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I really wasn’t too cynical about yet another mega-franchise sequel in this summer’s movie line-up. I wanted to be sure that I saw “Shrek the Third” with a lot of kids in the audience, including a few from my own family. What I found was exactly what I expected: The younger the audience, the better (and funnier) the film was received.

And since humor was the primary inspirational influence in this one, I think most parents were left uninspired while most of the kids left having had a good laugh …but also uninspired, as in “Mom, can we go out to eat?” or “What are we going to see next?”

Ever since Disney started making animated films for the whole family, the secret formula for animated movie success has been the ability for a flick to have “layers” of comedy and content for all ages. In the most beloved (and recent) animated films that we want to see over and over again, we find that for every piece of visual humor and childspeak (for kids), there’s also some bathroom humor and teen culture chat (for adolescents) and some dry humor and current events for the adults. (Think “Finding Nemo”)

“Shrek the Third” had what the kids required, but much less for the adolescents and almost nothing for the adults, other than the air-conditioned theater and a screen to keep the kids occupied.

The film was neither heartwarming nor witty when compared to the first two Shreks, and the laughs were fewer. Maybe this was because Eddie Murphy (the donkey) seemed to have far fewer lines, or perhaps because Mike Myers’ Shrek had to play truer to formula then to character. Yes, the layered comedy for adults (including some sarcasm that the chitlins wouldn’t get) was present, but just wasn’t all that funny. The choreography was very nice, but the characters within it were less inspiring.

The first two Shreks tugged on the heartstrings and brought inspiration through both the characters and the plot. “Shrek the Third” felt simply like another episode in the series of a mega-franchise that didn’t leave me wanting to see the next episode. My kids however, may have a different answer.

In either case, this movie felt like the poster example for how good actors and writers can be muted for the sake of the exact formulaic approach that the first two Shreks made fun of. To get rid of that taste and leave the franchise on an inspiring note would be the only reason to make a Shrek IV.

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