“Shrek the Third” covers familiar ground, but with an inventive spirit that helps this second-generation piece of Xerox go down rather easily. Still, the series’ once-fresh premise now reeks of Hollywood-formula mildew. By nature, sequels are risk-averse and tend to hold firm to key elements that created success in the first place.
And why not — what is a little redundancy in the face of the larger risk ($$$) of messing with a proven blockbuster recipe? In this case, the familiar is a green ogre accompanied by a population of fairy-tale outcasts in the land of Far Far Away. This cinematic sausage-making template calls for more pop-culture references and innuendo. Thankfully, those elements are served up with a light touch that steers clear of overly snarky humor.
First-time director Chris Williams (a voice actor in the earlier “Shreks”) ensures that the storytelling momentum doesn’t stumble on the elaborate computer animation. “Shrek the Third” looks great, and it is swiftly paced.
The storyline focuses on a humiliated Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) and his efforts to rally the other dejected fairy-tale villains to usurp the throne. Shrek’s wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz) discovers she is pregnant, and Shrek (Mike Myers) sets out to enlist the rightful heir to the kingdom, Arthur (Justin Timberlake). Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas return in funny form as Shrek’s sidekicks, Donkey and Puss in Boots.
The comic highlight is Shrek’s visit to a high school where the girls talk like genetic hybrids of Valley Girls and Elizabethan maidens. In about 10 minutes, this sequence acutely conveys the emotional minefield of high school — it’s like a John Hughes movie set in the Middles Ages.
BY JAMIE PETERS