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Opens: Friday, May 18
Bottom line: The third time is not the charm.
You can’t help but miss Shrek. You know, that ornery, mammoth, flatulent, trumpet-eared, icky-green-colored ogre. Oh, he’s still large and green (and brilliantly voiced by Mike Myers) in his third movie outing, “Shrek the Third.” But his manners and disposition have improved to the point he is threatened by middle-class respectability. Nor is he the only character to have changed for the worse. Donkey (Eddie Murphy) is less the hilariously annoying motormouth companion to Shrek and more a helpful, even empathetic pal. That’s bad enough, but he is no longer very funny either.
Much of the bite and a good deal of the wit of the first two films are missing here. The rude send-up of beloved fairy tale conventions remains — somewhat — but these playful jabs no longer come as pleasing surprises. You expect them. And you expect better.
DreamWorks Animation has clearly gone to the well one time too many in “Shrek the Third.” Not that you can blame the company. That well has produced buckets of lucre. The first two films yielded $1.4 billion in boxoffice receipts and sold more than 130 million DVDs — a green monster indeed. So no one should expect a serious drop in the eagerness of families around the world to embrace a new Shrek movie.
What “Shrek the Third” has evolved into is less a story film than a vaudeville show. Fittingly, it begins with a medieval version of dinner theater. It continues with pure slapstick between Shrek and bride Fiona (again Cameron Diaz) as they riotously disrupt a court ceremony while handicapped by stiff royal clothes. The film then proceeds with a jousting duel, a magic act, dancing, singing (deliberately bad), a drag queen, personal appearances by a host of fairy tale princesses — Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Rapunzel — and a bra burning before returning to another theatrical extravaganza.
The glue struggling to hold all this together is a quest by Shrek to find a new king of rule Far Far Away upon the death of his bride’s dad (John Cleese but only briefly). Shrek is next in line to the throne — guess Far Far Away doesn’t believe in a matriarchy — but he abhors the idea. He just wants to return to his hovel in the swamp.
So Shrek, Donkey and Puss in Books (Antonio Banderas) set sail in search of Fiona’s long-lost cousin Artie (newcomer Justin Timberlake). Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), jilted by Fiona for Shrek, seizes on his rival’s absence to instigate a coup d’etat. In the movie’s cleverest idea, he assembles all the “losers” from classic fairy tales — these would be Captain Hook, the Evil Queen, the Big Bad Wolf and the Headless Horseman among others — to assist him.
So the stage is set for a “classic” showdown when Shrek returns to the kingdom with Artie. Things get off to a fast start with the collection of princesses needing rescues suddenly turning into a cartoon version of “Charlie’s Angels.” But, boy, is the climax a letdown. Does anyone want to see Shrek deliver a politically correct speech in which he appeals to the good side of classic villains? Blah!
Chris Miller, who worked on the previous films, debuts as a director on this one. (Raman Hui served as co-director.) A new team of writers including Miller wrote the screenplay. The CG animation remains top-notch, though many of the visual gags — like Far Far Away having a distinctly Beverly Hills/Hollywood look — are no longer new.
And that pretty much sums up the real problem with “Shrek the Third”: It’s no longer new.
SHREK THE THIRD
DreamWorks Animation SKG presents a PDI/DreamWorks production
Director: Chris Miller
Co-director: Raman Hui, Chris Miller
Screenwriters: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman, Chris Miller, Aron Warner
Story by: Andrew Adamson
Based on the book by: William Steig
Producer: Aron Warner
Executive producers: Andrew Adamson, John H. Williams
Production designer: Guillaume Aretos
Visual effects supervisors: Philippe Gluckman, Ken Bielenberg
Music: Harry Gregson-Williams
Co-producer: Denise Nolan Cascino
Editor: Michael Andrews.
Shrek: Mike Myers
Donkey: Eddie Murphy
Princess Fiona: Cameron Diaz
Puss in Boots: Antonio Banderas
Queen: Julie Andrews
King: John Cleese
Prince Charming: Rupert Everett
Merlin: Eric Idle
Artie: Justin Timberlake
Captain Hook: Ian McShane
Sleeping Beauty: Cheri Oteri
Snow White: Amy Poehler
Rapunzel: Maya Rudolph
Cinderella: Amy Sedaris.
MPAA rating PG, running time 92 minutes.
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