Shrek the Third

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FROM BED TO WORSE Shrek and the missus get a rude awakening.

Three isn’t exactly a magic number for DreamWorks’ emerald ogre, but unlike other recent trilogy conclusions—we’re talking to you, Web-slinger—at least you get more than franchise fatigue. Shrek the Third’s verse is much the same as the first, and exactly what you’d expect. Besides our green hero (Myers) and his royal bride (Diaz), both the wisecracking Donkey (Murphy) and the sequel’s Puss in Boots (Banderas) are back for more banter. [Yay! Ha-ha!] There’s also an army of fairy-tale villains enlisted to attack the kingdom of Far, Far Away. [Boo! Hiss!] And for the older folks, here’s some Oprah-friendly discussion about parental anxiety and the chronic fear of success. [Mommy, I’m bored. Are there any Goobers left?]

Never mind the central narrative about searching for pimply teenage Arthur Pendragon (voiced by Justin Timberlake, who leaves the sexy at home). Pop-culture in-jokery is still the coin of this series’s realm, and Third hits pay dirt several times: Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” riff becomes a boffo punch line, while a bit involving a gingerbread man’s life flashing before his eyes is pure genius. But though the wink-wink setups wisely avoid outstaying their welcome la Shrek 2, they never really get fully realized either. Why establish fertile medieval high-school and princesses-are-doin’-it-for-themselves scenarios, only to drop them after a scant handful of gags? Even the big climax feels over before it’s started. Kids craving a safe summer-film sugar rush won’t care much, though adult fans are bound to wish upon a star for something besides another animated feature running on autopilot. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — David Fear

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