The trouble with making fun of cliches is that if you keep doing it long enough you end up becoming one yourself. That, at any rate, is the Evil Fate that seems to have befallen the Shrek franchise, whose third outing is every bit as banal and predictable as the Disney features it attempts to lampoon. Oh, Shrek and co. are still trying to be as non-Disney as possible - fair damsels are still kicking ass; fairy tale characters are still making wisecracks and the hero is still, well, an ogre - but the point is that they're trying to be non-Disney, it's not coming naturally. What was fresh to the point of being revelatory in the first Shrek film now feels old and used. It's not just that the jokes in this new film are thin on the ground, it's also that you can see them coming seven leagues off.
Which is not to say the new film is entirely without merit. There are a couple of hilarious scenes (involving some old rock favourites) and an amusing take on the Arthur legend, complete with a New Age Merlin (though curiously missing the sword in the stone); but the plot is flimsy to the point of incoherence, the dialogue trite, the jokes forced and the ending about the lamest thing in animation since Bambi. If the seven dwarfs were still around, they'd be walking around singing "Ho hum! ho hum! once more to work we come".
Worst of all, hard as they try to deny it, the scriptwriters have turned sentimental on us. The original Shrek film had genuine Attitude , this one feels like the work of middle aged suburbanites trying desperately to be cool. There's a point in the film where the young Arthur runs from Shrek shouting "Help! Help! I'm being chased by a monster trying to relate to me". We know exactly how he feels. When you get to the point where the most threatening thing the hero of a fairy tale is faced with is imminent fatherhood, you can't help wishing that you, too, were Far Far Away.
Hopefully, this is the end of the franchise. If I have to sit through an hour and a half of Shrek Four: Toilet Training I swear I'm going to have to go find the old torch and pitchfork.
 yes, with the capital.