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"Great amusement, spectacular visuals, and a wholesome story everyone can enjoy."
"It's newcomer Antonio Banderas who steals the show."
"There's no discounting the enthusiasm the creators bring to the table."
Shrek 2  

Cast

Shrek: Mike Myers
Donkey: Eddie Murphy
Fiona: Cameron Diaz
Puss In Boots: Antonio Banderas
King Harold: John Cleese
Queen Lillian: Julie Andrews
Prince Charming: Rupert Everett
Review May 2004

Once upon a time in a DreamWorks studio, a feature film was created, starring the unlikeliest of heroes: a big, green, ugly ogre by the name of Shrek. This highly imaginative film went on to big box office success and eventually earned the very first Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Now, three years later, the long awaited sequel arrives, depicting another adventure for the jolly green giant. After thwarting the plans of the chaotic Lord Farquaad, rescuing princess Fiona from a fire-breathing dragon, and returning from a happy honeymoon, Shrek finds himself in an awkward quagmire to be sure - a confrontation with his in-laws! From the characterizations of William Steig, "Shrek 2" once again takes us to a far away place with great amusement, spectacular visuals, and a wholesome story everyone can enjoy.

After an illustrious honeymoon, Shrek and Fiona return to the swamp they call home, hoping to settle down and live happily ever after. But shortly after their return, they receive a whimsical telegram from the Kingdom of Far Far Away. It's an invitation to celebrate their wedded bliss with Fiona's parents, King Harold and Queen Lillian, who are oblivious to their magical romance and the reality of ogre-hood. Skeptical about how they will be accepted, Shrek begrudgingly tags along with Fiona and Donkey to meet his in-laws. It's a long journey and one that is made longer by Donkey's inability to remain silent. In particular, his incessant "Are we there yet?" montage.

Nevertheless, the newlyweds finally arrive at Far Far Away, a magical place akin to Beverly Hills with many fairy tale homes and celebrities. In the middle of a welcoming celebration, they pull up to Fiona's parent's castle and proceed to hit the red carpet. But the celebration is cut short upon their shocking appearance. Though Fiona's mother is able to keep an open mind, her father is less accepting of his new ogre-in-law. In fact, he is so bothered by the notion of Shrek as his son-in-law that he hires a hit man (Puss In Boots) to take him out. Complicating matters even more is the mischievous work of the Fairy Godmother, whose son, Prince Charming, was supposed to be the one to rescue Fiona from the castle. Not Shrek.

With the all the negativity surrounding his reception, Shrek begins to doubt his love with Fiona. And he wonders if it would be better to transform himself into a human and become what everyone wants him to be. This path leads him to the factory of the Fairy Godmother and a potion entitled "Happily Ever After." But will it live up to its name? Will he and Fiona reunite and become accepted by her parents? Or will King Harold and the Fairy Godmother succeed in joining Fiona with Prince Charming?

One of the primary reasons the original "Shrek" was so successful was its ability to defy expectations and break the confines of traditional fairy tale lore. In other words, an ogre wasn't supposed to rescue a sleeping beauty, an ogre wasn't supposed to be a protagonist, and a princess wasn't supposed to be an ogress?forever. But that's the beauty of Shrek. It's unpredictability. And fortunately, the creators of "Shrek" know this, applying the same capricious mantra to all sorts of fairy tales, famous films, and pop culture. Whether it be a fairy godmother acting as the villain, a prince charming who reeks with high maintenance, or a cross dressing puppet in Pinocchio; Nothing in the Shrek world is kept sacred, allowing for many moments of outrageous buffoonery.

Visually, there's plenty to keep your eyes busy frame-by-frame. You'll see re-enactments of "The Lord of the Rings," "Ghostbusters," and "Spiderman," cameos galore, Sir Justin Timberlake, coffee from Farbucks, shopping malls that house Abercrombie and Witch and Saxxon Fifth Avenue, an ugly stepsister with the voice of Larry King, and a fashion critic that looks eerily similar to Joan Rivers. It's a visual and audible delight. And the animation is so colorful and crisp that if I were a dentist I could determine whether or not Shrek had any cavities. The visual effects team, led by Ken Bielenberg, kick it up a notch with expert detail from Shrek's translucent skin, facial muscles, realistic hair, and the orange fur of Puss in Boots, especially when wet. But to recognize the effort involved in this project, you need look no further than the crowd sequence, when Fiona and Shrek first arrive at Far Far Away. Each character is unique, reacting in a different way, focused on different points of interest. This is ground breaking animation.

Of course, the original cast and crew are back to their old tricks. Mike Myers embodies Shrek with his recognizable brogue, Eddie Murphy's comedic genius shines through in his personification of Donkey, and Cameron Diaz returns as the carefree, yet strong-minded Fiona. However, in this installment, it's newcomer Antonio Banderas who steals the show. As Puss In Boots, Banderas makes light of his days as Zorro, epitomizing the swashbuckling cat with unabashed humor. And you'll absolutely love the way he mesmerizes victims before he attacks. Adding to the list of recognizable and capable talent is Rupert Everett as the cheesy Prince Charming, John Cleese as the single minded King Harold, Julie Andrews as Queen Lillian, and Jennifer Saunders (from "Absolutely Fabulous") as the Fairy Godmother.

Thematically, the film works. In the first installment, Shrek learns how to love himself while in the sequel he learns how to love Fiona. But the sequel falters a little bit. And the method in which Shrek goes about overcoming his father-in-law's antagonism, the vengeful Fairy Godmother, and his internal insecurities is leisurely at best. In fact, there is very little action and heroism outside of a brief jaunt into the inner workings of the Fairy Godmother's factory. Contrast that with first film, where Shrek confronts a mob intent on maiming him, he rescues Fiona after battling a nefarious dragon, and he defeats a contingency of Farquaad's soldiers worthy of a WWF smack down. But here, instead of boldly leaping into action, Shrek's role is relegated to sympathetic oaf, of wanting to recapture Fiona's heart and obtain the affection of his newly acquainted in-laws. And because of this, the film stagnates a third of the way in and struggles to pick up the pace.

Overall, "Shrek 2" is an enjoyable, laughable adventure with enough visual jokes and fun to keep everyone's attention for the duration. The animation is first rate, the supporting characters like Puss In Boots are refreshing, and like many good fairy tales and fables, the story has a positive message. Though much of the humor and inside jokes are aimed toward adults (or those old enough to remember "Sanford and Son" or "Alien" etc.) and the story lacks some of the valorous undertakings that gave the first film a vibrant and energetic edge, there's no discounting the enthusiasm the creators bring to the table. For all his ogre-like qualities, Shrek remains a relatable character whose heart is noble and unsurprisingly human.



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