DreamWorks rekindles the “Shrek” franchise (and conveniently plugs a holiday book) with this slick and almost insanely fast-paced special. Like the movie sequels, “Shrek the Halls” keeps the gags flying, helping to obscure the fact that relatively few connect. Drawn from the deeply rooted tradition of characters discovering the meaning of Christmas, this passable half-hour pales, alas, next to “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the venerable classic about another not-so-jolly green animated fellow that ABC will run alongside the new special.
Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) just wants to spend some quiet time with the kids and ignore Christmas, but, after exchanges with Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz), it becomes clear his strategy won’t fly. He attempts to finish a crash course in Christmas 101 so as not to disappoint the family, only to have his plan for a sedate gathering explode into a raucous party attended by all the fairy-tale personalities that populate this world.
Trying to capture the holiday spirit, various attendees take a stab at delivering their own versions of “‘The Night Before Christmas,” with the salsa-flavored rendition by Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) yielding the only laugh-out-loud moments, including a swashbuckling Santa who carves a Zorro-inspired “S” into the walls.
Directed by Gary Trousdale (who shares writing credit with three others), “Shrek the Halls” exhibits the by-now-obligatory pattern in kid-oriented fare of spraying jokes into the ether willy-nilly, apparently fearing that the aud’s attention might lag for a moment, even during a mere half-hour special. As such, it’s loud and only marginally coherent, but, for a made-for-TV version of a theatrical blockbuster, it looks utterly polished — no small feat, as DreamWorks can doubtless attest after its experiment with “Father of the Pride.”
Strictly as a marriage of convenience, the mutual benefits here are obvious: DreamWorks enjoys primetime exposure to ensure that Shrek stays fresh in children’s minds between movies, while ABC enlivens hoary holiday perennials like the Grinch and the “Peanuts” gang with a more current favorite.
In that respect, “Shrek the Halls” does capture one obvious meaning of Christmas — but it’s the element found at shopping malls that good ol’ Charlie Brown lamented, not the spiritual variety.