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Shrek The Third

He's big, he's green and he wants to be left alone by the humans that misunderstand him. Marvel should either sue or take notes, because Dreamworks certainly has figured out how to make their jade giant into a beloved pop culture figure. Shrek returns in the eponymous Shrek 3, and somehow, he's become even more lovable.

After the second film established a pattern for Shrek's adventures, the multiple directors and writers for Shrek the Third struggle to break it. Yet when you've got a family - okay, children's - franchise, you've got to acknowledge all the things that work. Everyone wants to see Donkey (Eddie Murphy), they should want to see Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas) and you can't forget the other random fairy tales.

In a reasonably clever twist, the film opens on Prince Charming (an oily-voiced Rupert Everett) reliving and rewriting his history as a bad piece of dinner theater. Thank heavens for the astute criticism of the Gingerbread Man, which sets Charming off to plot revenge.

For a character that wants to be left alone, Shrek (Mike Meyers) sure has gathered himself an entourage. But that's one of the points of the franchise, that after a lifetime of being considered monstrous, it's hard to feel comfortable when you're finally accepted.

Case in point: on his deathbed, frog king Harold (John Cleese) names Shrek his heir. After awkwardly admitting affection for his father-in-law, going so far as to call him "Dad," Shrek refuses the crown. It doesn't matter that the kingdom loves Shrek; he doesn't feel worthy.

Shrek's quest to find the next heir, Artie (Justin Timberlake), will of course bring him full circle and understand himself and his place in a world that now loves him. We expect that. It is, of course, a family movie.

What may be off-putting to some people is that Shrek really has become more than a cartoon character; he's three dimensional and growing over the course of these films. Though Shrek the Third still abounds with lunacy, Shrek himself may be one of the most realistic characters we're going to see this summer.

Wives can probably identify with Donkey and Puss, too; they're the buddies that subtly annoy spouses. Earnest Donkey is the goofy family man that talks a little too loudly too often. Of course, Puss is that guy that won't accept responsibility and keeps trying to tempt the good husband away for moments of irresponsibility. Banderas plays this to the hilt; Puss may not dominate as he did in the last film, but he could very well be worthy of the rumored solo film.

Unfortunately, that does leave Artie a little thin. Clearly a knock-off of King Arthur, getting pushed around by high school bully Lancelot, Artie has little in the way of personality but for a few nerd cliches. That's where Dreamworks really needs to jettison some things; the parodies of the modern world need to go. It's no longer funny to see a shoebox from Ye Olde Foot Locker; where once it was sharp and knowing (well, knowing anyway), now it only reminds us this world isn't real.

Plenty of social commentary gets made without brand-naming. Charming's plan to corrupt Far Far Away revolves around a rock opera re-write of his earlier conflict with Shrek. How perfect to underscore his essential shallowness, and it's so cleverly realized that we can get swept up in believing in this other world, and rooting for this mythical creature.

Note to the writers: other characters probably shouldn't refer to Shrek as a mythical creature when clearly, ogres are real.

By the end of the film, in fact, Shrek has learned more than many of his peers might. Though it no doubt will lead us into a Shrek 4, we leave hiim on a satisfying note. He's grown. He's learned. He's earned Dreamworks a ton of money. Maybe we can let him rest a while.

Nah. He's still too much fun.



Derek McCaw

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