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Shrek the ThirdShrek the Third on DVD

Dreamworks' third dip at the animated ogre well is worth seeing for several reasons, though it's also the weakest of the three Shrek movies.

This time around, Shrek and Fiona are still living in Far Far Away and her father, the king (John Cleese), is on his deathbed. An heir is needed, obviously, and it appears that, since Shrek is married to the royal daughter, it's his gig for the taking.

"Ogreat!" Being a king is the last thing Shrek wants. He has far too low a BS threshold for that job - as witnessed by a major appearance he makes before movers and shakers of the kingdom that, well, doesn't go off quite as successfully as everyone may have wanted.

Fiona's a little more hip to being queen; she was brought up that way. But even she has more important things in mind than playing monarch all day: it's time for her and her big green lug to think about raising a family, about listening to the pitter patter (well, maybe the "clump, clump, clump") of little ogre feet.

And of course we have Prince Charming from Shrek 2, who thinks his is the logical bum to sit on the throne but who is now reduced to performing dinner theater and whining about the unfairness of life.

What to do?

Ah, but there's one other heir - fortunately for the unhappy Shrek. His name is Arthur and he lives, well, far far away, prompting Shrek and his little donkey and pussycat friends to partake on an epic journey to find Artie and finagle a way to get him to come back to Far Far Away and take his rightful (since Shrek doesn't want it) place on the throne.

This takes us to a quite funny scene set in what the producers envision as a high school of that magical age, with its requisite modern joke references (that work, for the most part), where Shrek and party discover the nerdy Arthur and try to convince him to return with them.

All isn't sweetness and light back home while this is going on. Prince Charming has imprisoned Fiona and her fellow storybook Princesses (Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel) as part of his scheme to get the throne for himself. Are they going to just sit there and take it, or is there some inner strength to these ladies that's just waiting to be revealed?

"Shrek The Third" lacks the originality of the original film (and even its first sequel), but despite that it's still very worth your while. The situations are a little trite this time around, but there are enough laughs and pop culture moments that help to make up for any shortcomings in the writing. For every fart joke, there's a nice bit that isn't quite so juvenile, enough of them that they also make up for the crude humor that creeps in periodically.

And then there's the animation.  PDI and Dreamworks have pushed the technological envelope in competition with the good folks at Pixar, and each movie becomes more amazing to behold. Shrek the Third is quite simply dazzling to watch. The cast moves realistically, the characters exhibit real depth (not so much in their personalities as in their rendering) and the backgrounds and "sets" look positively glorious. Even if there were no plot, Shrek the Third would be worth watching.

We received the widescreen DVD (it's also available in Pan&Scan and HD DVD), and the picture quality is superb. We watched sections in native 480i, 480p and upconverted right to 1080p and were pleased from bottom to top. Colors are rich and beautiful, the contrast is superb and the overall image is extremely pleasing. We wish Dreamworks would abandon its HD DVD-only policy and let those who've embraced Blu-ray enjoy the picture the way it was meant to be, but so be it.

Audio, available in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround (no dts, alas), is also very good. The characters come through loudly and clearly, while the music and effects are used well across all of the home theater's audio channels. This may not be a reference quality soundtrack, but the only flies on it are animated ones that buzz happily from your speakers.

You also get an abundance of extras on the single disc presentation, including an interesting look at the technology of Shrek (though it's also a blatant commercial for HP and AMD) and a featurette featuring the cast of characters.

And there's a selection of deleted scenes and "bloopers", Artie's Yearbook, Shrek's Guide to Parenthood, "Learn to Donkey Dance" and more.

Shrek the Third, from Dreamworks Home Entertainment
92 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1, 16x9 TV compliant), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring the voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Justin Timberlake, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, Rupert Everett, John Cleese
Produced by Aron Warner,
written by Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman and Chris Miller & Aron Warner, directed by Chris Miller

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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