a critiQal film review Shrek 2 (2004)

Plot: After their honeymoon, Shrek (Myers) and Princess Fiona (Diaz) are invited to visit Fiona's parents in their kingdom of Far Far Away. The catch? Fiona's parents don't know about their daughter's choice of husband - or her new look. Plus, the Fairy Godmother (Saunders) isn't happy that Fiona didn't marry her son, Prince Charming (Everett). Add in an assassin named Puss In Boots (Banderas), and Shrek, Fiona and Donkey (Murphy) are in big trouble.

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  • ...the best animated sequel since Toy Story 2!

I’d been wanting to see this sequel since I first heard about it last year. When the preview came out recently, it looked even funnier than I thought it would be, so my excitement to see Shrek 2 continued to grow.

When we heard that the movie would be hitting the drive-in this weekend, it became part of our weekend plans (Of course, the second movie at the drive-in, Envy (2004), could have been better – but I’ll let Heather tell you about that one). Would the further exploits of Shrek, Donkey and Princess Fiona be able to meet my high expectations, or would it have been better if Dreamworks had decided to forgo the sequel for this one?

The returning voice cast easily returned to their characters in Shrek 2. Mike Myers is still perfect as Shrek, and it’s even harder to imagine anyone else in that role after seeing the second film. Cameron Diaz is back as Fiona, but doesn’t get to be as wild and crazy as she did in the first film, since most of the film concerns Shrek and Donkey on another adventure. Eddie Murphy also returns in his role as Donkey, but the script doesn’t allow him as much time to create the hilarious diatribes that Donkey launched into with great regularity in the first film.

Adding to the returning voice cast are a great supporting voice cast of Shrek 2. From John Cleese as the voice of Fiona’s father to Jennifer Saunders as the Fairy Godmother, the new voices easily join with the returning cast and turn in good performances – including a hilarious choice for the ugly stepsister (Larry King)!. While the whole cast is terrific, there are two standouts in the new crowd of voices: Antonio Banderas, as the ogre assassin Puss-In-Boots and Rupert Everett as Prince Charming.

Puss-In-Boots is perfect for Antonio’s voice, and he really seems to have jumped in enthusiastically – and it also brings to mind his stint as the masked rider in The Mask of Zorro. Rupert Everett – who everyone knows as the gay friend in My Best Friend’s Wedding – seems to bring the same perfection he showcased in that role (and hasn’t really done since then), and melds it perfectly into the character of the conceited Prince Charming.

The plot so fits in with the direction the characters were going in the first film, it’s almost as if the story of Shrek was always supposed to be in two chapters. The inevitable visit to the in-laws after their marriage – especially the angst of new son-in-law Shrek vs. the disbelief and disgust of the King – is so classic, yet it’s so well done here, it’s given a whole new life.

The Fairy Godmother (and her son Prince Charming) is an absolutely great idea, again given a zany new life in Shrek 2. The story, while it’s based a bit on classic themes (meeting the in-laws, new Dad doesn’t like the new husband of his daughter), it has it’s own twisted skew on the whole thing that it contains surprises around every turn. One example of this: Fairy Godmother gets so mad at the King, she…has to break her diet and eat fast food. That’s just one example of the little quirks thrown in throughout the film.

Oh, don’t forget, one of the reasons I liked the first film was they way they took famous Disney characters and messed with them a bit, in their own way thumbing their nose at Disney’s monopoly on animated films. They do that again here, although not as much as in the first (since the first film’s grosses – $260 million + domestically – kind of does that for them).

There are still a few hilarious moments involving Disney’s Little Mermaid and Tinkerbell, but they also expand a bit and take on a few other top-grossing products, including The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and Spider-Man (2002) – and that’s just in the first 5 minutes! These small bits of mockery only add to the overall fun of the film, and the film just wouldn’t be the same without them.

The animation continues to be spectacular in this second installment as well. Dreamworks has taken Pixar’s approach to the animated film industry, in a way. They don’t try to copy Disney’s animation to compete against Disney, rather they create their own style and put that choice up against Disney. With Disney falling off a bit in the animation top-grossers (how much did Brother Bear (2003) and Home on the Range (2004) make? I don’t know, but not nearly as much as The Lion King (1994) or Aladdin (1992) did, that’s for sure), it’s time for someone else to step up to the plate, and Pixar and Dreamworks have both been able to. Let’s hope Dreamworks will be able to accomplish this with movies not starring Shrek, as well.

Shrek 2 is the best animated sequel I’ve seen since Toy Story 2 (1999). It was able to continue the storyline (as well as the fun) of the first film with such ease, they could easily be watched together, and the viewer wouldn’t miss a beat. It’s got a great returning voice cast, equally impressive new voices and characters, and is a great film for the whole family.

It’s the first must-see of the ’04 summer movie season, so don’t miss it. If you do, you’ll be one of the only ones not to have seen it, I’m betting. Here’s hoping that when Shrek the Third (2007) hits theaters in 2007 (with Shrek facing off against King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table), it will live up to the high standards the first two films have set.

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