Drawn That Way: Shrek 2
By Kim Hollis
May 27, 2004

I can't believe The Incredibles made the cover of Wired this month!

Destined to go down as a perennial favorite of both children and adults, Shrek 2 is a worthy successor to a film that wasn't necessarily that special in the first place. While the first film struggled with occasional lame, dated humor and a message that was inconsistent at best, the sequel ramps the comedy quotient up several notches and introduces a new sidekick so adorable that he steals the show straight out from under the feet of the big green guy.

Let's dispose of the minor negative quibbles at the outset. Once again, like the first film, Shrek 2 suffers somewhat when Mike Myers and his Scottish brogue are hamming it up. Fortunately, the character is toned down a lot for this second outing, allowing a number of the other outstanding voice actors to have their moment in the sun. And also similar to the original Shrek, there is too much reliance on pop music as opposed to an actual score, though the soundtrack choices this time around are at least a little more palatable than before.

Additionally, the story is nothing especially original, as we've certainly seen the "meet the parents" bit before in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and, well, Meet the Parents. This subsection of the film would be wildly dull if not for the presence of John Cleese as the King, whose comedic timing is exquisite as always. The design of this particular character really contributes to the quality as well, as he's somehow far more "animated" than any other creature that inhabits the movie. Sadly, Julie Andrews, who seemed a brilliant casting choice at the time she was announced as the Queen, has little to contribute. Her character is relegated to near-cameo status.

Still, once the requisite "I can't believe our new son-in-law is an ogre!" scenes are out of the way, the movie really kicks into high gear. Not coincidentally, this shift in pacing occurs just as Puss in Boots, voiced magnificently by Antonio Banderas, appears on the scene. He walks away with the movie and easily is the highlight of the entire 93 minutes. It looks like America agrees with me, too, or at least my small subsection of it. Looking at the shelves at Wal-Mart last night, the Shrek and Donkey action figures were plentiful, but the Puss in Boots were totally sold out.

Part of the reason Puss in Boots is so likeable is that he is wonderfully animated, though that is a compliment I can give to the entire film. Where the first Shrek film suffers from some dated, seemingly basic CGI, the second movie is much more detailed and certainly more advanced. After being blown away by Monsters, Inc. a couple of years ago in the design department, the folks at PDI have staged a very nice comeback, though inevitably their product will again face the Pixar comparison as The Incredibles, which has a story and characters that lend themselves very nicely to even more vivid elements, hits theaters late in the year.

Along with Puss in Boots, both Rupert Everett as Prince Charming and Absolutely Fabulous' Jennifer Saunders as the Fairy Godmother are outstanding. There's a deft touch used with the Charming character, from the flowing golden hair to the prissiness to the fact that he is a serious mama's boy. Also funny in a throwaway joke sort of role is Larry King as the ugly stepsister.

Where the movie really excels, though, is in its humorous references to movies past and new swipes at the Hollywood culture. There are also some wildly clever bits that really deserve note - Puss in Boots utters, "I hate Mondays," a subtle bit that is an homage (or dig) at another classic cat, Garfield. Also, Princess Fiona just happens to have a poster of one Prince Justin over her canopied bed at her parents' home - hilarious because not only does this prince just happen to look a lot like Justin Timberlake, but also because Cameron Diaz, who voices Fiona, is dating him in real life.

The movie references are simply too numerous to catch in one viewing and nearly impossible to recount. Suffice it to say that there are lifts from films as varied as The Little Mermaid, Jaws, From Here to Eternity, Ghostbusters, This Is Spinal Tap, Blazing Saddles, Mask of Zorro, Spider-Man and E.T. There's plenty more where those came from, too.

As far as cultural spoofs, very little is safe. Disney is again a target, as are Starbucks, Burger King, Old Navy, Paramount Studios, Tower Records, Versace and many more.

The final result, as in the film that preceded it, is that PDI has created a whip-smart, funny movie that ultimately will suffer by being too caught up in its own era. The jokes and humor are super clever and the comedy is definitely guffaw-inducing, but because the writing staff relies so heavily on current cultural mores as its targets that it will lose some timelessness. Nonetheless, it's a steady improvement on the first film and proof that animation is indeed alive and well as a medium for all ages to enjoy.