Shrek the Third
Unless I'm losing count, this is the fourth of this season's blockbuster threequels (after the continuing adventures of Danny Ocean, Peter Parker and Jack Sparrow). Fear not, next week there is progress: Die Hard 4.
At 92 minutes (five of them credits) Shrek The Third is nearly half the length of a certain Pirate extravaganza, and none the worse for that. But if Spider-Man and PoC both suffered from too much story (nothing exceeds like success), it's quite the opposite with Shrek.
In a nutshell - and that's all we get - Shrek inherits the crown to Far, Far Away unless he can persuade Fiona's cousin Arthur (voiced by Justin Timberlake) to step up instead. The princess doesn't get a vote in this - so much for this fairytale's twenty-first century credentials - and the not so jolly green giant is determined to find Artie and pass the buck. Meanwhile Prince Charming takes advantage of Shrek's absence to seize the throne for himself.
If the story is a yawn, wait 'til you get a load of Artie. Introduced at "Worcestershire", a medieval academy populated with Valley Girls and stoners - laughing yet? - he turns out to be a bland non-entity in the very worst Disney tradition. Eric Idle's disenchanted new age-y Merlin is another mildly amusing comic creation encouraged to outstay his welcome.
But it's not all bad by any means. Shrek's panic at impending fatherhood inspires one of the series' most imaginative sequences, a surreal nightmare with the new dad babysitting a squillion vomiting green ogrets' quite how this play's to the kiddie audience I don't know, but parents will get a kick out of it.
I wish they had made more of the sequence when Puss and Donkey magically switch identities, but it's funny stuff even so. These two scene-stealers are easily the most reliably entertaining fixtures in the series - is it just me, or is Shrek himself a bit of a bore? - and their repartee is well up to scratch here. I'm thinking Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) deserves his own spin-off.
A baby shower featuring Fiona and her mom, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Rapunzel gives birth to a belated Girl power revival, with Snow White storming the gates and Julie Andrews (I like to imagine) burning her bra.
On top of it all, the animation is better than ever; facial expressions intimate nuances you would be hard-pressed to find from Mike Myers or Cameron Diaz in the flesh. It was a nice idea to stage the climax against a theatrical operetta of Prince Charming's devising, and this splendidly creaky, ear-piercing production is lovingly realised.
But if the pictures are pretty it's going to take a while to forgive a horrendously misjudged rendition of Paul McCartney's 'Live and Let Die' from a chorus of frogs, and tracks by Fergie, Led Zeppelin and The Ramones generally detract from the lovely orchestral score by Harry Gregson-Williams.
Hit and miss then. This is probably the weakest of the three films in terms of story and character, but the animation is spectacular, and just when you think it's sinking into a swamp of mediocrity they pull something funny and surprising out of the hat. It'll do.
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