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Shrek the Third

Sporadically Entertaining, Formulaic Sequel

Everyone's favorite unhygienic, green-skinned ogre (no, not the Hulk, his return to multiplexes is still a year away), Shrek, is back in Shrek the Third, the inevitable sequel to Shrek 2, the third-highest grossing film of all-time. Not bad for a sequel to an animated family film constructed around a combination of pop culture jokes (great for adults) and crude, slapstick humor (great for kids) and less for the sub-Pixar animation. Shrek went on to win the first Academy Award for Best Animated Film in 2001. With a family-friendly formula in place, a second sequel seemed liked a done deal. It was, but with Shrek the Third, the formula is starting to look tired and in desperate need of rejuvenation.

This time out, Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers), the lovable ogre turned prince-by-marriage to Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), longs to return to his home in the swamp with or without his two sidekicks, Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas). Shrek and Fiona have taken over royal duties from Fiona's father, King Harold (John Cleese), the former Frog Prince. Near death, King Harold bequeaths the kingdom of Far Far Away to Shrek and Fiona. Seeing a bleak unhappy future ahead, Shrek decides to embark on a journey to find King Harold and Queen Lillian's (Julie Andrews) last living relative, Fiona's cousin Artie (Justin Timberlake). Meanwhile Fiona has life-altering news to share with Shrek (she's pregnant), but the thought of becoming a father makes him queasy.

Finding Artie turns out to be the easy part. He's attending a boarding school, Worcestershire Academy. However, while Artie's last name might be Pendragon, but he's as unheroic as they come. In fact, Artie's the resident put-upon loser at Worcestershire Academy. Convincing Artie of his noble birth and his right to inherit Far Far Away, Shrek, Donkey, and Puss in Boots head home with the help of an emotionally unstable Merlin (Eric Idle). Back in Far Far Away, though, none other than twice-disgraced Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) makes plans to usurp the throne from Princess Fiona and Shrek with the help of various fairy tale villains, including Captain Hook (Ian McShane).

Unfortunately, itís clear that the credited (and uncredited) screenwriters put most of their effort into writing gags and jokes, ranging from the mildly to the modestly amusing, with the majority of them coming early on. Somewhere, sometime, the jokes and gags had to give way to an actual story. Shrek the Third interweaves Shrek's journey with a generic storyline involving Prince Charmingís ineffectual threat to wrest the kingdom from Shrek and Princess Fiona. With its thin premise and equally thin storyline stretched past the breaking point by the time Shrek gets back, the movie falls back on throwing gags around to see what sticks, with predictably uneven results.

Thematically, we get Shrekís external journey to find a new king for Far Far Away, the parentless Artie, while internally, Shrek has to deal with his own fears and anxieties about becoming a father. Yes, thereís a theme in there somewhere about owning up to responsibility, no matter how scary it might seem at first. Since Artie's on a journey of his own, there's also a message about not letting how others see you dictate how you see yourself or how you interact with the world. Just as, if not more, positively, Shrek the Third manages to move along at a steady pace that only rarely dips into a static talking scene (good news for parents with children prone to distraction).

Technically, the computer animation has also improved. The backgrounds are crisper, in some cases photorealistic, objects have more texture, the lighting looks more polished, and the characters have more detail than they did in previous incarnations. Unfortunately, no oneís going to confuse DreamWorks Animation with Pixar anytime soon. The action set pieces donít have Pixarís visual inventiveness or sophistication, but more importantly, character movement is still clumsy.

With continuing advances in computer animation, itís surprising DreamWorks put so little effort into improving how characters move onscreen. Alas, they didnít, resulting in a sequel thatís as unmemorable visually as it is story wise. Still, as far as inoffensive, disposable, family-oriented entertainment, Shrek the Third isnít a bad way to go this weekend.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars