas," Shrek announces. "Ogres don't celebrate anything." Donkey, outraged, leads the countercharge, denouncing him as "Ebenezer Shrek." You won't be surprised to hear the big guy is made to see the error of his holiday ways.
Fans of the movies will enjoy the special, though they'll also feel a bit frustrated. Viewers unfamiliar with the movies will have some laughs but wonder what all the fuss is about. "Shrek the Halls" isn't much more than an extended skit: loud, hectic, unfocused.
There's a Christmas party chez Shrek. A dragon gets called on to assist in the preparation of some chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Various characters' versions of "The Night Before Christmas" are offered; the funniest, that of Puss in Boots, reimagines Santa as a feline Zorro. The animation is extremely good, and the pop-cultural references pile up. (Shrek reads "Christmas for Village Idiots," Pinocchio shrieks his way through a version of "Don't Stop Believin' " that would make Tony Soprano welcome solitary confinement.)
With each succeeding "Shrek," the sensibility has become more jaded. The series wants to have it both ways, lovable and cynical at the same time. Over the course of 90-plus minutes it can more or less get away with that; there's room for both attitudes, if not to breathe then at least not to smother each other. Here, with barely 20 minutes to work with between commercials, the clash between holiday sentimentality and insider knowingness gets pretty uncomfortable. It's one thing to put coal in someone's stocking. It's quite another then to serenade it with a carol.
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.