Shrek The Third
directed by Chris Miller
starring Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas
In a time where “family films” are produced in order to sell toys and cereal and M&M’s, I’m wary of sequels. I mean, you never know when the line will be crossed where the magic is gone, the jokes have disappeared, the proverbial dead horse has been beaten.
Thankfully, the delightful Shrek franchise has proven it has enough steam for a third installment. By giving established characters new roles — and with a considerable amount of comedic talent — Shrek The Third comes out of the gate at least as strong as the last film, and funnier than the first.
With Fiona’s father, the Frog King (John Cleese), deceased and floated away in a shoebox coffin, the crown is passed to Shrek (Mike Myers). However, the green giant doesn’t want it; he’s been daydreaming of his bog-home and and just wants to get back to the swamp. Along with Puss ‘n’ Boots (Antonio Banderas) and Donkey (Eddie Murphy), Shrek embarks on a journey to find the only other heir, a distant in-law named Arthur (Justin Timberlake). Arthur, it turns out, is an confidence-lacking outcast who attends a rollicking, medieval high school. Centuries ahead of its time, this hip institution turns a blind eye on errant knights-in-training who get high on incense in a smoky, horse-driven Spicoli-van in the parking lot.
Meanwhile, on the wrong side of the tracks in Far, Far Away, the defeated Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) — an aspiring actor — has been reduced to being heckled in third-rate dinner theater. At the end of his rope, Charming recruits a barroom full of down-on-their-luck fairytale villains — including Captain Hook, Rumplestilskin and the Talking Trees — and hatches a scheme to forcibly claim the vacant throne.
The only ones in their way are Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), her mother (Julie Andrews), and a Disney-skewering sewing circle of fair maidens: Snow White (Amy Poehler), Cinderella (Amy Sedaris), Rapunzel (Maya Rudolph), even a narcoleptic Sleeping Beauty (Cheri Oteri). Backed by Shrek’s low-key, yet scene-stealing posse of The Three Blind Mice, The Big Bad Wolf, The Three Little Pigs and Gingy the Gingerbread Man, the ladies make a run for it until some inspirational girl-talk bolsters their courage, and they turn the tables on the castle’s invaders. Snow White’s cheery, falsetto-driven call to her fluttering bluebirds morphs into “The Immigrant Song,” and all hell breaks loose.
Shrek the Third’s only minor drawback is the main plot. Arthur proves to be a less-than-engaging character; the addition of his old mentor Merlin, an addled burnout on a self-help kick voiced by Eric Idle, doesn’t stop the film from faltering at times during its last half. Fans might be surprised to see Shrek fully relegated to the role of straight man, a green Andy Griffith in a Mayberry full of animated goofballs. This is probably a wise move, as farts, burps and a Scottish accent can only go so far. It helps that Shrek’s friends and foes have been given plenty of inspired, irreverent material to work with.
Making five-and-45-year-olds laugh together like a pack of drunken hyenas for the better part of 90 minutes is no mean feat, something that Shrek’s creators have accomplished three times now. Presumably, Dreamworks’ greasy-palmed bean-counters are planning yet another Shrek adventure; if it somehow manages to buck the odds and entertain as well as The Third, they can push all the green candies and Burger King glasses they want – I might even break down and buy some.