“Shrek the Third” still funny but lacks luster

How many times can a movie with the same characters spoofing the same subject be funny? Apparently two-and-a-half times. There were certainly funny tidbits to be found and enjoyed throughout “Shrek the Third,” but this third incarnation of the characters lacked the same sparkle.

It all comes down to the story, which in this case felt forced. Perhaps this was because of the new director or maybe the myriad of new screenwriters, but it was the main plot that suffered. It wasn’t as original as the previous two films.

Instead, this film was more predictable. It even had the same villain – or villains, rather – attempting to do the same thing as in the last film: take over the kingdom. It’s almost as if the writers of this film were aware of exactly what made the franchise succeed and tried to replicate those same things instead of finding new laughs. It didn’t work.

However, the movie was still able to explore a few new characters and settings. This time around we get to meet Arthur Pendragon (Justin Timberlake, “Alpha Dog,” “Black Snake Moan”), or Artie for short, as an awkward high-school student everyone picks on. We get to meet several of the characters from Arthurian legend through him, including Merlin (Eric Idle, “Ella Enchanted,” “Monty Python”), who runs around in Birkenstocks eating rocks as he tries to become one with nature. And we get to see what a high school in this fantasy world would look like, complete with jocks, teen slang and role-playing nerds.

Yet the best pieces of the story had to be the villains deciding that they wanted the happily-ever-after endings for themselves, and the princesses going against the grain to kick some serious butt. This was the nugget of originality that didn’t make the film a total wash: well-known characters being atypical.

Some of the other successful bits from the previous films also worked only partially in this one. The recognizable popular music still made numerous appearances, but unlike the previous two films where the music blended into the story, this time it felt strategic. There were the requisite covers and new songs by popular artists like Macy Gray, but the rock song by Fergie was really the only pleasant and enjoyable surprise.

Yet for some reason, the creators of this film forgot one key ingredient of the Shrek franchise: clever pop-culture references, especially to other movies. There was only one that could be found in this film and that itself is a stretch. In one scene, Shrek (Mike Meyers, “So I Married an Axe Murderer,” “Austin Powers”) is intimidated by the image of an old-fashioned baby carriage, and one could call it a rather clever plug for “Rosemary’s Baby.” But how many moviegoers today even remember that film?

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The computer animation, however, was certainly an improvement. The grass in several scenes looked remarkably real and three-dimensional. It was easy to pick out some of the advances that have been made in the technology since the last film.

Overall, the film had its funny moments, and the packed theater seemed to enjoy it. Yet this is a dangerous movie to take children to, as there were many unhappy tots in the theater who found themselves quickly bored. Just like the other “Shrek” films, this one wasn’t really written for the young ones, but unlike the previous two, the same formula just didn’t work as well.

Starring: Mike Meyer, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz
Rated PG
Genres: animation, adventure, comedy