Just when emptyheaded effectfests like Van Helsing and Troy have you wishing the megabyte had never been born, along comes “Shrek 2” supersized with warmth, wit and invention enough to make you feel like throwing it a birthday party.
Knocking sequels is the easiest thing in the world, of course, and the follow up to Dreamworks’ Oscar winning 2001 smash certainly isn’t its equal. There’s zero shame, however, in producing the second funniest fairy tale parody ever made for the big screen and that’s precisely what the studio has done.
Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz once again give voice to everybody’s favorite lime colored couple. As the movie opens, Counting Crows serenades the newlyweds through a music video-style montage of their honeymoon. When they
return to the swamp, the happy pair is looking forward to some home-based one on one time but finds its plans scuttled by two developments.
First, their love shack is unexpectedly occupied by Donkey, spoken for by Eddie Murphy once more. The torrid romance between the steed and the firebreathing dragon he hooked up with in the first film has cooled, we learn, and he needed a place to crash. Second, emissaries arrive from the Kingdom of Far Far Away with an invitation to a royal ball to be thrown in their honor by Fiona’s parents, the king and queen.
Domestic discord ensues as Shrek attempts to wriggle out of this familial obligation. He points out that his in laws are unlikely to be thrilled either by their daughter’s getting hitched to an ogre or by the fact that she’s
now become one on a full time basis herself. Fiona counters with the argument that her parents love her and are sure to accept whomever she has chosen to love but the point is moot. In animated marriage as in the flesh and blood variety, wives tend to prevail in such matters and the three are soon packed and making tracks.
Additional domestic discord ensues soon after they reach their destination. King Harold (John Cleese) and Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews) welcome their new son in law with less than open minds. We are reminded that they originally locked their daughter in a tower in order that she could be rescued by Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) with whom, according to the plan, she would proceed to live happily ever after. Charming and his overbearing mother, the realm’s official fairy spellcaster (Jennifer Saunders) are still fuming over the fact that Shrek stumbled upon and ran away with the princess first. They put pressure on the king to eliminate the green giant from the picture and-due to leverage they have over him which is explained in the final act-Cleese’s
Though a rather dark turn for a family comedy, it is a thoroughly fortuitous one as the ogre killer he contracts for the hit turns out to be the sequel’s most entertaining new character. Antonio Banderas is terrific as the voice of Puss in Boots, a feline Zorro whose lollipop eyes make as effective a weapon as his sword.
The picture builds comic momentum gradually but is at full capacity throughout its final third. While Prince Charming tries to work his smarmy magic on Fiona, Shrek, Donkey and Puss in Boots team up to take on the evil
Fairy Godmother. In the course of things, the trio is aided by such fairy tale luminaries as the three pigs, the Gingerbread Man, the three blind mice and a crossdressing Pinocchio.
“Shrek 2” may be the first family film in history to feature a wooden toy who yearns to be a boy but secretly wears women’s underwear. The scene in which this comes to light ranks with the funniest in recent years.
There are stretches in the picture which could’ve used more of this anything-can-happen sort of energy but not a lot of them. By and large, the second film serves up heaping helpings of everything fans loved about the first.
Myers’ ogre is vulnerable and ornery to equal degrees, Murphy riffs up a storm and classic fairy tales are lampooned in consistently brilliant ways. The movie’s computer imaging, as I suggested at the start, deserves mention as well. Numerous advances have been made by the wizards at Dreamworks since the first film and much of the animation here is nothing short of breathtaking.
Sure it’s going to rake it in at the box office. That’s a given. That the second Shrek will do so while delighting so many and disappointing so few is the true measure of its success, however, and by that standard, it is the very definition of a monster hit.