Most critics found the latest installment of Shrek to be not quite up to the happily ever afters of the first two, except for The New York Times, where A.O. Scott said:
[T]he movie’s liveliest humor and sharpest drama take root in decidedly grown-up situations. Shrek’s anxious, less-than-overjoyed reaction to the prospect of becoming a parent is not something most youngsters will relate to. (In one brilliantly executed sequence he has a nightmare of being besieged by hundreds of gurgling, saucer-eyed ogre babies.) And the depiction of Cinderella (Amy Sedaris), Rapunzel (Maya Rudolph) and Snow White (Amy Poehler) as bored, catty moms is likely to tickle fans of “Little Children,” a group that I hope doesn’t include any actual little children.
Whether these bits would seem as fresh or incisive if they were not embedded in a noisy cartoon remotely based on a beloved picture book is an open question. The strategy of the “Shrek” movies has always been to appeal to the easy, smirky cynicism of the parents while whetting their children’s appetite for crude humor and plush merchandise. “Shrek 2” pulled off the trick in a way that struck me as coarse and overdone, turning travestied fairy tales into the stuff of hackneyed Hollywood satire. But “Shrek the Third” seems at once more energetic and more relaxed, less desperate to prove its cleverness and therefore to some extent smarter.
Cinemablend's Joshua Tyler got nicely meta:
The problem is, Shrek the Third doesn’t take its own advice. It isn’t itself. The first two movies were family films with an adult edge. This third one is a watered down kids’ movie through and through, and the script plays out like something written for one of those assembly line produced direct-to-DVD sequels Disney is fond of releasing to fill up Wal-Mart bargain bins. Except this isn’t Disney, this is the franchise that makes fun of Disney for doing things exactly like that. Instead of sticking to what made it great, Shrek has become a part of the homogenized mediocrity it was railing against in the first place.
Perhaps Nick Rodgers of Springfield, Illinois' State Journal-Register summed it up best:
The series has jumped the Shrek.