Donkey does his best morning routine to get Shrek to rise and shine in DreamWorks’ “Shrek the Third.”
Here’s a bit of real magic: Kids actually enjoy hearing the same fairy tales read over and over again.
Something about the repetition must provide a soothing sense of familiarity, an intimacy with recognizable heroes, a calculated loathing for the villains and a mollifying anticipation that everyone will live happily ever after.
Sadly, adults lack that brand of Pollyannaish naïveté, and that is why “Shrek the Third” doesn’t measure up to its predecessors.
What evoked uproarious laughter in the first movie and intermittent giggles in the second outing barely earns a smirk in the third installment featuring Mike Myers’ gruff, green ogre.
This time around, Shrek has to locate an heir to the throne of Far Far Away when King Harold (John Cleese) dies. While he, Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) are tracking down the nerdy teenage outcast Arthur (Justin Timberlake), Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) scrounges up a suitable band of scum and scoundrels and captures the kingdom. Upon their return, Shrek and his colleagues must find a way to restore order. And that’s pretty much it – a wishy-washy, stale, unimaginative fantasy tale populated by DreamWork’s masterfully rendered computer-animated characters. Sure, it’s mighty pretty to watch, but this film lacks the wit, the wisdom and the heart of “Shrek” and “Shrek 2.”
Admittedly, the movie has a few moments when the spark of genius that spawned the series materializes: Snow White’s battle cry will not be soon forgotten by fantasy buffs or Led Zeppelin fans. Shrek’s nightmarish baby dream will make any parent snicker. The temporary body swap between Donkey and Puss in Boots results in a series of admirable gags and quips. The film happily continues the series’ aversion to the Disneyfication of fairy tales – most evident in the depiction of the traditional princesses this time around. Overall, though, the bits that work can’t transcend the many misfires.
King Harold’s farcically protracted death scene and subsequent funeral provide a painful example of how the movie fails. The moviemakers apparently couldn’t decide if they wanted to make the sequence tragic or comic, resulting in an uncomfortable fusion of conflicting emotions. If they couldn’t make up their minds, how is the audience supposed to feel?
Another tragedy is that “Shrek the Third” adds little to the Shrek mythos. Puss in Boots was the best addition in “Shrek 2.” Aside from Arthur, the only notable new character is Merlin the Wizard, voiced by Monty Python’s Eric Idle.
Though the franchise is slowly spiraling into mediocrity, rest assured there will be more forays with Shrek and the gang in the coming years. While reviews have been lukewarm, DreamWorks began planning the next installment before weekend box office tallies placed “Shrek the Third” as the third-biggest opening of all time with $122 million. “Shrek 4” is slated for release in 2010 and there are even rumors circulating that there will be a spin-off Puss in Boots flick the following year.
For adults, “Shrek the Third” is a mix of old and new, with the old being inexcusably cliché and the new being too feeble and fleeting to turn this cinematic toad into Hollywood royalty. Kids, however, will most certainly adore it.