The original Shrek offered a few inspired moments, most of which – unfortunately – came before the big “surprise twist” that wasn’t much of a surprise at all. And even then, too many of the gags were stale within minutes of the film’s release (bullet time, anyone?). There were occasional laughs to be found in the “reimagining” of a host of public domain children’s characters, but for all of the original’s apparent desire to skew traditional fairy tale conventions, the resulting message wasn’t very encouraging or inspiring: true love is indeed possible, provided you’re both of comparable size, color, and disposition.
Implacably (given Shrek’s $267 million box office), here comes “Shrek 2.” Reuniting the titular ogre (Mike Myers), his equally noisome bride Fiona (Cameron Diaz), and their braying a*s of a companion (Eddie Murphy), the sequel takes the trio to the Kingdom of Far, Far Away to meet Fiona’s parents. Her father, King Harold, is understandably distressed at Fiona’s choice of husbands, and schemes with the evil Fairy Godmother to get Fiona together with the preening Prince Charming, who also happens to be the Fairy Godmother’s son. To this end, the King hires Puss-in-Boots, famed swashbuckler, to waylay Shrek and put an end to him.
Voiced by Antonio Banderas (and the only new character not played by a Brit, curiously), Puss-in-Boots is one of the few highlights of the film. Banderas delivers his lines with a perfect blend of bravado and sycophantic charm, and earns the film’s scant big laughs. Once he and Shrek put aside their differences, however, he joins Eddie Murphy in playing second fiddle to Myers’ bored line reading and the lumbering story. John Cleese (as King Harold) recreates the slightly befuddled old British guy he’s been playing since the 1980s, while Julie Andrews frets passably as Queen Lillian. Of the bad guys, “AbFab’s” Jennifer Saunders seems to enjoy giving voice to the Fairy Godmother, but Rupert Everett is wasted as Prince Charming.
Along the way, cheap jokes will be made at the expense of other movies (“From Here to Eternity,” “Alien” and The Fellowship of the Ring among them), and endless sight gags will be proffered, with varying degrees of success. There’s no point in my spoiling the finale, because it isn’t possible. I suppose those under the age of 8 might be kept guessing until the climax, but that’s only because they haven’t sat through similar endings a thousand times already. They’ll probably also be the only people in the audience unfamiliar with previous medieval takes on the TV show “COPS” and the original appearance of the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man.
“Shrek 2” continues “Shrek’s” penchant for mocking Disney, DreamWorks honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg’s former employer (Tinkerbell and the Little Mermaid receive especially cruel treatment). I’m not going to ask anyone to feel sorry for Michael Eisner, but given the company’s well-publicized recent woes, the swipes this time around no longer come across as well-placed jabs, but more like petulant overkill. And exactly how well are little kids going to react to Ariel’s rather toothy ending?
The soundtrack deserves mention, mostly because its relatively high quality makes the film itself that much more irritating. You’ll hear songs (or abbreviated snippets thereof) from Nick Cave, the Eels, Tom Waits, and Pete Yorn, which begs the question: if you’re capable of picking out decent music for a soundtrack, why put together a cynical, lazily animated cartoon with a hackneyed “moral” for the film itself? With “Shrek 2,” DreamWorks Animation continues to build a niche for itself as a solely profit-oriented cartoon studio. Anyone wanting to see well-crafted animated films that don’t rely exclusively on making fun of pre-existing material for their jokes should stick with Pixar.
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