There are two possible explanations for the sleepy, lazy, uncommitted tone of Shrek The Third, the latest outing in DreamWorks' hit franchise about a cranky CGI ogre. One is that everyone involved knew it would make money no matter what, so there was no reason to expend more effort than necessary. The other is that the writers secretly assumed that at some point between the first Shrek sequel and this one, their titular ogre accidentally castrated himself in a far-fetched comic mishap.


The former explanation makes more real-world sense, but the latter one might explain why such a previously dynamic, aggressive character spends the entirety of Shrek The Third sheepishly responding to the usual cartoon mayhem with docile chuckles and weak, distracted temper. But his lack of drive is typical of the entire movie. This time around, Shrek and his wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are subbing for her father the king (John Cleese), with zany results that comprise the film's best gags, and much of its trailer. When the king dies, Shrek avoids succeeding him by seeking out another heir, Arthur Pendragon (Justin Timberlake). Meanwhile, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) is out to take over the kingdom yet again, and Fiona is pregnant, which gives Shrek a mild case of the twitchies over how a baby might change his life. There's a vague message here about living up to responsibility, but there's no resonance to the halfhearted execution, which trots out all the old characters with a shrug and a few lame Ye Olde Fairy-Tale Worlde gags, like a high school where bullies pin "I sucketh" signs on their victims' backs, and the anti-drug slogan of the day is "Just Say Nay."

Sequels usually follow the rubric "same thing as last time, but more." Shrek The Third instead goes for less: fewer jokes, less energy, and toned-down characters reiterating old banter, as if from a half-finished outline of a script that never got its planned punch-up. If the film were a little better, the sketchy sexual politics—self-empowered women who still can't run a kingdom, emasculated men cringing in the shadows of their wives and mommies—might be offensive. But it's hard to meet this film with anything but a yawn, even when returning comic duo Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas follow the film's climactic burp, fart, and barf-fest with a cheerful rendition of "Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" that sounds like bald mockery of the audience: "Thanks for paying to watch us coast, guys."