As glossy as Puss’ famous boots, the amiable, overstuffed and enviably good-looking Shrek The Third uses the familiar slapstick-and-fairytale-satire recipe of its predecessors, but it can’t muster their snap and savour. This time out, Shrek’s quest is to find young Arthur, the heir to Far, Far Away’s throne, after Frog King Harold croaks (in a deliciously drawn-out Hollywood deathbed parody).
As the fulsome ‘Meet the Cast’ and ‘Tech of Shrek’ extras make clear, the film’s makers were keen to utilise key players like Donkey and Puss In Boots, but shoehorning in Fiona’s posse of ninny-to-ninja princesses, troubled high-schooler Arthur, and New Age nitwit Merlin leaves room for the merest shoestring of plot. As a result, this comedy is so busy parcelling out the laughs, and sharpening its impressive visuals, that it forgets to take its story seriously.
One of the secret strengths of previous Shreks was the real jeopardy at their centres (the loss of home, or the end of love), coupled with high-menace villains like Farquaad or the Fairy Godmother. Collaring a sulky teen, anxiety dreams about ogre babies, and taking on the petulant Prince Charming’s kingdom-grabbing horde of fairytale freaks just ain’t in the same league. So, take comfort in the movie’s admitted high points (such as Shrek reducing a court function to flaming rubble), the cornucopia of absorbing DVD-Rom extras (the ‘Shrek Shmash-Ups’ are particularly fine), and pray that where Shrek The Third goes back to high school, Shrek 4 will go back to basics.