Directed by Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, Conrad Vernon. Voices by Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Julie Andrews, Antonio Banderas, John Cleese, Rupert Everett, Jennifer Saunders. (2004, PG, 92 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 21, 2004
Unsurprisingly, your enjoyment of Shrek 2 will likely be predicated on your enjoyment of Shrek 1, although it’s safe to say that DreamWorks’ sequel will offend no one. As the film opens, big green ogre Shrek (Myers) and his new bride Fiona (Diaz) return from their honeymoon to their beloved swamp (where Murphy’s endlessly annoying Donkey awaits, braying from boredom) to discover they’ve been invited to the Kingdom of Far Far Away to meet Fiona’s parents (Cleese, Andrews). Shrek, fearing that this is the type of set-up that usually ends with big green ogres such as himself being slaughtered by torch-bearing royal subjects, at first attempts to scuttle the visit, but ends up accompanying his bride, because, well, you’ve got to meet the parents sooner or later. Once there, the king and queen are taken aback by the fact that their daughter’s husband is an ogre (much less their daughter, whom they had expected to see as the ravishing human she had been at the start of the first Shrek), and the scenes develop racial tensions (including a dining sequence that recalls Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?) that will be appreciated by parents and probably overlooked by their younger children. It’s then that Fairy Godmother (Absoutely Fabulous’ Saunders) arrives: As the schemingly dutiful mother of Prince Charming (Everett), who had been slated to marry Princess Fiona before Shrek entered the picture, she promptly hires a cute little furball of an assassin – Puss-in-Boots (Banderas) – to take out the offending husband. That lasts all of five minutes before the suave and honorable Puss switches his allegiance to Shrek, and, with Donkey, the trio sets off to snatch a potion from Fairy Godmother’s factory that will turn Shrek into a handsome human. If the storyline seems cluttered, that’s because it is – and so was Shrek’s – but writers Adamson, Joe Stillman, J. David Stern, and David N. Weiss make the most of this continuing morality tale (as in the first film, the moral here is "Be yourself") and manage to take potshots at everything from Starbucks to Hollywood (which is nicely caricatured here by the precious, tony Kingdom of Far Far Away) while keeping the romance between the two lumpen leads in the forefront throughout. Myers, Diaz, and Murphy are all given some smart, snappy one-liners and gags, but it’s the introduction of Banderas’ Puss-in-Boots that comes as the freshest and sharpest (and most welcome) surprise. There are precious few actors who could have imbued the character with such an easy rapscallion charm, and Banderas has only to curl up the end of a line reading to net an easy laugh. Most interesting is the film’s soundtrack, which has been upgraded from the previous outing’s use of Top 40 popsters Smash Mouth and this time includes – I kid you not – Tom Waits, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, and the Buzzcocks (the latter is a cover version by Pete Yorn, fair enough, but still …), which makes for some rousingly dark showstoppery. Is it the second coming of DreamWorks? No, just the second coming of Shrek, which, frankly, is good enough for me.