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Dustin's Review

Shrek 2 (2004)
3 Stars

Directed by Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, Conrad Vernon
Voices: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, John Cleese, Julie Andrews, Jennifer Saunders, Rupert Everett, Conrad Vernon, Larry King, Joan Rivers
2004 – 93 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for some crude humor and suggestive content).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, May 17, 2004.

It would be tall order to match the incendiary exuberance and freshness of 2001's "Shrek," one of the best animated films ever made, and so what originality "Shrek 2" lacks in the plot department it amicably makes up it in its sheer quality of writing. "Shrek 2" blazes across the screen with mature, rapid-fire wit; genuine warmth; and rainbow-colored visual beauty, all while being an ideal viewing choice for children and adults, all of whom will love it but get different things from it. As in the original, this sly sequel offers up a bevy of jokes that will fly right over the heads of children while having older audiences in stitches. There is more basic, kid-friendly humor to be had, of course, but directors Adam Adamson, Kelly Asbury, and Conrad Vernon never dumb the proceedings down or condescend to anyone who might be watching.

Having just returned from their honeymoon, content-and-in-love ogres Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) have barely begun to settle into their new lives together when word comes that Fiona's royal parents, King Harold (John Cleese) and Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews), wish to meet Fiona's new beau at once. With the unstoppable talking Donkey (Eddie Murphy) in tow, Shrek and Fiona make the voyage to the land of Far Far Away and are met with discontent from her parents, who believe Fiona has sold herself short by marrying Shrek and remaining an ogre. In a misguided attempt to change his daughter's fate, King Harold hires the self-explanatory Puss-in-Boots (Antonio Banderas) to do away with Shrek, all the while attempting to push Prince Charming (Rupert Everett)—with the help of his scheming mother, The Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders)—closer to Fiona.

"Shrek 2" runs 93 minutes, but it seems no more than 45. The picture is quick and pleasing, over in a flash and so enchanting from start to finish that it could have—and maybe should have—gone on another twenty minutes or so. What is on screen is delicious to look at, and what is said by the characters is usually a treasure trove of sharp comic gems, but there is a great deal of unchartered territory left to explore by the time the end credits have rolled. Set in a world inhabited by every fairy tale creation ever imagined, the possibilities in mixing them up into a narrative whole are endless. Instead, the film opts for these characters to make passing cameo appearances, not allowing for them to play substantial roles. Likewise, its setting of Far Far Away—a none-to-subtle fairy tale version of Hollywood—is extravagantly funny, with movie star mansions belonging to the likes of Cinderella and Rapunzel, but only fleetingly developed and dealt with.

The central premise, meanwhile, is the most lacking aspect of "Shrek 2"—it is low-key, basic, and in many instances retreads some of the same topics of its predecessor. The question of whether Princess Fiona should live out her days as an ogre? Shrek's doubts toward if he is good enough for her? A race against time before a curse on Fiona takes effect? These were the main themes of "Shrek," and are just replayed in "Shrek 2" under different circumstances, as opposed to delving into completely new and novel ideas. At the very least, there had to have been another moral to teach than the commonplace "Be True to Yourself" lesson in every other motion picture of its kind.

Where "Shrek 2" avoids disappointment is in its every other facet. This is a truly magical movie, one that earns its laughs while staying true to its characters and never failing to inspire with one ingenious, smile-inducing moment after the next. For example, The Fairy Godmother is to appear every time a person sheds a tear, but when Shrek attempts to reach her he gets her visual automated answering service. In another scene, a fancy royal ball is, in true Hollywood style, treated like an E! channel red carpet pre-show, complete with clothes-obsessed Joan Rivers introducing the arrivals. When King Harold sets out to hire someone to kill Shrek, he ends up at the Poison Apple bar, a direct reference of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," whose customers include the most unpredictable of fairy tale characters. And an unexpected spoof of the "Cops" television program has to be seen to be believed. To mention every inventive scene in "Shrek 2," and its every film reference, would be to describe all 93 minutes; this is a film whose rewarding details should be left for viewers to discover on their own.

If "Shrek 2" doesn't quite match the unqualified success of "Shrek," it remains a more than worthy follow-up, destined to go down as one of this summer's grandest family entertainments. The new characters, including the rascally Puss-in-Boots and the force-to-be-reckoned-with Fairy Godmother, hold their own against the old, and all voice talents—Eddie Murphy's (2003's "Daddy Day Care") Donkey is easily his most accomplished role in ten years—are exemplary. The classic songs used, including David Bowie's "Changes" (covered by Butterfly Boucher) and Lipps, Inc.'s "Funkytown," also add to the film in a big way by cleverly and emotionally commenting on the action rather than being thoughtless excuses just to sell soundtrack albums. "Shrek 2" is smarter and funnier than the majority of animated features, and worth multiple viewings in order to catch all of its imaginative background in-jokes. This film, like so distressingly few sequels tend to be, actually has a reason for existing, and the passion and amazing technology of computer animation with which it was brought to fruition is apparent in every single frame. "Shrek 2" is an irresistible winner.
© 2004 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman