There's a term I use to describe animated movie franchises that start off very strong and get stale after many sequels. I call it the "Ice Age syndrome" whose name comes from Blue Sky's famous "Ice Age" franchise that started back in 2002. Several characteristics define the "Ice Age syndrome". For one, the animated film has to start off with one really great first film. It has to do well with critics and audiences and as a bonus, get some award recognition as well. Next, it has to have at least one or maybe two decent sequels. They can range from being either amazing to average, but they have to be well-liked amongst the public. And finally, they all have a key animation director that helms the first film and the first few sequels before they step down to take on other projects. There were a few animated franchises that have suffered this syndrome. There was the aforementioned "Ice Age" franchise, the ongoing "Despicable Me", and the "Shrek" franchise. When the first film from DreamWorks came out in 2001, it was a huge hit even winning the inaugural Oscar for Best Animated Feature. The sequel was even bigger which got huge praise and made even more money. Then came "Shrek the Third", and in my opinion, this is where the series went sour. To cut to the chase, this film is bad.
In the kingdom of Far Far Away, the ogre Shrek (Mike Meyers) and his wife Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) have been filling in royal duties for King Harold (John Cleese) and Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews) after the latter falls ill with the help of Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas). Shrek, however, is uncomfortable with the job and wishes to return to the swamp after this is over. However, the king starts to die and tells Shrek about another heir to the throne named Arthur (Justin Timberlake) who can take over duties as king if Shrek doesn't want to. After the king dies, Shrek sets off to find Arthur with Puss and Donkey in hopes to bring him back to make him the new king while coming to terms that he is soon to be a father as Fiona tells him before he leaves about her pregnancy. Meanwhile, Prince Charming (Rupert Everet) is still furious at Shrek ruining his plans as king and plans vengeance by gathering the villains at the Poison Apple to help take over Far Far Away and dispose of Shrek and Fiona once and for all.
It's a shame that this film couldn't hold a candle to its predecessors because the previous films were very good. The first film was a good set up and while I don't know if it holds up entirely well as its reputation suggests, I still think it's a fun film with great jokes and memorable characters. The second film was even better in my eyes with a better villain, more hilarious jokes, an expansion of the world, and lots of more new memorable characters. I hadn't seen this film in thirteen years, the last time being when it came out in 2007. I was six when it came out and even then, I didn't like it. Looking back all these years later, my thoughts still stand. It's bad. It could be because director Andrew Adamson decided not to return to the director's chair as he was too busy working on "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" and his magic touch that made the first films special is sorely missing in this film. Right from the opening shot, I knew we were in trouble. The story is for the most part rather clumsy. There was not much expansion to the world the last film set up so well and it sorely lacks the heart as well. I remember the heartwarming scenes that made the last two films so great and despite the film having a pretty nice moment between Shrek and Arthur, it wasn't enough to save this film from the bad comedy. Speaking of which, the humor was amazingly unfunny. I think a perfect example of how bad the comedy was is the scene where King Harold is dying. They exaggerate his coughs and fake death pauses and it was just awkward to watch, and to make things more awkward they play "Live and Let Die" by Wings at his funeral. While I love Paul McCartney and the song as I had the chance to see him perform live, it was just so out of place and meanspirited. Also, Donkey talking about high school and college in this film just gave me questions rather than made me laugh. Even the climax isn't as huge or memorable compared to the last film which had so many memorable moments. As far as the animation goes, it's definitely not bad for 2007. The characters definitely got better from their last appearance in 2004, but given how the film was a huge step backward in terms of story, it doesn't have the chance to show off. It was a real shame. The biggest problem I had with the film is the characters. I couldn't really relate to Shrek very often in this film compared to the last two as his worry about becoming a father isn't fleshed out enough and he comes off very selfish throughout. Arthur is okay, but Timberlake's performance was definitely below average. I could tell he came a long way in terms of acting since his performance as Branch in the "Trolls" franchises was a huge step above this. Though the worst character of the film bar none was Charming. The reason why is because he's not a very threatening villain. The second film knew perfectly to put him as a side villain next to Fairy Godmother as while she had true menace and evil in her, Charming came off more like a pompous brat. It's why I couldn't take him seriously in this film as he's not very threatening due to how whiny and bratty he comes off. Also, his love of theater in this film and wanting to kill Shrek in a play was simply weird and out of character for him. I guess the characters I did like seeing in this film were Puss and Donkey. They got some good laughs and had great chemistry together. Fiona was good seeing again, but her character was unfortunately sidelined in the film.
In general, "Shrek the Third" was a miscalculated sequel. The story was clumsy and not funny, the animation was better but didn't get to impress, and the characters mostly didn't work throughout the film. It's a shame that this film essentially ended up being as bad as it did because "Shrek 2" is seriously a great animated sequel. This doesn't even come close to holding a candle to it. My advice is to just skip this sequel. You'd be better out watching something else than in watching this.