Shrek the Third (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Four words say all that needs to be said about Shrek the Third: more of the same. The problem is, what seems fresh and pleasing the first time through starts to feel a little stale by the time we've gone through it three times (not counting video games and an amusement park ride). The recipe hasn't changed: take a few appealing characters, surround them with slightly off-kilter versions of our favorite fairy tale personalities in a land far, far away, mix in some pop songs and hip cultural references, and keep the tone generally light. It worked beautifully in Shrek and was still appealing in Shrek 2. By installment #3, it has become a little tiresome. Kids will still love the big green ogre and his wisecracking donkey, but adults may find that the formula is wearing thin. Shrek the Third is a classic example of a movie that exists because its predecessor made a lot of money. ($436 million domestically, to be exact.) There's no creative reason for this movie to have been greenlighted. It's a mass-marketed product, plain and simple, where product tie-ins fatten an already gorged pot. That's capitalism at work.

King Harold (John Cleese), the majestic frog ruler of Far Far Away, is dying. On his way out the door, he names Shrek (Mike Myers) as his heir. This frightens the big guy, so he goes looking for a suitable replacement, and the only candidate is a guy named Arthur (Justin Timberlake). Shrek, Donkey (Eddie Murphy), and Puss 'n Boots (Antonio Banderas) go on a trek to find him. When they track him down, in a high school, what they discover isn't promising. Meanwhile, back in Far Far Away, a coup has taken place. Bitter Prince Charming (Rupert Evert), tired of being a dinner theater has-been, has seized control, imprisoning Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews), Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, and a few others. When Shrek returns, Far Far Away will not be the kingdom he left. But how hard could it be to defeat the preening prince and his army of fairy tale villains? Just appeal to their better natures.

The storyline shows little in the way of originality or energy, but one wonders where else the movie could have gone since most of the story possibilities were played out by the end of the second installment. The screenplay, which is credited to four writers, isn't a complete bust. In keeping with the Shrek tradition, it contains a few genuinely funny moments and a sprinkling of smart one-liners. For my money, the best sequences occur right after Shrek temporarily takes on certainly "kingly" duties while King Harold is abed. His attempts to bestow a knighthood and christen a ship aren't resounding successes. It's also amusing to watch Snow White (Amy Poehler) go into ninja mode. We've seen something like this before (Fiona in the original Shrek), but it has a certain entertainment value. There aren't as many pop references as in the previous Shreks. Two of the more obvious are homages to Rosemary's Baby and The Six Million Dollar Man. Julie Andrews also sings a line from "My Favorite Things."

Shrek the Third is directed by the team of Chris Miller and Raman Hui, both of whom have prior associations with the ogre's misadventures. Miller provided some dialogue for Shrek and Shrek 2. Hui was the supervising animator for the previous movies. Together, they create what is visually the most impressive entry of the series and arguably the most stunning computer generated animated feature to date. Every frame is sharp, bright, and elegant, with amazing textural depth and attention to detail. More impressively, the newest addition to the Shrek family, Arthur, looks surprisingly lifelike, indicating that it's becoming less of an imposing task to animate people. It's almost enough to forget about the throwaway plot and simply enjoy the way the characters and settings have been rendered.

The voice casting is fine, although half the roster seems to be comprised of current or former SNL performers. Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Amy Poehler, Cheri Oteri (Sleeping Beauty), and Maya Rudolph (Rapunzel) all have significant speaking roles. Also, two members of the Monty Python troupe are represented: John Cleese and Eric Idle (as Merlin). The standout, to the extent that there is one, remains Murphy, although he's not as lively as in Shrek or Shrek 2. Justin Timberlake is forgettable as Arthur, but that may have as much to do with the whiny character as his voice work.

Shrek the Third follows the formula well enough that it will become a must-see for anyone whose age has not yet ascended into double-digit territory. What's disappointing about this movie is that it offers so little to older viewers. One thing that was true of the previous Shreks was that they worked so well on different levels that viewers of all ages could enjoy them. Parents could appreciate the films while acting as chaperones for their offspring. Single adults could go without feeling embarrassed. Unfortunately, Shrek the Third seems like so many other, generic animated movies. Take away the Shrek moniker and you're left with a slickly made version of Happily N'Ever After. Artistically, the well appears to be running dry, but that doesn't mean there won't be a Shrek 4. All that's needed is a box office windfall, and the animators will begin cranking out the next sequel before the black ink has dried on the accounting books for this one.

Shrek the Third (United States, 2007)

Run Time: 1:33
U.S. Release Date: 2007-05-18
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Nothing Objectionable)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1