‘Shrek’ too big for its britches

Times Staff Writer

The success of movies like “Shrek” and “Shrek 2,” with their giddy, free-associative referencing of grown-up pop memes and in-jokes, has for some time now made me wonder if there’s really such a thing as a kids’ movie anymore. Having just seen “Shrek the Third,” I’m now wondering if there’s really such a thing as a kid.

Possibly not. If “Shrek the Third,” directed by Chris Miller and Raman Hui from a screenplay by Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman and Miller & Aron Warner from a story by Andrew Adamson (whew), is any indication, what kids these days want from their stinky green ogres is a lot of Gen-X parenting anxiety and career agita mixed in with plenty of winky elbow-nudging about celebrity lifestyles.

Based on a brilliantly simple picture book by William Steig about an ogre who revels in the glorious ugliness of his mien and manner, the erstwhile well-adjusted, two-dimensional Shrek has mushroomed into an angsty contemporary hero who doesn’t want to grow up, not because he’s a Toys R Us kid but because he’s put off by responsibility.

Having married Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and settled into a blissful routine in his beloved swamp, Shrek (Mike Myers) is called to duty when word reaches them that King Harold (John Cleese) is on his deathbed. Once at his side, Shrek learns that, to his horror, he’s next in line to the throne. There’s only one way out, and the ogre of the story takes it -- he goes off to find lucky successor No. 2, a scrawny teen from Worcestershire High School named Artie (Justin Timberlake). As Shrek sails away with his sidekicks Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss-in-Boots (Antonio Banderas), Fiona imparts some big news, and Shrek’s fretting assumes monster proportions. Meanwhile, a thwarted Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) plans his takeover of Far Far Away, having been relegated to riding a broomstick in a dinner theater production of his fairy tale gone awry, and young Artie must learn that what really matters in life is what you think of yourself, a lesson preferably learned onstage.

“Shrek the Third” has its moments -- Shrek’s anxiety dream about procreating is fabulously surreal, and King Harold’s deathbed scene, with its grimaces and false alarms, is pure kiddie comedy at its best. But does a kids’ movie really need, among other similar touches, a Hooters joke? I, for one, wouldn’t want to have to explain it.


“Shrek the Third.” MPAA rating: PG for some crude humor, suggestive content and swashbuckling action. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. In general release.