Shrek the Third
Lukewarm Laughter

When the original Shrek first hit theaters in 2001, it was a revelation. Its plot (a humorous jab at Disneyfied fairy tales) and characters (a lovable ogre, a blabbermouth donkey, a cursed princess) were new and inventive. It was this novelty that made the original such a runaway hit and the first ever recipient of the Oscar for Best Animated Film.

When Shrek 2 was released in 2004, the plot was far less new and far less inventive, but thanks in large part to the success of the original and the fact that it was very, very funny, the film was a massive success and currently is ranked as the seventh-highest-grossing film of all time.

Chris Miller, director of Shrek the Third

Now it’s 2007 and everyone’s favorite ogre and his pals are back for their latest adventure in Shrek the Third. As the film opens, the Frog King of Far, Far Away is sick, leaving Shrek and Fiona to handle the royal duties. When the king, er, croaks, Shrek is in line to take over the throne, something he is absolutely unprepared and unwilling to do. There is a way out, however, when he learns of another possible heir: Fiona’s distant cousin Arthur. So Shrek, Donkey, and Puss set off on another adventure, traveling across the sea to Worcestershire High School, where they find Arthur to be the bullied squire of the cocky jock Lancelot.

Meanwhile, back in Far, Far Away, Prince Charming is still livid over the fact that Shrek usurped his throne and his rightful place as King. To get his revenge, he recruits the various villains milling around the Serf’s Inn—Captain Hook, the Evil Queen, the Headless Horseman, etc.—and promises them their own happily ever after if they help him get even. They raid the castle, kidnapping Princess Fiona and her entourage while setting a trap for the returning ogre.

The film starts out as you’d expect, reintroducing us to each of the main characters with twists on some previously successful gags (seems Shrek is on to Puss’ sad kitty-cat eyes), and then it quickly becomes obvious that the series is running out of gas. The plot is anything but new and inventive. In fact, it seems somewhat forced, as if the writers were truly grasping at straws to find another adventure for their characters to take towards self-discovery.

Perhaps the film’s biggest problem is the lack of an interesting new character. In Shrek 2 we were introduced to Puss in Boots, the King and Queen, Prince Charming, and Fairy Godmother: all terrific characters who each added something fresh and interesting to the story. In Shrek the Third, all we get is a rehashed Prince Charming (whom we had had enough of in the last film); an uninteresting Arthur; and Fiona’s own entourage of sidekicks: Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty—each of whom are good for one, maybe two laughs. I was excited to learn The Office’s John Krasinski was the voice of Lancelot, only to be disappointed to learn that he’s in the film for a mere two minutes or so.

The new character with the most potential is Merlin, Worcestershire High’s former magic teacher who was let go after suffering a nervous breakdown. There’s a lot of promise in that premise, but unfortunately most of the jokes fall flat and it turns out to be the most wooden sequence in the film.

But enough with the negativity; so the story is lacking in originality—does that mean you shouldn’t rush out with your kids to see Shrek the Third? Of course not. The film still has a lot of good gags up its sleeve and I laughed quite a bit. The new characters may not have panned out, but we’ve still got the regulars. When Puss and Donkey are transported into the other’s body, you could even argue that they make for the most interesting new characters and it creates a new spin on some old gags. Seeing Puss try to pull his sad cat eyes in Donkey’s body is priceless.

The movie is fun and sure to delight its target audience, but the series has definitely run its course. I’d be surprised and, frankly, disappointed to see a Shrek 4 come out. It’s time for Dreamworks Animation to put the ogre to bed and move forward with a new idea. If they plan to keep pace with Pixar—who seem to come up with something fresh each year—they’re going to have to get original again.

Shrek the Third is rated PG for “some crude humor, suggestive content and swashbuckling action.” The rating is appropriate as there is nothing too crude or suggestive in this one. It’s probably the tamest of the three films.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Shrek the Third.