Detailing the fall from grace the side-villain of Shrek 2 had, Shrek the Third follows on the story of a man who believes himself to be the rightful prince. His life is tormented by that titular ogre, who has changed from swamp demon to beloved hero and royalty. Heir to the throne and not happy about such a change, much of this third in the quadrilogy of the Shrek series depicts an unhappy lifestyle for the protagonist. He is far, far away from the life he used to lead, and the toll is taking comedic mental effect. Setting out to find the next in line, Shrek (Mike Myers) and the reliable gang he has collected over the previous two instalments set off to find distant relatives who would be better suited to the royal lifestyle.
As long as it is funny, there is no need for a story. Shrek the Third has a story, but the finest and funniest moments come from the early scenes and moments that do not keep the story moving. Shrek’s mishaps as acting king lead to a short, sweet montage similar to that of Shrek 2, and the humour is much the same. It is childish, fun, and plays up the medieval period well. It rehashes old jokes with new endings, the cheapest trick in a book but at least they are cannon fodder for the preamble of the first act. Structure is not quite the strength of Shrek the Third, which rattles through its amicable story without the pacing or grace of the first two.
One of the mildest changes to the showcase found here is the collection of fairy-tale villains. Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) enlists the help of these classic villains, tapping into their backstory all too briefly and appealing to the villain within them. It is a tale of redemption, trundling alongside one of finding the new hero for the kingdom. They barely overlap, and right up until those final moments that are, inevitably, made to piece these storylines together, they could exist without one another. Therein lies the prime issue with Shrek the Third, it separates characters who, up until now, have often relied on sharing intermittent scenes. Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and Shrek are separate for much of the film, their dialogue suggests that they are speaking of one another. It is a poor change of style that the film never quite bounces back from.
Still, it would be a rare treat if the third in the trilogy had been the pinnacle. Shrek 2 already pushed forth and upped the ante. We must expect more from comedy vehicles and the sequels they provide. Shrek the Third is a fun film. Solid family fun with plenty of humour to go around. It tires itself out with the college period, and it is no surprise that Arthur (Justin Timberlake) is rather difficult to appeal to. He is found in his greatest performance, which is not a high bar to leap. Still, his role as the next King of Far Far Away is realised well. Everyone feels a tad jaded, Myers in particular, but even then, Shrek the Third, for all its devolving animation and occasionally aged jokes, it is fun enough overall.
Honour the memory of the former King Harold, listen to a bit of Paul McCartney and enjoy the finest role Justin Timberlake ever presented, for Shrek the Third has it all in a crisp ninety minutes. Replacing John Cleese’s Harold with Eric Idle’s Merlin is a step in the wrong direction, Shrek the Third makes many poor choices. Inevitably stepping down from the strengths of the first two of the series, but there is enough to make it work. Enough humour, enough characters, and enough of them boiled down to their core lines and notes. It works as a distraction, but not as a narrative. That’s fine, though, isn’t it? Cheap comedy is still comedy.