Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are filling in for the ailing Frog King (John Cleese), Fiona’s father and leader of Far, Far Away. Yes, Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss (Antonio Banderas) are around to provide support and to help them adapt to the routine of acting as monarchy, but they are both uncomfortable in this new role. When Shrek learns of a cousin who could become the new ruler, he sets off on a journey to bring Artie (Justin Timberlake) back from Worcestshire High School. Just as he leaves, Fiona lets him know that she is pregnant and this leads to Shrek having some nightmares during the journey. Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), now an actor playing himself in dinner theater, learns of the possible shift in leadership and rounds up all of the other villains to help him take over Far, Far Away enlisting Captain Hook (Ian McShane), the Wicked Witch, Gepetto and Rumplestiltskin, among others, to help out. They attack the castle just as Fiona is having a baby shower with the other princesses, including Snow White (Amy Poehler, TV’s “Saturday Night Live”), Sleeping Beauty (Cheri Oteri, TV’s “Saturday Night Live”), Cinderella (Amy Sedaris, TV’s “Strangers with Candy”), Rapunzel (Maya Rudolph, TV’s “Saturday Night Live”) and her mother, the Queen (Julie Andrews). Shrek finds Artie, a teenager who is the butt of all the other kid’s jokes including the dashing Lancelot (John Krasinski, TV’s “The Office”), but convinces him to return to Far, Far Away. But the journey takes too long and they pay a visit to Merlin (Eric Idle), who has been bitten by the self-empowerment bug and only wants people to find their inner self.
The key to any memorable animated film is if it manages to keep the adults entertained at the same time. Those adults have to bring the tots to the theater, why shouldn’t they have some fun. The films that manage to capture this formula will remain in our consciousness for decades because the kids will continue to watch them as they grow up and show them to their kids. The first two films managed to do this, employing very good computer animation with enough jokes for the kids and the adults.
“Shrek the Third”, the newest entry from DreamWorks, follows the same formula as the previous two films, but only employs about half the jokes. Half the jokes make it less funny and less memorable. “Third” proves that not all threes are a charm. Don’t get me wrong. It is an okay film, just nowhere near as good as the previous two films. This is definitely a franchise of diminishing returns.
All of the great voice talent returns. Mike Myers, who I don’t believe has done anything since the last “Shrek” film, returns as the ogre from the swamp who is now married to Fiona and must try to fit into the role of a Royal, for her sake. He has difficulty, but keeps trying because he knows how important it is for Fiona, his wife and true love. When he finds out she is pregnant, he begins to have nightmares of rearing children, afraid of how his life will change. But this seems like a rather tame outing for Myers. There is only one moment when he is given any latitude to create something resembling ‘ad lib ‘ and these jokes are pretty dated. Throughout, he merely reacts to the other characters, providing little laughter of his own.
Cameron Diaz returns as Fiona, the princess who is also an ogre and the love of Shrek’s life. For much of the film, she is in a dungeon or surrounded by other characters, played by funnier actresses, merely highlighting the lack of laughs Fiona creates and the lack of character Diaz is able to create. She may be pretty, but she isn’t a very memorable voice actor.
Eddie Murphy returns as Donkey, Shrek’s sidekick. He is amusing and provides some laughs. He and Dragon have married and have children, strange donkey-dragon kids who fly around and set things on fire. Donkey always pops up and says the wrong thing at the wrong time. That’s his shtick and it wears a little thin. Antonio Banderas returns as Puss, the best addition from “Shrek 2”, who now serves as an advisor to Shrek. He has a few opportunities to make us laugh. I’m not really revealing anything by telling you that Donkey and Puss switch bodies during the course of the story (this is revealed in the trailer) and this leads to a few laughs.
Ruper Everett plays Charming and has clearly let his quest for the throne take him around the bend. Now, reduced to playing himself in dinner theater, he seeks revenge and will stop at nothing to get it.
John Cleese and Julie Andrews return as the King and Queen. Both add the necessary stateliness to their characters, and Cleese manages to add some humor to his role, but these moments are short-lived.
Eric Idle is the best new addition to this film. He plays Merlin, a Merlin who appears to have been to one too many Robert Bly pow-wows or perhaps taken one too many mushrooms. He combines some mystical mumbo jumbo, new age-y, touchy feely perspectives to our stereotypical view of the wizard adding some truly twisted comical moments.
The rest of the major additions really don’t add a lot of memorable moments to the film. Justin Timberlake plays Artie, or Arthur, the cousin of the King and the teenager Shrek desperately seeks to take over the throne. We recognize it is Timberlake’s voice, but he doesn’t add anything to the role another actor couldn’t have done. Moreover, there are zero laughs from the character. The funniest part of this character is watching how the filmmakers have adapted the high school memories of our nightmares into the medieval, storybook setting. John Krasinski, from “The Office”, plays Lancelot, Artie’s main rival at Worcestshire High, and the character is a welcome addition, but Krasinski doesn’t add anything spectacular to the role either. You never say “Oh, that’s John Krasinski”, as we have with Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas or Mike Myers. Ian McShane, from “Deadwood”, plays Captain Hook, and the role is funny, but again, we don’t get anything particularly memorable from McShane’s performance. Hook likes to play the piano, so he brings one with him everywhere he goes, including when he is supposed to be leading a fight against our heroes. It is an amusing, but never fully explored joke and character trait.
The problem with “Shrek the Third” is that it just isn’t that funny. Yes, there are some funny moments at the high school and in a scene when Charming attempts to create a play that will both make him a star and the king, but the film has long stretches with no laughs. The first two films featured fast-paced, laugh a minute segments that left us laughing and wanting more. “Third” just leaves us wanting more.
The first two films included many, many funny pop culture references, a practice that seems to have been almost completely abandoned. Far, Far Away looks a lot like downtown Beverly Hills complete with chain stores and the films have had a lot of fun creating medieval versions of “Starbucks” and “Footlocker”, to name just a few. These moments are almost non-existent in this entry. A quick pan across Far, Far Away shows the same chains and a brief shot of a logo on a box provides a quick laugh, but these jokes are almost expected. Why didn’t the filmmakers take a few moments to include them and help to make them more memorable?
Hopefully, “Shrek 4”, which has already been announced, will return the film to its roots, the laughter and the greatness of the first two entries.