The irreverent toying with fairy-tale formulas that made SHREK (2001) such a delightful surprise gave way to a tidal wave of Hollywood in-jokes in SHREK 2 (2004), and in this second sequel to the, um, monster hit, the law of diminishing returns is in full force. That SHREK THE THIRD should echo slapdash Euro-cartoon HAPPILY N'EVER AFTER (2006) – not to mention Disney's own direct-to-video CINDERELLA III (2007) – is bad enough. But that a franchise explicitly positioned as an antidote to mainstream animation clichés and sanctimonious After School Special-style lessons in self-esteem should have devolved into those very clichés is a killer.
Flatulent, dyspeptic ogre Shrek (voice of Mike Myers) has become increasingly less misanthropic – being married happily ever after to a princess, an ogre princess yet, will do that to a fellow. But he's faced with a pair of daunting new challenges: Shrek's father-in-law, King Harold (John Cleese) has died, and Shrek is expected to rule the fairy-tale kingdom of Far, Far Away, and Shrek's beloved Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) is pregnant. If there's anything Shrek dreads more than the prospect of fatherhood, it's the idea of spending the rest of his life christening ships and cultivating politically useful relationships. He can't do much about the former, but if he can persuade Fiona's pathetic loser of a cousin Artie (Justin Timberlake) to claim his royal birthright, he'll at least be off the hook on the pomp and public-service front. So Shrek, Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) and Donkey (Eddie Murphy) – a braying cheerleader for fatherhood, having sired a brood of flying jackasses with his dragon girlfriend – set off to retrieve Artie from boarding school, where he's pining for vapid val-gal Guinevere (Latifa Ouaou) and tormented by jousting-team jocks like Lancelot (John Krasinski). Yes, Artie is that Arthur, but he needs some work before he looks anything like the wise and courageous ruler of Camelot. Meanwhile, back in Far, Far Away, evil Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), has staged a coup d'etat with the help of all the fairy-tale characters screwed out of their happy endings by twits like Sleeping Beauty (Cheri Oteri), Snow White (Amy Poehler), Rapunzel (Maya Rudolph) and Cinderella (Amy Sedaris).
Writers Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman, Aron Warner and Chris Miller (who also codirected) lay on the pop-culture gags fans of the series have come to expect, but their story is an odd one for a film aimed primarily at small fry. What child is interested in pre-parenthood anxiety or wants to consider the idea that his/her own dad had a nine-month panic attack at the thought of becoming a father? The real trouble, though, is that the filmmakers consistently choose gags over character. Playing King Harold's death for comedy? He's Fiona's father, even if he is a frog — SHREK would never have gone for a cheap laugh like that. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh