By John Hamann
May 13, 2004
Shrek 2 is one of the best animated movies I have ever seen. And I didn’t even like the first Shrek film all that much.
Yes, the big green ogre named Shrek is back and looks like a lock to improve on the fulfilling $267 million gross the first DreamWorks/PDI film took in. Shrek 2 starts off pretty much where the last one left off. Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are married, living out their existence happily in Shrek’s swamp, with Donkey (Eddie Murphy) always close by. The newlyweds are summoned to the castle to meet the King and Queen (John Cleese and Julie Andrews), who are just a wee bit surprised that their daughter has married an ogre (and become one!). The King plots with The Fairy Godmother (the “Absolutely Fabulous” Jennifer Saunders) and Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) to split the couple up and of course, hilarity ensues. Antonio Banderas plays Puss in Boots, in a role I won’t spoil for you and the addition of this character makes Shrek 2 even more special than the original. In my opinion, Toy Story 2 was a miss compared to the magic of the original; Shrek 2 is a huge step up. The second Toy Story took in about $55 million more domestically than the first; I figure the second Shrek will find Finding Nemo numbers, if not more. Shrek was DreamWorks’ last $200+ million grosser, and the sequel is an easy bet to be there next.
The Shrek 2 directing team of Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon has really pulled off something special here. Shrek 2 is fast and furious with the visual jokes for both young and old, with a beautiful design filled with great characters and witty settings. The screenplay by J. David Stem, Joe Stillman and David Weiss is filled with many more jokes than any two Pixar films combined. This film has a ton of funny things that adults will discuss after seeing it, and has so many quick visual jabs and throwaway jokes that the film bears repeat viewing, another plus for the financial side of the DreamWorks release. Take for example a character I won’t name, grown to very large proportions, stomping through the land of Far, Far, Away. While the kiddies will have fun watching this large creature destroy fantasyland, parents will notice a building much like a Starbucks being destroyed; the joke comes when the patrons run from the destroyed Starbucks to an un-destroyed Starbucks, unabashed. I doubt the version of the film I saw will change much before the actual release, but there are a lot of Disney jabs in Shrek 2, and I’m amazed that the studio’s legal department let many of them go. I guess if Disney and Michael Bay can do what they did to Godzilla in Armageddon, DreamWorks can have their most famous ogre throwing what looks to be a Little Mermaid far out to sea. There are many of these jokes thrown at the screen, and 99% of them not only stick, they stick very well. Speaking of Disney, Shrek 2 avoids some of the problems that Disney and Pixar have with audience manipulation. There are no cloying moments here, no sad music to make the audience weep; the lack of obvious manipulation was to me startling and completely welcome.
As for the acting in the Shrek sequel, Jennifer Saunders stands out as The Fairy Godmother, as her dynamic voice lends a sophistication not seen from some of the other actors (cough Mike Myers cough). Another standout is Antonio Banderas (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write) as Puss in Boots; his rascally accent is the perfect touch on a very fun character. Mike Myers isn’t as overbearing in this film as he was in the first, and Eddie Murphy was born to play the role of Donkey. Under-used, unfortunately, are John Cleese and Julie Andrews as the royal parents. Overall, the script works so well visually and verbally that the actors are relegated to a secondary role.
This point has been beaten to death, but I saw my screening of Shrek 2 at a digital theatre, and the difference for a film such as this one is quite noticeable. The screen was pristine and perfect, the colors gorgeous, and nary a scratch to be seen. While I am a ‘film’ devotee, I will recommend digital for a film like Shrek or Shrek 2; the format demands it. However, this is a very special movie, one to be treasured, as it contains much fun and much joy. Make sure to stay after the credits roll for a few more laughs – you won’t be disappointed.