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Shrek 2   A-

DreamWorks Pictures

Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: PG
Directors: Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, Conrad Vernon
Writers: Andrew Adamson, Joe Stillman, J. David Stem, David N. Weiss
Cast: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Julie Andrews, Antonio Banderas, John Cleese, Rupert Everett, Jennifer Saunders.

Review by Rob Vaux

Score one more for the big green ogre. Shrek 2 picks right up where its predecessor left off, delivering the same terrific cocktail of lacerating wit, gleeful cynicism and ever-so-slightly-cruel humor. The fractured fairy-tale world of Shrek (Mike Myers), his lady-love Fiona (Cameron Diaz), and his annoying sidekick Donkey (Eddie Murphy) hasn't lost any of its edge, and Shrek 2 finds new ways to expand upon the first film's wonderful mischief.

Of course, it's not quite the surprise that the original Shrek was. In the three ensuing years, the characters have turned into a cottage industry, emulating some of the very corporate consumerism they once so savagely decried. The sequel's biggest task is avoiding that pitfall -- turning its iconoclasm into just another pitch. One look at the results elicits a sigh of relief: there's much more here than just selling T-shirts. As before, the story is rendered in beautiful computer imagery -- less striking now since the medium has become so common, but no less imaginative. The technical complexities are soon rendered invisible: the jokes and the story are what's important. Shrek is still the misunderstood monster, and while Fiona (now transformed into a she-ogre) has done wonders for his self-esteem, he's still not certain the rest of the world wants him around. The last thing he needs is a trip to the in-laws -- king and queen of Far, Far Away, who want to know why their daughter hasn't married Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) like she was supposed to. But the royal messenger insists and Fiona is overdue for a visit home. So off they go, with the chatterbox Donkey in tow, to confront the wife's parents in their sumptuously appointed den.

The humorous potential of the setup isn't wasted as Shrek 2's creators take advantage of every opportunity. Far, Far Away is a sly riff on Beverly Hills, a place that sets Shrek's in-your-face earthiness on edge. The show-business sheen is mixed with delightful takes on old fairy-tale tropes, including an inn called the Poison Apple where Captain Hook belts out old Tom Waits tunes and the Headless Horseman struggles with a breathalyzer test. The series' satirical bent hasn't lost a beat either. Disney takes it on the chin, of course, as do the expected parade of recent movies and pop-culture references... and amazingly, none of it feels stale. The laughs fly thick and fast, and Shrek 2 never grows so full of itself that its cleverness becomes grating.

So too do the characters remain true, their quirks and idiosyncrasies intact amid the gags. The trickiest figure in my mind was always Donkey, who needed to be irritating without irritating the audience. The balancing act comes off without a hitch here, buoyed by Murphy's impeccable timing and Myers' yeoman work as straight man. The film also delivers some terrific newcomers, including a fairy godmother (Jennifer Saunders) whose Stalinesque plan for Happily Ever After does not include ogres, and the Zorro-like Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) who will have cat owners on their knees in hysterics. And of course, Myers and Diaz make a fine, grouchy romantic couple, embodying the film's "I'm okay, you're okay" message with gentle, understated strength.

It's a fluffy concoction, to be sure, just as the first one was. In fact, much of this film feels unchanged from Shrek -- the same themes, the same spirit, the same style of jokes. But while most sequels use that as an excuse to slack off, this one sees it as a wondrous opportunity to reinvent itself. That it finds so many new things in the same basic package is a testament to how rich this material is, and to how hard the filmmakers have worked to get everything right. Shrek 2 brims with energy, intelligence, and joy, its nastier side tempered by just enough goodwill to keep us smiling. It's hard to find any aspect it could have improved upon... and hard to imagine a more entertaining film this summer.

Review published 05.18.2004.

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