You’d think that after two outings of post-modern fairy tale jokes that the makers of the “Shrek” series would have run out of gags to try to keep their valuable animated franchise afloat. From the fast-paced, often adult references that fly by in “Shrek the Third,” it is obvious that is not the case. This time around, with new co-directors Chris Miller and Raman Hui, it is the story department that’s seriously lacking.
Things start off with a bizarre trip. The terror of impending fatherhood is upon our beloved ogre, as Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers in that still-annoying Scottish accent from “So I Married an Axe Murderer”) has a frighteningly surreal nightmare where baby ogres projectile vomit like “The Exorcist” and hundreds of them come flooding in through his cabin windows, drowning him in seconds.
It may fly right over the heads of younger kids, but this scene proves that animation is still the ideal format for insane dream sequences. More grown-up references happen during a “Kill Bill” parody where the Queen, Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) get ready to kick some ass. While the women rip their dresses and strike macho poses, a quick shot of a burning bra is a wicked half-mocking tribute to the feminist movement of the Sixties.
When it comes to the main narrative, however, “Shrek the Third” is on far shakier ground. By now, we know the central theme of the Shrek films is that being an outsider is okay. In this newest installment though, Shrek standing up for himself means insisting that he is not King material, despite the fact that everyone around him believes he’d be a great leader. When he goes on a trek with Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) to find the only other possible heir to the throne of Far Far Away, his single-mindedness is frustrating to his friends and disappointing to the audience.
The journey itself is odd, especially for a road picture, being very short and free of both complications and belly laughs. Once they arrive at Worcestershire, things get back on track and Shrek meets young Artie (Justin Timberlake), one of those inexplicably good-looking nerds who only appear in movies. Why everybody picks on Artie is unclear, but some of the clique-ish high school humor is quite clever. This combination of medieval times and current attitudes may be a one trick pony, but it saves “Shrek the Third” from getting completely tiresome.
A scene stealer in both Shrek movies, the Gingerbread Man does it again with an entire-life-before-his-eyes flashback that packs more funny into one minute than anything from Donkey or Puss in Boots, who are saddled with a lame body switching subplot. “Shrek the Third” also makes good use of music, integrating classics like Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song” right into the story to hilarious effect.
Shrek is an ogre. Ogres just want to live peacefully in the muck of their swamp—even if they are well-liked, decent, morally upstanding ogres. But an opening sequence of Shrek stumbling through the King’s public appearances show that he’s not cut out for the job. I get it—it’s just not such a great idea to hang an entire film on. It is too passive. Ironically, Shrek himself proves he is King material later when he gives himself up to the Royal guards to save Artie’s life.
A tedious and flat ending reminds us that the biggest requirement for a King is that he must be able to deliver rousing speeches that sway public opinion and wrap up ill-conceived storylines in a quick, efficient manner.