Review: “Shrek the Third”

‘, ‘Age comes to us all, even ogres, and with “Shrek the Third” comes the first twinges of arthritis in one of the few genuine surprise franchises of the last decade.

2001’s “Shrek” in many ways worked so brilliantly because it was a fresh and unexpected hit. Its fractured take on fairytales and pop culture had an enjoyable adult streak of comedy intermixed with an easily accessible sweet story and laughs for the kids. The first sequel was up to similarly high standards – some slow spots popped up, but the laughs were still loud and plentiful.

This third entry remains amusing, but lacks the genuine energy and occasional belly laughs that made the other outings so memorable. Some of that comes from countless imitators that have made these routines seem old hat by now, but there’s also a softening of the bite to the characters. This ‘Third’ is lacking some of the edge and dark wit, like the Disney potshots or exploding birds, in favour of material that plays it a tad too safe.

From a technical standpoint the film remains as solid as ever though. Chris Miller easily takes over the direction from Andrew Adamson and keeps it consistent in terms of look and feel, the ogres in particular are very effectively imbued with subtle, but more expressive body language and emotional physicality. Editing is slick, fairytale and pop culture references are abound, whilst the score mixes up energetic stuff from Wolfmother’s “The Joker and The Thief” to a well incorporated dash of Wings’ classic James Bond theme song “Live and Let Die.”

The cast do solid jobs, mixing it up with each other easier than ever before, whilst newcomers Justin Timberlake and Eric Idle acquit themselves quite well – even though they are both stuck with the weakest characters of the film. Artie is a likeable young lead, but is simply too straight-laced (his few attempts at comedy don’t work), whilst the eccentric Merlin is merely an annoying klutz.

Even Banderas and Murphy, given such great lines and moments in the last two films, are somewhat neutered here as they become stuck with some rather old-hat body-swapping gags. Some of the slack though is taken up by Myers and Diaz whose characters get a surprising amount of development. Even if it all comes to a predictable conclusion, the issues it covers are quite mature ones that kids may find annoying but parents (especially new fathers) may find themselves empathizing with.

People don’t come to “Shrek” for moral lessons though, they come for the comedy and a steady stream of gags ensures there’s also quite a bit that will get audiences chuckling. A “Family Guy”-esque drawn-out death scene and a clever nightmare involving a tsunami of ogre infants are the most memorable set pieces, but lots of smaller ones throughout keep things light and move the humor back towards the more general fairytale parody of the first film than the all too post-modern satire that cropped up at times in the second.

The film’s most enjoyable subplot involves a quite thrilling coup d’etat of Far Far Away by the various villains of the fairy tale world, and an eventual insurrection by Fiona and assorted princesses like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. Not as effective, but still fun is a trip to Artie’s high school and the subsequent jokes about cliques.

The pacing does hit some speed bumps, especially in the middle act, and its mix of lessons ranging from the universal ‘believe in yourself’ mantras to the somewhat tedious new parental issues are of such sheer density that they repeatedly threaten to stall proceedings. In displaying character growth, the filmmakers have partly robbed the characters of that irascible charm and prickly wit that made them both endearing and hilarious in the first place.

Even the climax is let down by delivery of a preachy speech rather than a thrilling ending which the last one did so well. In this Summer overload of sequels, “Shrek the Third” will probably fall somewhere in the middle – good enough to satisfy but little more. It lacks the re-watch value of the first two, but is comfortable and enjoyable enough to be worth at least one viewing.