The top notch sound and visuals by DreamWorks' PDI (Pacific Data Images) really helps the audience jump right into this entertaining world. The animation engages the audience immediately, but the story, produced by eight writers, relies on formulaic and familiar fare.
Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas all return to provide voices for Shrek, Fiona, Donkey and Puss-in-Boots in this sequel fit for all ages (most of the mature jokes will sneak under the radar of young tots). In this installment, Shrek and Fiona assume royal responsibilities in the land of Far, Far Away while reducing their screen time to make room for the numerous supporting characters.
The new characters include Artie, voiced by Justin Timberlake, and his associate Merlin, a memorable voice performance by Eric Idle. These characters have famous connections that very young viewers most likely miss, so the adult audience picks up the reference. The problem is it weakens the plot instead of strengthening it while taking precious screen time from the original characters like Shrek and Fiona. Shrek is reduced to melodramatic fare with Artie while we don’t learn anything new about Fiona.
Puss-in-Boots is still very effective with lots of laughs in comic duels with Donkey. Three Saturday Night Live comediennes (Cheri Oteri, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph) provide the voices and much needed laughs as various female fairy tale leads who join forces with Fiona and the Queen.
Rupert Everett returns to voice Prince Charming, a whiny, flat antagonist motivated by his own ego. This uninteresting villain weakens the plot even more. He recruits classic fairy tale baddies (all easily swayed and “kid friendly” mean) for his own self-centered purpose. Why not create a new villain comparable to Lord Farquaad, voiced by John Lithgow in the first Shrek film, still the best villain in this series? Charming summarizes the villains' plight as they try to find “honest work when the whole world's against you,” but actually seeing an individual scenario then conforming the rest into a revenge-seeking group would’ve been much more effective.
Other characters, like Lancelot, voiced by John Krasinski (The Office television series), exist for recognition and quickly fade away into the background. Larry King and Regis Philbin have interesting voice roles while the comedy troupe of the Three Blind Mice, Pinocchio, Wolf and the Gingerbread Man return. The plot uses broad comedy concepts but needs more character growth and, most importantly, originality.
Several decent gags (the opening sequence, a dream sequence and gingerbread montage) get the laughs, but overall, they fail to make a knockout comedy/character blend mastered by screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio in the first Shrek film. Writers also indulge in a few inside jokes like Julie Andrews, who returns to voice Fiona’s mother, humming “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. The film does have an admirable theme of trusting yourself, which builds a bit on the “accepting yourself” themes in previous installments.
Screenwriters reduce the violence dramatically and have only one big fighting sequence outside Merlin’s home. Filmmakers substitute characters with various set pieces and a couple of trees for most of the violence. Most child audiences will love Shrek the Third, but adults might find that good things don’t always come in threes. Look for a fourth Shrek film planned with a possible fifth installment on the way. This one-hour and 33 minute film comes recommended with reservations and is rated PG for mild language and crude humor.