"...weakly plotted effort that only intermittently recaptures the-humor of the earlier films."

Third Time's Not Much of a Charm

(052507) With their spoofing spin on classic fairy tales, "Shrek" and "Shrek II" have spawned imitators such as "Hoodwinked" and "Happily N'Ever After," but they have never been equaled. Not even by "Shrek the Third."

The latest outing for the grouchy green giant is a deflated, weakly plotted effort that only intermittently recaptures the jubilant humor of the earlier films. Part of the appeal of Shrek's past adventures was the way they honored the underlying form of the folktales they satirized. Beneath the impish absurdity, these were tales of heroism and derring-do and true love that built to emotionally satisfying climaxes. The script for "Shrek the Third," credited to four screenwriters, is storytelling by committee. There's a story about princesses and babies, a disconnected story about comrades on an adventure, and a smattering of adult gags for the paying customers, but the elements don't dovetail.

The new film finds Shrek feeling out of place in Fiona's glamorous realm of Far Far Away, yearning for the comforts of his swamp hovel. When Fiona's dad expires, Shrek is next in line to rule the stuffy court unless he can persuade Fiona's long-lost cousin, feckless Prince Artie, to assume the responsibility. Fiona adds to his burdens with the news that she's with ogre, triggering Shrek's worries that he'd make a poor father. At the same time smarmy Prince Charming rallies all the villains of story land to rise up against the goody-goodies and capture the kingdom. The screenplay keeps interrupting itself with asides that pull us in all directions .

The vocal cast's standouts are Mike Myers, who can make shouting "Donkey!" a great line; Antonio Banderas, who gives Puss in Boots the purring diction of a Castilian cavalier, and Eddie Murphy, who gives Shrek's braying buddy oddball charisma. The cast is peppered with new voices, including Justin Timberlake as Artie, Eric Idle as an addled wizard, and Amy Sedaris, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Cheri Oteri as clean freak Cinderella, vain Snow White, stuck-up Rapunzel and narcoleptic Sleeping Beauty. Famous voices are not the same as effective voices; the vocal characterizations are largely generic.

It looks wonderful, of course, with cotton candy clouds floating in azure Maxfield Parrish skies. And there are belly laughs (my favorite involves the terrified Gingerbread Man excreting a gumdrop). But the earlier films had a start-to-finish imaginative strength. Far Far Away still looks like Beverly Hills, and it's really not that funny the second time around.

Shrek's nightmares about fatherhood yield a number of good gags as he imagines a population explosion of little green imps running amok in his cottage. Yet the film errs seriously in making its hero confront parental responsibilities. Homer Simpson doesn't get any older. Wallace and Gromit do not age. Time has not withered Buzz Lightyear. The appeal of these characters is that they're eternally unchanged, always reacting to the world with their set, quirky, endearing personalities. With "Shrek 4" and "Shrek 5" already in the works, the big guy's next challenges may be midlife crisis and retirement planning. If those entries are as lackluster as the current one, an early move into the Old Ogre's Home would be a mercy to everyone.

"Shrek the Third" has its moments ó Shrek's anxiety dream about procreating is fabulously surreal, and King Harold's deathbed scene, with its grimaces and false alarms, is pure kiddie comedy at its best. But does a kids' movie really need, among other similar touches, a Hooters joke? I, for one, wouldn't want to have to explain it.

With Shrek 4 already green lit, and a healthy return at the box office for this latest release, it is clear that audiences donít mind these increasingly dreary offerings. As long as they stay as true to their past particulars as possible, turnstiles will be spinning. This means we can expect more Puss in Boots suave sensuality, more dizzying Donkey dorkiness, lots more of Arthurís gee-whiz boy band blandness, and supplementary silliness by the barrelful. Again, this latest installment in the already stale series will give the wee ones something to obsess over once the DVD arrives, and thereís no denying the increase in artistic approach and design. Many of the sequences razzle with plenty of bit-rate dazzle. But filmmakers have yet to learn that any animated feature needs something more than pretty pictures to solidify its significance. Shrek the Third is nothing more than a previous pastiche with very little if anything new to add.

Directed by:    Chris Miller, Raman Hui
Written by:    Peter Seaman (II), Jeffrey Price, Chris Miller
Starring the Voices of:    Antonio Banderas, Rupert Everett, Amy Sedaris
Released:    05/18/07 (USA)
Length:    93 minutes
Rating:    PG for some crude humor, suggestive content
 and swashbuckling action.

SHREK THE THIRD © 2007 Paramount Pictures.
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2007 Alternate Reality, Inc.

(aka "Old Reviews")