Throwing a monster’s ball 

After the rousing and not altogether unexpected success of "Shrek 2," which ranks behind only "Titanic" and "Star Wars" as the third highest-grossing film ever, co-directors Chris Miller and Raman Hui and producer Aron Warner relied on a tried-and-true principle in preparing their latest installment, "Shrek the Third": Bigger is better.

While franchise mainstays Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy will once again take center stage as, respectively, the jolly green giant and his loquacious sidekick, Donkey, never before have they enjoyed the company of such a large and varied supporting cast. Joining them for the third go-round will be a host of savvy newcomers, including Justin Timberlake and former Monty Python player Eric Idle.

"We have a lot of new performers: Amy Poehler as Snow White, Amy Sedaris as Cinderella, Cheri Oteri as Sleeping Beauty and Maya Rudolph as Rapunzel," Miller says. "They have great voices and they make great characters. That goes for the villains, too. Ian McShane is great as Captain Hook, so we’re really expanding the fairy-tale world and tying in all the different stories.

"As for Justin, he was a joy, a really natural comedian, but a strong actor, too. The more we got together with him, the more his character developed in line with his comedic sensibilities. We finished in a really great place."

Although Miller, Hui and Warner admit that their latest foray into the land of Far, Far Away would never have been possible six years ago, when the "Shrek" franchise was born and animation technology at DreamWorks was still in its infancy, they insist that story remains their top priority — not the increasingly vivid visual effects honed by their team of detail-obsessed animators. Having learned from their experience with the first two films, they believe that figuring out what would work for the latest "Shrek" was simply a matter of instinct.

"If it doesn’t make us laugh, it doesn’t stay in the movie," Warner says. "There’s stuff that makes us laugh that appeals to our adult side and stuff that appeals to our completely juvenile sense of humor, so we just go with our gut. I think it would be awful to sit there and go ‘kid joke here,’ ‘adult joke here.’ In a way I’d like to say we do calculate that, ‘cause it would make us seem smart, but we just do what works."

"We’re aware if we are crossing the line or dumbing things down too much," adds Miller.

Miller acknowledges the weighty expectations for "Shrek the Third" — "If we worried about them, we’d be paralyzed," he says — but he professes unwavering faith in his production team, which he likens to "a well-oiled machine." (And yes, they will be back at work on a fourth film soon enough, after production wraps on "Shrek the Halls," an upcoming Christmas special for ABC.) Warner, for one, seems similarly confident, arguing that the "Shrek" movies will always reach their core audience as long as they stay smart, fresh and unpretentious.

"I think one of the things that does appeal to kids is the sense that we don’t talk down to them," he says. "It’s not who we are as story-tellers. We do sometimes walk the line a little bit, and if we screen the film and sense that people aren’t getting something, we’ll back off and make it a little clearer. We try to just be normal and tell the best story possible.

"That’s the big challenge, to keep it fresh and keep it new. We just started working on the story, and I think what we have is great. It’s incredibly compelling and I feel really good about it."

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