While the first sequel to Shrek was a bit overwhelming, the third installment comes in underwhelming.
Shrek (Mike Meyers) finds himself playing monarch when the King Harold (John Cleese) falls ill. Preferring family life in the swamp to ruling a kingdom, the ogre takes his friends Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) to find Artie (Justin Timberlake), the only other living heir to the throne. Meanwhile, the Fairy Godmother-less Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) recruits all the villains of Far Far Away in a bid to re-write their happily-ever-afters with Fiona (Cameron Dias) and all the other princesses of the kingdom first in their sights.
The original Shrek was a parody of fairy tales with the works of Walt Disney as its prime target, but the film still managed to contribute a fresh take on the very genre it sought to spoof. Afterward, the sequel took the spoof to new heights of pop culture parody until it became a medieval version of “The Flintstones,” abandoning character and heart for a string of rapid-fire gags to keep audiences laughing. With Shrek the Third completing the trilogy thus far, the first half seems to have found the perfect balance of heart and mirth of the first film before falling completely apart as a heavy-handed finger-pointing after-school special candidate. What the Shrek happened? (Sorry.)
Since re-shoots aren’t exactly cost effective on an animated flick, the script becomes all the more important. The final product feels like two production crews tried to make two different films, one that followed logical character development and and another to hammer every known character into the plot whether it was practical or not. It wasn’t particularly a great idea to move second-string bad-guy Charming up to main villain status, especially in light of his Broadway-inspired plan for revenge. When things get going, everybody gets their moment to shine but ONLY one, and when things stop, it’s like watching a landscape painting falling off a wall in slow motion.
There are a few inspired sequences and a couple of cleverly used songs the adults will recognize, but almost every surprised has been given away in the trailers and “making of” television specials. To date, the best “sequel” to the original Shrek can only be seen at Universal Studios theme parks, a manic and spooky chase sequence featuring the core original characters and brought to life in 3D on screen and off. The writing is smart, the story adventurous, and it accomplishes in under twenty minutes what neither theatrical sequel has been able to do on screen: entertain us without falling back on the tired “you’re only worth what you think you are” theme. By the time the film ends, even more characters have been introduced, and we see our heroes Shrek and Fiona exhausted and asleep, the perfect metaphor for how much juice is actually left in this concept.
(a two skull recommendation out of four)