Director : Andrew Adamson
Screenplay : J. David Stem, Joe Stillman, David N. Weiss (based on character created by William Steig)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2004
Stars : Mike Myers (Shrek), Eddie Murphy (Donkey), Cameron Diaz (Princess Fiona), Julie Andrews (Queen Lillian), Antonio Banderas (Puss In Boots), John Cleese (King Harold), Rupert Everett (Prince Charming), Jennifer Saunders (Fairy Godmother), Aron Warner (Wolf)
Shrek 2 picks up right where the original Shrek left off, and the way in which it dives immediately into a bland music video-like montage scored to a Counting Crows song doesn’t bode well for this inevitable sequel to 2001’s summer smash hit. Yet, it turns out to be one of Shrek 2’s few missteps, and from there it nimbly dives forward into a familiar, but funny story of matrimonial turbulence and interfamilial discord … with a few twisted fairy tale twists, of course.
The titular ogre Shrek, he of the big green mug and funnel ears (voiced by Mike Myers), is now happily married to Princess Fiona (Cameron Dias), who, you may recall, was a beautiful princess who was cursed to turn into an ogre at night. Having now embraced her inner and outer ogreishness 24/7, she and Shrek are free to live out their own warped version of the fairy tale happily-ever-after ending … that is, until Fiona’s parents, the King and Queen of Far Far Away, decree that their daughter must return home and present her new husband. Being an ogre all his life who’s been chased by more than a few pitchfork-wielding mobs, Shrek sees trouble a’brewin’, but Fiona, as most people do, assume the best in her parents, insisting that they will like Shrek.
So, Shrek and Fiona, with Shrek’s irascible and relentless sidekick Donkey (Eddie Murphy) in tow, head off to Far Far Away, which is envisioned as a fairy tale satire of Hollywood, complete with fast food joints, fancy boutiques, and a sign in the hills. Not surprisingly, King Harold (John Cleese) and Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews) are less than pleased to see their daughter’s permanent transformation into a lumpy green ogre and her ogre husband, particularly Harold, who’s a typically overdemanding father-in-law. The scene in which Shrek and Fiona get out of the carriage and a pigeon that has been released to celebrate their arrival is so shocked that he smacks into the side of the castle and literally falls dead at their feet is emblematic of the Shrek films’ wicked sense of humor—take a slap at anything that’s cherished.
Part of the problem, it turns out, is Fairy Godmother (Absolutely Fabulous’ Jennifer Saunders), who in any other movie would be a saving grace. But, since it is the mission of this film, as its predecessor, to invert everything we expect from a fairy tale, Fairy Godmother is a scheming, backstabbing, corrupt troublemaker who secretly engineers the destruction of Shrek and Fiona’s marriage so that Fiona can wind up with the “proper” person, the handsome and vapid Prince Charming (Rupert Everett). Fairy Godmother presides over an enormous factory that manufactures magic potions in bulk, she cheerfully hands out business cards, and, when called on, she appears in a magic bubble version of an answering machine; in other words, she’s a perfectly distilled satirical jab at corporate ruthlessness.
The only other major addition to the film’s cast is also the best: Puss in Boots, voiced by Antonio Banderas doing a hilarious riff on both his Latin heartthrob persona and the Zorro character he played a few years ago. Puss is originally hired by King Harold to assassinate Shrek, but that doesn’t quite work out, so he ends up joining Shrek and Donkey. This introduces a new tension, as Donkey feels slighted that Shrek has a new sidekick; “Sorry, the position of annoying talking animal is filled,” he declares. Donkey, as before, gets most of the laughs in the film because of Eddie Murphy’s fleet-of-foot and nonstop wisecracking, but Puss gets more than his share, as well, particularly in the way the filmmakers score the perfect balancing act between the cat’s suave dignity and his feline necessities (hacking up furballs, constantly licking himself, etc.). And, while Puss is pretty mean with a sword, it turns out that his greatest weapon is lowering his head, putting back his ears, and looking up with the biggest, roundest eyes imaginable, thus rendering his enemy defenseless with his sorrow-eyed cuteness.
As with the first film, Shrek 2 is marvelous on a visual level. If anything, the technology and techniques of computer animation have improved in the past three years, giving the images even more detail, depth, and texture. The characters are all incredibly expressive in their facial and body movements, matching nicely with the well-known voices behind them. Shrek has become such a familiar character already that there was the danger that he would be too familiar, but the filmmakers keep him and the others consistently interesting.
It’s funny how we can get emotionally involved with a grumpy green ogre, but Shrek is so likable that it’s hard not to cheer for him as he races to the castle to thwart Prince Charming from stealing Fiona out from under him (the fact that the scene is cut to a fabulous reworking of Bonnie Tyler’s thumping ’80s epic “Holding Out for a Hero” doesn’t hurt). Shrek 2 may not be quite as good as the original Shrek, if only because the first film skewered so many targets with such precision that it left little undone, but it’s still one of those rare sequels that makes you glad to revisit old characters and continue the story.
Copyright ©2004 James Kendrick
All images copyright ©2004 DreamWorks