From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog

Monday, May 31, 2004

Movie Review: Shrek 2
Shrek 2
Director - Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, Conrad Vernon; Starring - Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Jennifer Saunders, John Cleese, Rupert Everett, Julie Andrews; Screenplay - William Steig, J. David Stem, Joe Stillman, David N. Weiss; Rated PG for crude humor, limited suggestive content, and a brief drug reference.


When Shrek was released in 2001, it was the first computer animated film that seemed like it might be able to keep up with the juggernaut that is Pixar. The movie was fun, with enjoyable characters. I remember thinking then that Dreamworks had one animation edge over Pixar in the area of making realistic looking human characters, and still believe this to be the case.

The movie grossed slightly more than the Pixar/Disney feature Monsters, Inc released the same year, a nice thumb of the nose by former Disney exec Jeffrey Katzenberg towards his former employers. The question with Shrek 2 would be, like with any sequel, "Is a lot more of a good thing still good?" I felt like the answer to this question, at least in this case, is a definitive "Yes".

What is Shrek 2?
Shrek 2 opens with our heroes from the first volume returning home to Shrek's swamp home. Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are reunited with their faithful obnoxious friend Donkey (Eddie Murphy) in time to receive an invitation from Fiona's parents. The King and Queen of Far, Far, Away (John Cleese and Julie Andrews) are eager to meet their daughter's new husband, who they mistakenly believe will be Prince Charming (Rupert Everett).

Chaos reigns when Shrek, Fiona, and Donkey arrive, and the King and Queen find all is not as they had foreseen. The King attempts to enlist the help of the wish granting Fairy Godmother (AbFab's Jennifer Saunders) to try and get Fiona in good with Godmother's son - Prince Charming.

Fairly straightforward script. Is it a beauty? Or a beast?
In much the same fashion as the first film, the movie throws jokes at the audience by the bushel. Sight gags, pop culture references, and flip comments are in abundance. In that vein, the movie reminds me to the slapstick comedy of Abrahams, Zucker, and Zucker. Like Airplane!, not all the jokes stick, but the vast majority do.

There's a spot on mock up of Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive. The honeymoon sequence has a couple of really brilliant sendups of Lord of the Rings and Spiderman amongst other box office behemoths, films Shrek 2 hopes to challenge in dollars brought in. But even in these huge visuals, I love the little touches in the details that give the landscape its depth. My favorite gags is also one of the smallest details in the film (check the print on a small red bottle that comes out in the second third of the film).

The entire last act of the film is a pretty frenetic rush of action that gives the movie a lot more punch at the end than the first film had. There's a visit from some of the minor supporting characters from the first film, and then just one laugh after another to close it out.

And the performances?
There's a bit of a mixed bag here, but much more good than bad. Both Andrews' Queen and Everett's Prince are largely wasted. They don't get nearly enough lines or exposure to really have an impact on the audience. Cleese's King fares a little better, but he's only a little more than help to move the plot along.

Diaz, Myers, and Murphy all hold their own very admirably. Diaz has to carry a little more of the emotional weight of the movie than she did in the first, and she steps up to the task well enough. Murphy again seems to be doing some of his best work when he doesn't have to act and can just let all of his emotion out in his voice while the animators do the rest. It's a shame he can't pull this kind of work down when he's actually appearing on the screen these days. And Myers is...well...Myers. This performance helps make up considerably for foisting The Cat in the Hat on an unsuspecting public.

The real story where the performances are concerned lies in the other two newcomers to the Shrek universe. Saunders as Fairy Godmother really seems to relish the role she's been given. There's more than a little of her Edina character from AbFab in this role, as well as a touch her partner in crime from the show, Patsy. She also has two of the musical numbers in the movie, and I was very pleasantly surprised at just how strong a voice she has.

But the runaway winner for my favorite new character is Antonio Banderas' Puss in Boots. The snippet shown the trailer doesn't even come close to doing justice to how insanely funny Puss is as a character, or highlight adequately just how vividly Puss is animated. Top to bottom, Puss is the most real looking thing in the movie, a fact that I find exciting and a little disturbing for the potential long term impact on hand drawn animation. Banderas gets some really funny lines, and chews the scenery with a lot of zeal. He should get wide praise for his work on this film.

Any negatives?
At first I thought the movie's overall feel didn't seem as strong as when I saw the first one. It's only after I gave the movie some consideration that I really appreciated some of the more subtle aspects of what it does. I remember reading some commentary/criticism of the first film that it sent the message that you had to be ugly to be accepted. While I personally didn't get that from the film, I think that Andrew Adamson (the one holdover director from the first film) took the criticism into consideration while helping the screenwriters craft the message in this film. It's a lot easier understand the point they're trying to make, and consequently, I think the ending is a lot more satisfying.

So a fairy tale ending?
Fractured Fairy Tale, maybe. But as a fan of the old Jay Ward classics, I think that's a very good thing. If you liked the first film, you're going to really enjoy the second. And I think the sequel might win a few converts over who maybe didn't care for the first. But it's a good way to start the summer season, and a much more entertaining ride than Troy as far as the summer films go. A good fun ride, whether you have children or no.