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Shrek the Third   C

Paramount Pictures / DreamWorks Animation

Year Released: 2007
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Chris Miller (co-directed by Raman Hui)
Writers: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman, Chris Miller, Aron Warner (story by Andrew Adamson)
Cast: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Rupert Everett, Justin Timberlake, Julie Andrews, John Cleese, Eric Idle.

Review by Rob Vaux

What does it profit an ogre if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? Everyone's favorite surly green curmudgeon has gotten soft since last we saw him. His fairy-tale world used to champion the outcast and the underdog -- the folks on the wrong side of that "happily ever after" equation who didn't have the socially acceptable traits to get into the royal ball. Shrek's first two adventures were symphonies of iconoclastic glee, pulling no punches, taking no prisoners, and reminding us how necessary it is to color outside the lines sometimes. But their staggering success has leeched away much of his subversive spirit, leaving a sad corporate sellout in its wake. Shrek the Third features some amusing moments, to be sure, and that deliciously dizzy storybook universe is still more or less intact. But without any taboos to shatter, it simply has nowhere worthwhile to go.

Indeed, as the film opens, it's the bad guys who are on the outside looking in. Prince Charming (voiced by Rupert Everett), the effete twerp who almost ruined everything in the series' last outing, has been reduced to performing low-rent dinner theater in front of heckling mobs. Meanwhile, Shrek (Mike Myers) is living the high life at the imperial palace with his ogre bride Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and friends Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas). Gone are the days when the world hated and feared him. Now, his problems are of a much more homogenized variety: namely, the responsibilities of rulership and the grimly predictable specter of parenthood. His father-in-law, the Frog King (John Cleese) is dying, and while Shrek is first in line for the throne, he'd really really rather toss all that and go home to his swamp. The only other suitable candidate for the position is Fiona's distant cousin Arthur (Justin Timberlake), who's away at boarding school. Eager for an out -- any out -- Shrek hops the nearest ship in search of him, intending to browbeat the boy into taking the throne whether he wants it or not. Fiona sends her paramour off with the announcement that she's pregnant... thus spurring his emotional journey into that shopworn dead end of nervous fathers-to-be and whether they can accept the realities of parenting.

In other words, we're a long way from the misunderstood square peg who just wanted to be left alone. Fatherhood? Work-related stress? Get Tim Allen on the phone, because that's his bag. Shrek never bought into that paradigm, and ye gods how we loved him for it. Now, director Chris Miller and co-director Raman Hui have replaced his perennially defiant raspberry with the soul-crushing dilemma of suburban worker drones. Embrace the joys of family! Teach the younger generation how to lead! Buy into the very myth you once helped debunk, and show everyone who believes in you that it's time to shut up and get with the program! Instead, it's Charming -- the ostensible villain -- who plays the role of rebel, rounding up all the freaks and misfits at the Poison Apple Inn for an assault on the ramparts of conformity. As his army of wicked witches, haunted trees, and fairy-tale heavies comes crashing through the streets of Far, Far Away, Shrek the Third actually asks us to root against them, while the guy who should be leading the charge lines up to put them back in their place... when he's not stressing about diapers and midnight feedings, that is.

With its compass in such dreadful tilt, the film's energy deflates like a balloon. Shrek the Third retains the sumptuous CGI visuals of its predecessors, but the accompanying humor feels decidedly uninspired (Dungeons & Dragons jokes?! Why not go after the big game, like airline food or women drivers?). Arthur is intended to freshen the mix with some riffs on Round Table mythology, but while Timberlake has some cute moments, the theme never quite fits with the surrounding material. Other notions simply go nowhere, such as Fiona's efforts to thwart Charming's invasion with a handful of her fellow princesses. (It would have held juice 15 years ago, before Disney started passing out the Girl Power to its own heroines and Fiona herself hadn't already made it one of her signature gags.) Donkey and Puss are reduced to amiable bickering, while a visual gag intended to engage them further in the plot falls flat as a pancake. Even the throwaway jokes have lost their punch, with weak chuckles supplanting what used to be full-bore belly laughs.

A few moments of genuine subversion remain (the Frog King's funerary march is "Live and Let Die") and the characters still retain a modicum of their old charm. Without that ferocious ability to challenge our preconceptions, however, they're nothing but phantoms for their former selves. It happens to everyone as they get older, I suppose. We settle into our routines, count our growing blessings, and end up defending the very status quo we once fought so hard to overthrow. But Shrek is a magical creature, after all, and had all the tools to resist that kind of descent. It breaks the heart to realize that even he can't stand against the power of corporate pandering, and that the spell Shrek the Third casts over him will likely never be broken. An unworthy end for such a great hero. Rest in peace, you big green galoot: you used to be so cool.

Review published 05.18.2007.

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