Gingerbread Man, I know just how you feel. Early on in this fitfully amusing sequel, our adorable little cookie boy is watching a dinner theater presentation featuring Prince Charming supposedly defeating the evil ogre Shrek. "This is worse than 'Love Letters,'" shouts out Gingerbread, in one of the funnier cultural references that zoom by at the speed of sound throughout Shrek the Third. Unfortunately the audience of this very film may slowly come to the same conclusion; though it has its moments, and is visually probably the most impressive of any of the Shrek films, it just reeks of having gone to the well once too often, with a mishmash of story ideas and a decidedly spotty pool of punchlines.
I couldn't help but wonder if Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine considered a lawsuit over intellectual property when the first Shrek debuted several years ago. Sondheim and Lapine mined the world of "alternative fairy tales" decades ago with their ground breaking musical "Into the Woods," bringing together a bunch of disparate characters from various stories in a central location, where they interacted and found out that happily ever after was just the end of Act One. All of the Shrek films have pretty much mined the same territory, albeit with a fantasy element that only state of the art CGI can provide.
Shrek the Third posits Shrek and Fiona both as expectant parents and the unlikely new rulers of Far Far Away. Shrek spends most of the film running both from his impending parental duties and his royal ones, especially after he discovers that Fiona's cousin, a certain boy named Arthur (Justin Timberlake), would be next in line to the throne. That's basically the sum total of the plot this time around, upon which hangs the unending assortment of satiric barbs that populated the first two Shrek films. The problem is, after two trips to the parody palace, there's really not all that much left to make fun of, leaving the Shrek creative team to rely on fallbacks like Puss 'n' Boots transforming his eyes into Kean-sized wonders. It was funny the first time around, and maybe even the second; here it just seems pathetic. The whole film is like that, somewhat akin to a Saturday Night Live sketch played once too often, something Mike Myers probably knows all too well from his years as Wayne and Dieter.
Where Shrek the Third shines is in the truly amazing CGI. Just the few short years between the first and third films saw some amazing leaps forward in rendering technologies, and this Shrek is easily the most visually impressive of the three. From the close-matted fur that covers some of the beastly types, to the very human expressions that visit the faces of the less beastly types, Shrek the Third is a miracle of character design. If the backgrounds suffer a bit by comparison, they also have their charm, from the "Hollywood as medieval village" Far Far Away to the environments of the boat Shrek and crew take to find Arthur.
The film does have its share of jokes that play well, most of them off the cuff moments like Pinnochio's nose growing when he claims not to like theater. But a lot of the other actual jokes are just lame, including some completely pointless music cues like Wings' "Live and Let Die" accompanying the Frog King's funeral. The film, even at a paltry 92 minutes (including credits), seems padded and overlong, so that by the time the final showdown arrives, you may be paying more attention to your watch than to the screen, never a good sign.
Shrek the Third is, unfortunately, one Shrek too many. There's too little magic here and too much forced supposed hilarity to sustain the conceit, and the seams on this wonderland show pretty significantly throughout. The only happily ever after here is after the film has ended.
The right cloud offers: "Donkey Dance," a very brief dance segment with Donkey going retro 80s for a minute or so, "Big Green Goofs," your standard animated blooper reel, which is of course a complete misnomer, and "My Menus," where you can actually select your menu designs for the Blu-Ray. As with a lot of other recent Disney and Dreamworks releases, we also get an "Animation Jukebox" which is nothing less than music trailers for other Dreamworks features.
"But wait, you also get....": On the main menu, there's also a Dreamworks Kids This Way to Play option which brings up: a "Magic Ball" game very reminiscent of the Dog Game on Men in Black--i.e., ask a question and get an answer; "Learn the Donkey Dance" which gives you dance along moves to the music video mentioned above; and "How to Be Green," a tutoring session on being environmentally correct.