Once upon a time, in a studio far far away,
a producer took a chance on an animated film called Shrek.
Despite some troubles getting to the screen, the people
loved this movie, so much that the producer thought there
should be another. In the deep dark woods of direct-to-video,
successful cartoons got sequels that were devoid of artistry
and sometimes even heart. But the mighty Shrek deserved
better, thought the producer, especially since the licensing
deals the first time around weren't that great.
(Notice how the lovable ogre has moved
up in the world? Only Fanboys might catch this, but the
first time around, the few Shrek toys were made by Todd
McFarlane; now there's a full line from Hasbro. Guess Dreamworks
didn't like their characters rubbing shoulders with Spawn
So movie-going audiences got Shrek 2,
and it reminded them of the first movie that they had loved
so much. Introducing new characters masks the basic sameness.
Instead of really moving the plot forward, the Shrek
franchise has already developed a formula, and hopes that
Well, it's pretty noticeable, but Jeffrey
Katzenberg and the people at Dreamworks and PDI have made
the formula awfully sparkly. If their aim is more "keep
the franchise alive" than "be original," most of Shrek
2 makes up for it in sheer entertainment.
It starts out with a nice enough twist.
Once more the pages turn through the story of Princess Fiona
(Cameron Diaz). Instead of Shrek (Mike Myers) reading it,
our narrator is Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), evidently
a little late getting to his quest. The events of the first
movie turn out to have been not just improbable but thumbing
a nose at fate, and Charming can't take that lying down.
For one thing, lying down might ruin his fantastic coif.
The only thing more dangerous than a scorned
charming prince is, of course, in-laws. Shrek, Fiona and
a shoe-horned Donkey (Eddie Murphy) travel to the Kingdom
of Far, Far Away to admit their marriage to her parents,
played in an inspired casting by John Cleese and Julie Andrews.
It's here that the cracks start to show
a bit. Far, Far Away appears to be home to all the upper
crust of fairy tale land, the better to pile on the jokes.
But if that's true, you have to wonder why the storybook
characters in the first movie didn't just go there when
exiled by Lord Farquad. Perhaps they simply couldn't afford
the shopping, as Far, Far Away clearly influenced Rodeo
Again, the digs at Disney and popular culture
run rampant through the movie. They're also a lot more specific,
stopping just short of being uncomfortable. Though The Little
Mermaid's cameo is actually pretty funny, it somehow feels
like we're being sold out when a computer-generated Joan
Rivers look-alike appears, played by Rivers herself. The
first Shrek was like a child's introduction to post-modernism
with its knowing winks; Shrek 2 has moved on to simple
commercialism. (On the other hand, Rivers might want to
consider computer generation for all her public appearances.)
Despite the dead-on accuracy of Rivers,
the rest of the characterizations actually stretch what
animation can do for an actor. Counter to the usual scheme,
the new characters don't look much like the people playing
them, though the personalities fit perfectly. Fiona's father
looks much more like Don Rickles than Cleese, for reasons
the plot actually makes clear. Little of Antonio Banderas
shows through the mask of Puss In Boots, other than a swashbuckling
spirit and the wish that he would do more comedy. However,
animators and actor have combined to create an extremely
funny character. Just as Donkey turned out to be a great
vehicle for Murphy, Puss In Boots fits Banderas like a glove.
Technologically, Shrek 2 sets a
new bar for what computer animation can do, though still
its more interested in making the unreal look real than
giving us something we haven't seen before. Charming's hair
looks real enough to touch (this is not fetish, merely observation).
And directors Andrew Adamson, Conrad Vernon and Kelly Asbury
have a flair for using intriguing camera angles to tell
all comes back down to story, and there the details just
keep falling by the wayside. The evil scheme of the Fairy
Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) doesn't stand up to much scrutiny,
though at least it provides conflict and an excuse to skewer
the musical numbers that usually show up in storybook animation.
the sake of camaraderie, Puss changes sides for the flimsiest
of reasons, setting up a pretty funny rivalry between the
cat and the donkey for role of talking animal sidekick.
When the chips are down, though, it dissipates instantly
without any real acknowledgement.
In a momentary brilliant touch, Tom Waits
appears to cameo as Captain Hook in a seedy piano bar called
The Poisoned Apple, but it turns out to be just for the
sake of a throwaway joke; later the evil pirate sings with
a much better soundtrack-selling voice. Shrek 2 wants
to appear subversive, but again, dang it, we have product
Yet the movie itself does move, and if
you'll pardon the pun, Shrek 2 is still charming.
The theme remains the same as the first, and as the story
beats also vary little, Dreamworks had best figure out somewhere
else to take Shrek and Fiona as characters. Already Shrek
3 and Shrek 4 are on the docket, and guys, we
get it: it's what's inside that counts. Now teach us something
And please include the cat in that lesson,
because man, he's hilarious.