"Shrek" was always more for the parents than the tykes we bring along with us to the multiplex. We sit with the kids, and they watch us giggle at this cheap shot at Disney or that riff on high schoolers. And the teeny target audience scratches its head and wonders what the joke is.
For instance, in "Shrek the Third," the ogre and his henchmen drop in on a Worcestershire's fairytale high school, full of teens blurting out, "I was like ... and he was like ..."
Dudes in the parking lot all tumble out of a smoky carriage that is their version of a "That '70s Show" van, where the teens in tights have been burning a little frankincense and myrrh.
A pot joke in a "kid's" cartoon? Funny. Or what passes for it here.
"Shrek the Third" sees everybody's favorite green ogre (Mike Myers) facing married life, family responsibilities and a possible addition to the brood. Fiona's dad, the king, is croaking. And not just because he's a frog. That means somebody has to take the throne.
It won't be the Queen (Julie Andrews). It apparently won't be Fiona (Cameron Diaz), even though she's the blood heir. In the land of Far Far Away, it's Shrek who has the heavy head that will wear the crown.
And he's not up to it. So he, the donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss'n Boots (Antonio Banderas) set off to find the next in line, a teenager named Arthur. A bit patriarchal? You bet.
Arthur, voiced by Justin Timberlake, is a Worcestershire High School loser. He'll need to shape up if he's to take the weight off Shrek's shoulders. He'll need to be kept in the dark about Shrek's motives, too.
Meanwhile, in a plot straight out of the animated flop "Happily N'Ever After," Prince Charming is rounding up the villains of the fairytale world (Captain Hook, Wicked Witches of the West, East, etc.) to stage a coup. Charming (Rupert Everett) is determined to break out of the dinner theater trap his career has fallen into.
"Once upon a time, people decided that we were all losers," he shouts, to Rumplestiltskin and the gang. Are they going to just sit back and take it? No!
Eric Idle voices a cameo as Merlin, Ian McShane is unrecognizable as Cap'n Hook. But there's an amusing plotline involving efforts by Fiona and her gal-pals Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Rapunzel to foil the coup. Comics Amy Poehler, Amy Sedaris, Cheri Oteri and Maya Rudolph poke a pumpkin-sized hole in the whole princess mania gripping America's female 5-and-unders.
The smart-mouthed Gingerbread man sees his pastry-filled life flash before his eyes (mixing bowl to oven to legs eaten off to "Six Million Dollar Man" rebirth). Eddie Murphy sings "Cat's in the Cradle" and he and Banderas duet on "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)."
Many of the best gags in these films - the ones not involving a bodily function - are written, words that the supposed target audience can't yet read and won't yet get. So, when the frog king (John Cleese) finishes his prolonged and funny death scene and is buried in a shoebox in the first minutes of "Shrek the Third," your average 7-year-old won't find it hilarious that they bury him in a shoebox - from Ye Olde Foot Locker.
The kids will get the potty jokes. The Gingerbread man could use an adult diaper. Diapers in general, and what goes into them, are a big source of kiddie humor here.
The animation's better, but the writing has fallen off, as if Dreamworks' Jeffrey Katzenberg has lost the fury at Disney that drove the screen-written giggles in the first film.
Still, it's fitfully amusing, and only 80 minutes long. But after it's over, make sure you have the "Just say no" talk with your children. Frankincense is, they tell us, a "platform" drug.