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The Tomatometer is 60% or higher.
The Tomatometer is 59% or lower.
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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.
What the characters and satirical situations may lack this time out in a certain fresh vitality, they more than compensate for with a warm, laid-back familiarity ... and the occasional, out-of-left-fjord surprise.
One measure of comedy's pleasure might be how often you recount the best bits after leaving the theater. Shrek is loaded with the sort of set pieces, both hysterical and satisfyingly amusing, you'll irk friends with.
Those of us charmed by the original Shrek and its ability to mix fairy-tale sweetness with some hilariously grown-up cleverness will leave disappointed. Much of this feels like a retread, a cash cow without enough ideas to justify its existence.
There's never the sense of a movie begging for laughs by throwing in anachronisms. The jokes are organic to the movie, to its sly and slightly caustic worldview, and they don't stop coming, from start to finish.
There's no disguising the fact that Shrek the Third has come down with a bad case of sequelitis. You know the symptoms: Lots of razzle-dazzle to distract from the hole at the center of the story. You know, the place where fresh ideas should be.
It makes the mistake of thinking slapstick action is funny for its own sake. True, characters zooming and bouncing around are easy to write because no creative invention is required to set them in motion. But so what?
The charm has evaporated. Cinephiles will enjoy some of the in-jokes (watching an awful play, one character cracks, "This is worse than Love Letters"). But then, if you're a cinephile, why would you bother with this?
Director Chris Miller and the credited writers are determined that if these films are to be a collection of riffs and gags, with a sweet afterthought for a finale, then they ought to be very good. And, largely, these are.
Four words say all that needs to be said about Shrek the Third: more of the same. The problem is, what seems fresh and pleasing the first time through starts to feel a little stale by the time we've gone through it three times.