I would be pleased to report that "Shrek the Third" now available on video--"” is as good as its lively and original predecessors. But while it shares some of the same wit and general appeal, this sequel to the sequel"”like so many of its ilk"”demonstrates a distinct slowing down of creative momentum. It's still enjoyable family fare and will likely do very good sales and rental business during the holidays; however, it aims a little too high over the heads of the kids who ought to be its primary target audience.
Many of the same fairy tale figures reappear, including the title character (voiced by Mike Myers), his wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz), his comic sidekicks Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) and Donkey (Eddie Murphy). John Cleese supplies the voice (and a great prolonged deathbed scene) for King Harold, and Julie Andrews for Queen Lillian. At one point, the Queen conks her head twice and starts singing "The hills are alive""
This last bit is funny to adults"”well, most of us"”but it will mean nothing to most of the youngsters. And there's the rub. While a genuine family movie ought to have something for everyone"”think "Cars," for instance"”this one too often nudges the adults in the ribs at the young ones' expense. Oh, there are plenty of poop, fart, burp, and vomit jokes for them, and the numerous pratfalls are standard comic fare. But the film's pace slows down when, for instance, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) frets about the backstage provisions for the cast of a show he is starring in. Funny if you like showbiz insider stuff; if not, not.
This is a pity, because director Chris Miller and a crew of screenwriters have a good basic idea for the plot. King Harold dies, leaving Shrek as the heir apparent to the throne. Only one other candidate is qualified: Fiona's feckless cousin, Arthur (Justin Timberlake), known to his sneering high-school classmates as "Artie." Since Shrek longs for the peace and quiet of his native swamp and has no designs upon becoming king, he, Puss, and Donkey set off in search of Artie. The leave-taking scene is one of the best, climaxing with Fiona's yelling to Shrek's departing ship that she is pregnant.
While they are away, Prince Charming, still smarting from being ousted from the line of succession, scrounges up a crew of legendary losers: Captain Hook, Rumpelstiltskin, the Evil Queen, the Wicked Witch"”you get the idea. They stage a coup, taking over the Land of Far, Far Away, imprisoning Fiona, Lillian, the handmaidens (Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Cinderella), and setting the stage (literally) for Shrek's return and execution.
"Shrek the Third" is rated "PG" for some crude humor, suggestive content, and "swashbuckling action" (!), but I can't see anything that would endanger the sleep or the moral development of young ones. They may get restless during some of the lulls: there was a fair amount of traffic in the aisles when I saw it at the theater. Adults will enjoy the humor and the still-astonishing attention to detail, though the animated action feels a little clunky this time around, as if budget cuts were made in that area. Be sure to watch the first song of the closing credits as the characters "dance to the music" of Sly and the Family Stone.