Movie review by Greg Carlson
A carefully engineered crowd-pleaser with equal measures of jokes for children and adults, “Shrek 2” improves on the original by expanding its palette to include vivid new characters and different locations for the principal characters to visit. While the DreamWorks animation department still falls well short of the technical brilliance of Pixar’s work, “Shrek 2” features animation superior in every way to the original – despite the fact that the human characters continue to resemble plastic, single-expression action figures as opposed to breathing specimens. Ogres and donkeys look wonderful, however, and the movie’s breezy charm and lightweight plotting will most certainly translate into serious money over the course of the summer.
An opening music montage reaffirms the “accidental love” of the unlikely ogre couple united in the original “Shrek.” Shrek (Mike Meyers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) have scarcely had the opportunity to begin their life of “happily ever after” wedded bliss when messengers arrive from the Kingdom of Far Far Away. Fiona’s royal parents (John Cleese and Julie Andrews) have requested an audience with their newly-married daughter, and after some cajoling by Fiona, Shrek reluctantly agrees to meet the in-laws. Donkey (Eddie Murphy) latches on to the road trip, and following a comically protracted journey, the trio arrives in a fairy tale version of Hollywood, complete with thinly-disguised product placements and goofs on the self-absorption of Tinseltown’s inhabitants.
Writers Andrew Adamson, J. David Stern, Joe Stillman, and David N. Weiss introduce a variety of conflicts to complicate the lives of the protagonists, but the more interesting thread (dealing with how the King and Queen struggle to accept their new son-in-law) is dropped in favor of a more action-oriented storyline in which Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) pressures the King to remove Shrek from the picture so that Godmother’s son Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) can hook up with Fiona. The King employs the services of Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), but the debonair assassin’s conscience gets the best of him, and he ends up joining forces with Shrek and Donkey.
As Puss, Banderas steals the movie. Sending up his own Zorro role as well as his lover-boy image, Banderas purrs his way through the film’s sexiest part. The script capitalizes on the funny feline’s presence by developing a wary rivalry between Donkey and Puss as the two compete for Shrek’s attention. While Donkey cheerfully reminds everyone that one annoying, talking animal sidekick is plenty, the movie proves otherwise. By the conclusion, Puss has distinguished himself enough to warrant his own movie. Other classic characters, including the Gingerbread Man, the Three Blind Mice, and Pinocchio, team up to assist Shrek when things look grim.
“Shrek 2” is not without its shortcomings. Fiona disappears for long stretches, and despite her early arguments with Shrek, is rarely depicted as a fully-formed, proactive character. That the King would so willingly agree to have his son in law murdered (ogre or not) is largely unmotivated – Godmother’s threats are not enough to explain it. It also would have been nice to see Shrek and Fiona spend more time together. By now, the movie version of “Shrek” bears little resemblance to William Steig’s book, but it is abundantly clear that the filmmakers have a difficult time reconciling sneering cynicism and satire with the desire to be genuinely touching and sincere. Even so, as rainbow-colored brain candy, “Shrek 2” provides plenty of reasons to smile.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 5/24/04.