A good family film is one that can make a five-year old laugh as hard as a 35-year old. The first two Shrek installments did exactly that. With jokes about high school, marriage and fatherhood, Shrek the Third was made more for the 35-year olds. Don’t get me wrong, the movie was funny—downright gut-busting at times, but the kids sitting in the audience weren’t laughing nearly as hard as the adults. Last time I checked, that’s not good for family business.
Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are standing in for Fiona’s father, the ailing frog king. In classic Shrek fashion, every event they attend turns into a massive disaster. After a montage of uncomfortable, yet hilarious scenes, Shrek and Fiona are called to the king’s bedside. On his deathbed, King Harold (John Cleese) names Shrek and Fiona his heirs to the throne. Shrek doesn’t want to give up his beloved swamp and goes on a mission with Puss in Boots and Donkey (Antonia Banderas and Eddie Murphy) to find the only other heir—Fiona's cousin Arthur (voiced surprisingly well by Justin Timberlake). Meanwhile, Fiona is left at home with a bun in the oven and a gang of fairytale villains who want to take over Far Far Away.
King Harold’s death and funeral are two of the sharpest scenes in the entire movie. With classic overdramatic dying, John Cleese makes me snicker even if I know his character is about to expire. Puss and Donkey more than steal the scene with their tête-à-tête on whether the king is actually dead or not. And if these moments are funny enough, the funeral features a choir of frogs singing “Live and Let Die” while Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews) pushes her husband to his watery grave in a shoebox (from Ye Olde Foot Locker of course).
Sadly, not every scene is this funny. There are still funny parts scattered throughout--most of them involving Donkey and/or Puss--but Shrek the Third doesn’t live up to its predecessors. Artie’s storyline is slightly funny, and it is cute to see him as the high school loser competing against jock Lancelot and pining over prom-queen-to-be Guinevere. Meeting crazy magic teacher Merlin (Eric Idle) in the forest brings on some serious guffaws, but I still can’t give this movie five stars.
The story lines are all too weak. I need more on Shrek’s journey with Artie or possibly more on his fears of fatherhood. More than anything, I need a more interesting foe than Prince Charming (Rupert Everett). His mother was incredible as the wicked villain in the Shrek 2, but Prince Charming is a whiny, fair-haired prince who couldn’t carry a sub-storyline if he wanted. Alas, Shrek the Third, though far better than many third movies I’ve seen, is simply the one installment that will sit unwatched in the box set you buy for your kids.