Story Highlights• Review: "Shrek the Third" is OK, not great
• Highlights are princess baby shower, Donkey and Puss
• Other plot contrivances go on far too long in Far Far Away
• Film follows two giant hits: "Shrek" and "Shrek 2"
By Tom Charity
Special to CNN
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(CNN) -- The monstrously popular but desperately hit-and-miss "Shrek" series continues on its merry way in its inevitable third installment, even if the ogre himself is in danger of being sidetracked altogether.
Actually, that would probably be just fine with Shrek (voice of Mike Myers), a cantankerous and, by and large, humorless fixture in his own franchise. True to form, he spends most of this movie ducking his responsibilities and yearning for a quiet life back at the swamp with Fiona (Cameron Diaz) at his side.
Fate has other plans: when his ailing father-in-law, the frog king, finally croaks, Sir Shrek is next in line to the throne. That is, unless he can persuade Fiona's callow cousin Artie -- that is, Arthur -- to take the gig instead.
Princess Fiona doesn't get much say in all this, but her revelation that Shrek can expect to hear the pitter-patter of not-so-little feet doesn't improve his mood. A surreal nightmare sequence with Shrek babysitting vomiting infant ogres (ogrets?) is as close as this comedy is prepared to risk upsetting its family demographic.
Which isn't to say that it doesn't meander all over the place.
With seven official screenwriters and several more credited with additional dialogue, story ideas and such (including "Silence of the Lambs" scribe Ted Tally) it is hardly surprising that "Shrek the Third" feels like it's been assembled by committee.
Some promising ideas aren't as developed as they might be. Undeterred by the dismal example of "Happily N'ever After," the villainous Prince Charming enlists the aid of a rogue's gallery including Captain Hook, Rumplestiltskin and the Evil Queen, but it says something that they're all upstaged by a couple of enchanted trees. And there's terrific potential in the magical mix-up that sees those reliable scene-stealers Puss (Antonio Banderas) and Donkey (Eddie Murphy) switch hides, but they don't do much with it.
Other sketches fall flat and are allowed to keep right on plummeting: a frog chorus of Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die" at King Harold's funeral is particularly terrible, though you know someone somewhere obviously loved the idea to death. "Worcestershire," a medieval academy populated with Valley Girls and stoners -- laughing yet? -- is another elongated fizzle that smacks of marketing strategy meetings.
Artie himself (Justin Timberlake) is a bland non-entity in the very worst Disney tradition. And Eric Idle's disenchanted New Age-y Merlin is a mildly amusing comic creation encouraged to overstay his welcome.
But it's not all bad, by any means. You've got to love Donkey's brood of braying dragon babes. There's a delicious moment when Gingerbread Man's life flashes before his eyes and he's so moved he breaks into song.
And a baby shower featuring Fiona, her mom (voiced by Julie Andrews), Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Rapunzel gives birth to a spirited girl-power finale, with Snow White (Amy Poehler) storming the gates. (Heaven knows what Julie Andrews is capable of -- the woman did bare her breasts in "S.O.B.")
On top of it all, the animation is more impressive than ever. Facial expressions render 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 realized.
Verily, then, it's more of the same shtick, but likely a hit with the fans. "Shrek the Third" is beginning to smell a little ripe, but that's just how we like him.
"Shrek the Third" runs 93 minutes and is rated PG. For Entertainment Weekly's take, click here.
In "Shrek the Third," Shrek has to convince Artie to assume the throne.