The first film ever to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature was 2001ís Shrek. Yes, the big green guy took home the little gold guy. It was not a surprise when the film won, as it was beloved by audiences, critics, and Oscar voters everywhere. Even had it not won the award, Shrek would still be a winner, considering itís approximately $250 million box office take. This was not just a good animated movie, it was a great one Ė the kind certain to be beloved for generations to come. A sequel was inevitable, but also a tall order. How to you follow-up something thatís essentially already a classic? Despite the seeming impossibility (or at least improbability) of a sequel measuring up to the original, thatís exactly what has happened. Shrek 2 picks up right where the original left off, both in terms of story and in terms of quality.
Over the opening credits, we see newlyweds Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) and Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) on their honeymoon. If youíve ever wondered what ogres do on their honeymoon, this movie answers the question definitively. (Hint: it partially involves farting in a luxurious mud bath.) This opening sequence sets the stage for the witty humor to come, as it spoofs several other movies such as The Lord of the Rings and Spider-Man in the space of about three minutes. Right from the get-go the picture has you laughing.
After the honeymoon, Fiona suggests that she and her new husband travel to her parentsí kindgom so that everyone can meet. Shrek is opposed to the idea, assuming that her royal relatives will not accept them in ogre form. Despite putting his foot down, the couple is soon on their way to the land known as Far, Far Away. Joining them, uninvited, is faithful sidekick Donkey (Eddie Murphy). It turns out that Shrek was right: the King (John Cleese) is horrified that his daughter is married to an ogre. The Queen (Julie Andrews) tries to have a more tolerant point of view.
Others are also upset by the marriage. Prince Charming (voiced by Rupert Everett), who was supposed to kiss Fiona and lift the ogre spell in the original, yearns to get his opportunity. His mother is the most sinister fairy godmother ever, and she uses her bag of spells and potions to drive Shrek and Fiona apart, thereby paving the way for her son to swoop in. Meanwhile, the King hires feline assassin Puss in Boots (Antonio Bandaras) to get rid of Shrek once and for all.
The original Shrek was a fable about accepting others just as they are. Princess Fiona fell in love with Shrek despite the fact that he was an ogre. What mattered was that he saved her from the villainous Lord Farquaad and treated her nicely in the process. Similarly, Shrek accepted the fact that Fiona was special whether she looked like a beautiful princess or the equally hefty green ogre she eventually morphed into. He loved her ďas is.Ē Shrek 2 looks at the other side of the coin, telling a fable about accepting yourself. The story eventually deals with a potion that can change people (or ogres, or donkeys) into their ideal physical selves, then draws the conclusion that outward improvements donít necessarily count; itís how you feel about yourself inside that determines your lovability.
One of the keys to the success of this series is the voice acting. This is something often overlooked when reviewing animated films, yet itís absolutely crucial. The actors have to find the right ďvoiceĒ for the characters, and the characters have to find the right actors to play them. When mismatched, the results can be grating and unconvincing. I am reminded of Martin Shortís robotic screeching in Treasure Planet. On the other hand, when the casting is perfect, you get a little piece of magic. Think Ellen DeGeneres in Finding Nemo. In the case of the Shrek films, all the casting is perfect. The actors donít just read lines, they give good performances. Thatís why the characters are so memorable.
Perhaps the best thing about this movie (as well as the original) is the humor, which is aimed as much at adults as children. At times, Shrek 2 made me laugh so hard that my eyes watered. This was especially true during a scene in which Puss in Boots stops menacing Shrek and Donkey long enough to cough up a hairball. (Actually, all the scenes with Puss in Boots made me laugh; he steals the show.) Thereís another hilarious scene in which Pinocchio returns. Thereís a way he can crucially help Shrek, but only if his nose grows. How the others make that happen is wonderfully naughty. I also love the whole satiric style of the film. Aside from the aforementioned parodies of other movies, Shrek 2 sends up society in general. Look closely at the town of Far, Far Away and you will see fairy tale versions of Starbucks and other modern things. There are so many jokes and visual gags packed into the movie that youíll need to see it more than once to get them all.
I often think that itís easier for a movie to make the audience laugh when the theater is packed. Thatís because laughter is contagious. We sometimes laugh because other people are laughing, or we laugh harder because of it. I saw Shrek 2 at a private press screening, with an audience of exactly 14 people Ė and everyone was laughing their heads off. Thatís a sign of a very funny movie. Shrek 2 absolutely lives up to the original in every way. Itís just as sweet, just as heartfelt, and just as hilarious.
( out of four)
Shrek 2 is rated PG for some crude humor, a brief substance reference and some suggestive content. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.
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