This subversive, stylized animated fractured fairy tale may not be as scintillating as its predecessors, but Shrek The Third has much to delight the admirers of the ornery, oafish green ogre, voiced of course by Mike Myers.
The franchise has bloomed with "Shrek The Halls" special for TV around Christmas with voices done by Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, and Antonio Banderas, and next year "Shrek: The Musical" will debut on Broadway.
In this outing of the saga, the irascible behemoth is beginning to see middle age on the horizon. That includes his plate growing with Princess Fiona (Diaz) who has a bun in the oven, and being in line for the crown of Far, Far Away. After a lengthy, if humorous scene when the "Frog King", Fiona's father (voiced by John Cleese), suddenly croaks.
Shrek explains to Fiona that he is not cut out to occupy such a regal position, and the movie gets hilarious early on when the unsettled green guy is haunted by little ogres. Even before he goes about finding someone to replace him on the throne.
The busy Justin Timberlake (Black Snake Moan, Alpha Dog) voices Artie, Fiona's long-lost cousin, a medieval high school outcast, with a measure of charm and insecurity, who dwells in Worcestershire, another land far, far away. Shrek, the less annoying Donkey (Murphy), and feline Puss in Boots (Banderas) traverse the seas for awhile to get to this region where denizens are, ironically, easy on youngsters' ears.
The story is attractively buoyant, if less remarkable as the ridiculed (by rival crew led by Lancelot - voiced by John Krasinski) Artie is reluctant to Shrek's request as they head toward Far, Far Away. Then an undertow of sorts occurs as Eric Idle's Merlin the Magician takes over the proceedings for a bit.
Rupert Everett continues to prove mirthfully malevolent and dramatic as Prince Charming who has redemption on his mind, which includes having his own happy ending. Unsuccessful in dinner theatre, he sets his sights, along with notable bad guys like Captain Hook, on capturing Far, Far Away.
The storyline ultimately is worked out with finesse, especially on the female angle, with characters like Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Rapunzel, providing satisfying empowering conflict, as Shrek, Fiona, and Artie have to save the day and find their own "Happily Ever Afters."
Chris Miller, also a co-writer, directs with a certain amount of economy and elan, having previously been a story artist for Andrew Adamson, who helmed The Chronicles of Narnia. The detail to design in terms of photo-realism is better than ever, as one notices the wrinkles in Shrek as he winces, as well as the vibrant, verdant elements of productions rendered at the start and finish. It's an augmentation of creative systems used since Shrek 2 on pictures like Madagascar and Over The Hedge.
Myers and Diaz again contribute soundly on the vocal end, with notable additions by Amy Sedaris, Cheri Oteri, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph, the latter trio of "Saturday Night Live." And Murphy and Banderas neatly succeed together on a gag that smartly uses Donkey and Puss in Boots. The message of learning to believe in oneself or feel worthy takes on extra meaning in "Shrek The Third" with an eclectic, wide-reaching soundtrack that features The Ramones, Ledd Zepplin, Fergie, and Harry Chapin, among others.