Did you ever wonder what happens to the villains while the hero and heroine are living happily ever after? We get to find out in this third chapter in the saga of Shrek. In the previous episode, Prince Charming failed in his attempt to marry Princess Fiona (voice of Cameron Diaz) and take over the Kingdom of Far Far Away. Now he has been consigned to the vile dust from whence he sprung, unwept, unhonor’d, and unsung. In other words, he’s doing dinner theater.
Meanwhile, over in Far Far Away, Shrek (voice of Michael Meyers) and Fiona are a few happilys short of an ever after themselves. Fiona’s father, the king (voice of John Cleese), transformed back into a frog at the end of the second film, is very ill. And after he, uh, croaks, Shrek and Fiona will have to take over, unless they can find the next in line for the throne, cousin Arthur (voice of Justin Timberlake). And just as the journey to find Arthur begins, Shrek is presented with an even more terrifying new responsibility. He’s going to be a father.
Shrek, Donkey (voice of Eddie Murphy), and Puss in Boots (voice of Antonio Banderas) find Arthur in a terrifying environment filled with pain beyond measure — high school. Meanwhile, Prince Charming and all the other villains decide that they are entitled to some happily ever after, too. Captain Hook, the Wicked Witch, the Cyclops, some enchanted trees, and the rest of the baddies take over Far Far Away capture Fiona and the Queen (voice of Julie Andrews) along with the princesses who are visiting for a baby shower, Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Rapunzel (voices of Amy Poehler, Amy Sedaris, Maya Rudolph, and Cheri Oteri). And Prince Charming gets ready to settle things with Shrek once and for all — in front of an audience.
It’s still funny and even a little heartwarming, but it isn’t fresh anymore and — it has to be said — the character of Arthur isn’t very interesting. Because he is at the center of much of the story, for the first time the Shrek saga drags. The new voices and characters add very little. When Regis Philbin joins Larry King as the voice of the ugly step-sisters, there’s a joke about Merlin’s robe not quite covering all it is supposed to, and Donkey and Puss switch bodies, it feels like they’re running out of ideas.
The animation continues to get better and better and the faces are marvelously expressive, especially Arthur’s dimple and the frog king’s…croaking. The fairy-tale high school is a hoot, it is fun to see the princesses learn to rescue themselves, and it is a treat to see how cleverly the film avoids much of the predictable violence. The po-mo humor sensibility continues to stay on the safe side of snarky, though one has to wonder in the midst of all this grrrl power why it is that no one ever thinks of making Fiona the ruler after her father’s death. But by the time Shrek and Arthur are learning that it is okay for them to be themselves, it is starting have that “very special episode” feeling that even a kickin’ rendition of “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” can’t make work and we’re wondering if Shrek wasn’t a little more fun when he was a little more ogre-ish.
Parents should know that, like the earlier films, this one has some mildly mature material, including some schoolyard crude humor (the gingerbread man poops a gumdrop), some potty humor, and a mild drug joke (reference to puffing on “frankincense and myrrh”). There is some cartoon violence and some drinking (scenes in a bar, references to alcoholic drinks). Parents should also know that while the Shrek character is being used by the Department of Health and Human Services to promote healthy eating and exercise, he has also been licensed to promote more than seventy different products, including many different kinds of candy and junk food.
Families who see this movie should talk about why some people might think it is scary to be a parent. Why did Arthur change his mind about Shrek? Do you ever feel that people want you to be something different from what you are?
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Shrek and Shrek 2, as well as Ella Enchanted, Hoodwinked, and The Best of Fractured Fairy Tales, Vol. 1 (1961). They will also enjoy books like Outspoken Princess and the Gentle Knight, Tatterhood and Other Tales: Stories of Magic and Adventure, and the original book by William Steig that inspired the series, though its Shrek is not as cuddly.