While “Shrek the Third” still qualifies as passable entertainment, the thrill of the first two is gone. Its joke-to-laugh ratio is far lower than its predecessors and there is no great new character like Antonio Banderas’ Puss in Boots from “Shrek 2.”
This new entry tells the story of how our ogre hero (Mike Myers) is forced to decide whether or not he wants to be king of Far Far Away, which is ruled by his father-in-law, King Harold (John Cleese). As Harold kicks the bucket in a fairly funny drawn-out death scene, he tells Shrek that he is next in line for the throne. This responsibility leads to Shrek to head off with his sidekicks, Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss to track down the young Artie (Justin Timberlake), who he hopes will be willing to rule in his place. Before he leaves, his wife, Fiona (Cameron Diaz), tells him something that frightens him almost as much: Shrek is going to be a father.
The journey to find Arthur leads to some kind-of-funny jokes that place an American high school atmosphere into the fairy-tale mileau. Meanwhile, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) is still bitter about being passed over by Fiona for an ugly green giant, and decides to take his revenge. He enlists the help of every fairy tale villain that he can find.
For some reason, Charming is able to take the kingdom pretty handily. Apparently Far Far Away has no budget for a military. Either that, or they are otherwise occupied overseas. The movie never addresses this inadequacy. But are we supposed to believe that if Shrek weren’t out king-hunting with his two bumbling sidekicks, he could have prevented the invasion?
After taking Artie away from his high school misery, they crash on an island and meet up with – you guessed it – Merlin. Merlin is voiced by Eric Idle (the second Monty Python alum after Cleese), but he is badly wasted. Merlin really isn’t given anything very funny to do in the movie. He is really nothing more than a senile old man. With good writing, this cliché could have still been good for a few laughs, but this time out, the writers seem to be phoning it in.
I know there were at least a few scenes that I thought were pretty funny, but now only one comes to mind that I thought was hilarious. Charming tries to force Pinocchio to tell him where Shrek has gone. Since lying will make his nose grow conspicuously longer, he starts stammering in a string of double negatives and nonsense that would get him kicked out of court if he were a lawyer.
Of course, Shrek triumphs in the end and what do we learn? The throne isn’t for someone as irresponsible as our hero and maybe fatherhood isn’t so bad, I guess. Like the other two movies, there are still jokes that are meant to entertain adults and will go over their kids’ heads. This time out, they aren’t fresh and are way too obvious. The animation looks better than ever, but the tradeoff in good jokes isn’t a fair one. Here’s hoping that the June Pixar release, “Ratatouille,” with the great Patton Oswalt voicing the lead character, will be much better than this middling effort.
This film is rated PG-13. Strong parental guidance is suggested.