Shrek the Third (2007)

Last summer, Hollywood set out to create “The Summer of Threes,” with Shrek the Third billed as a solid contender. With two successful installments under his belt, the cranky ogre had the bar set pretty high by default this time out. So, in what the filmmakers may have deemed to be true to character … that bar was cast aside. The result is a light, chuckle-inducing 90-minute ride that recalls, though fails to reproduce, the big laughs its predecessors delivered.

While King Harold the frog suffers illness, Shrek and Fiona (voiced by Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz) assume the day-to-day pageantry of the kingdom of Far Far Way. Just before his death, the king appoints Shrek successor to the throne, but names an heir – Arthur Pendragon (Justin Timberlake). Estranged from the swamp and reluctant to pursue royalty, Shrek sets out to find this wayward heir, but not before learning Fiona is – gulp – pregnant. Meanwhile, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), still smarting from his clean defeat in the last film, strikes an alliance with a small assortment of fairy tale villains to overthrow the kingdom and lay claim to the crown.

The setup earns its place in the Shrek canon of irreverent fairy tale antics. Arthur – or Artie, as he prefers – is a whiny, annoying little kid bullied by everyone at his school and far removed from the courageous legend his name evokes. Merlin appears as a displaced schoolteacher, more the mad magician than a fearsome wizard. The premise is near perfect. Yet, the result rarely generates more than the polite enthusiasm reserved for watching a quiet game of afternoon golf.

A mere handful of jokes capture that mocking sense of satire and gleeful irreverence that propelled the first two Shrek movies to much-deserved success. Virtually gone are the pop-culture spoofs. The script seems content to rely on clichéd pratfalls and over-the-top villainy to execute its comedy, prodding its plot along the way. Writers should take note: resorting to the device of having characters switch identities is best left to world of Saturday morning cartoons.

Directorial responsibilities this time fall to freshman director Chris Miller, who served as a story artist and additional writer for the previous movies. At the helm of this picture, he steers a clear, if uncreative, path. The touch of Andrew Adamson, director of the first two films, is noticeably absent – his duties helming The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the upcoming Prince Caspian forced him to take a step back to the producer’s chair. He does share a story credit, so the premise likely received his creative attention, but the film inevitably suffers without his more hands-on guidance.

The DVD’s special features include a variety of kid-aimed extras, a computer gag reel, and a trio of deleted scenes, two of which showed some real promise. Their inclusion, and a more intentional exploitation of the satire afforded by the premise, might have elevated this film to the worthy succession of its namesake.

(edited by Sam Gaines)

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