Since the first appearance of the big green ogre with the odd Scottish accent back in 2001, Shrek has achieved an enviable place as one of the best loved and most successful animated characters in recent Hollywood history.

Both films to date have achieved that rare feat of appealing as much to adults as to the kids, creating that scarcest of all cinematic phenomena – a truly pan-generational movie.

With everything from fart jokes and puns through to movie parodies and political satire, Shrek put the wind up the animated film industry good and proper, with pretty much every major animated release of the last five years desperately attempting to mimic its winning formula. The fact that so very, very few have managed to get the combination quite right is testimony to the skill – not to mention the wit – of Shrek’s makers.

The sheer difficulty of getting the balance right is also cause for a small amount of alarm for this third film in the series, as the general rule in Hollywood is that the third film in a franchise is usually the weakest – be it The Godfather Part III, The Return of the Jedi, or Spider-Man 3. This will also be the first Shrek movie without director Andrew Adamson at the helm, now that he’s gone off to head up the rather more po-faced Chronicles of Narnia series. Will his successor be able to maintain the high standards of the first two?

Of course, movie superstitions and faith in the influence of the director are not necessarily to be taken seriously. After all, the third film in the James Bond series was Goldfinger, which many still argue as being the best, and the changes of director on the Harry Potter and Jason Bourne franchises have, if anything, helped to improve the series as they have progressed through the fresh approach a new director can bring. And, of course, with an animated comedy like the Shrek films, the most important aspect is not the director, but the jokes and the technology.

This time out we again get the joy of the original cast, from Mike Myers’ Shrek through Cameron Diaz’s Princess Fiona, Eddie Murphey’s Donkey and Antonio Banderas’ Puss in Boots, and once again the grumpy protagonist’s desire to be left alone in his swamp forms the core of the story. With John Cleese’s King Harold fallen ill, Shrek finds himself in the tricky position of being next in line to the throne. Having spent much of the last two films trying to thwart the efforts of Rupert Everett’s Prince Charming to secure the crown, this time Shrek has to find an alternative – in the shape of the rebellious Artie, voiced by Diaz’s former real-world boyfriend Justin Timberlake.

With all sorts of hijinks along the way, including appearances by yet more storybook characters, like Ian McShane’s Captain Hookand and Eric Idle’s Merlin, there is plenty of room for the kind of humour we have all come to love from this series, and Shrek the Third delivers wonderfully. Bucking the trend of third films in franchises amply, little wonder that there is already a fourth film on the cards – not to mention a half-hour TV special. If every children’s film was like the Shrek movies, it’s a safe bet that parents would have a much easier time of it.