Every fairy tale has a core of hidden wisdom, and the moral of this soggy third adventure of everyone's favorite ogre seems painfully clear: Beware of sequelitis. Overstuffed, overloaded and underfunny, Shrek the Third commits every sin in the sequel handbook, a shame; since the hero of this once-subversive series is the kind of lovable malcontent that uses rules for toilet paper. These days the big green galoot has been cruelly domesticated, his wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz) has a sticky ogre bun in the oven, and his Frog-King Father in Law (John Cleese) has croaked, leaving Shrek to rule the Kingdom of Far, Far Away.
But screw that.
Since there's no greater buzz-kill than responsibility, Shrek and his sidekicks take off to search out a suitable candidate to rule the kingdom and get Princess Fiona's cousin Artie. Artie turns out to be a somewhat dweeby high schooler (and is voiced by Justin Timberlake, who has a knack for playing annoying twerps). Meanwhile, jealous Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) has rounded up a crew of fantasy bad guys to crash Fiona's baby shower, kidnapping her along with Snow White (Amy Poehler), Cinderella (Amy Sedaris), and the other famous nursery rhyme maids-in-waiting.
Adding to this crowded menagerie of new characters is a jocky Lancelot, and a bumbling Merlin (Eric Idle), neither of whom make much of an impact, other than to push the established stars further from the center. The scene-stealing comic duo of Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas) are so superfluous to the action, that at times it seems they may have swallowed an invisibility potion actually, they've fallen victim to the old body-swapping spell, an accident that adds nothing to the plot except a sight gag. Indeed, plot plays second fiddle to gags throughout, giving us even less reason to care when the story slows down for sappy emotions or treacly life lessons. The jokes themselves are a mixed bag, from weirdly placed bombastic arena rock (Wings' "Live and Let Die" and Heart's "Barracuda") to Charming's witty Stephen Sondheim-like dinner theater stage show. For every clever bit like a "Just say nay" rally at Artie's school, there's a missed opportunity or shtick lazily recycled from the previous films.
Worst of all are the confirmed sequel ruiners the babies. Not just slime-spewing ogre tots, but the weirdly fugly-cute offspring of Donkey and Dragon, a coupling still too freaky to imagine. They don't add much to the storytelling, but they sure make for cuddly dolls, and that adds to the franchise's bottom line, which for Dreamworks at least, means a happy ending after all.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.