***** (out of 5)
May 19, 2004
Mike Myers as SHREK
Eddie Murphy as DONKEY
Cameron Diaz as FIONA
Antonio Banderas as PUSS IN BOOTS
John Cleese as KING HAROLD
Julie Andrews as QUEEN LILLIAN
Rupert Everett as PRINCE CHARMING
Jennifer Saunders as THE FAIRY GODMOTHER
Directed by: Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon
BY KEVIN CARR
While I enjoyed the first “Shrek,” there were some parts that were a little hard to swallow. Since its inception, DreamWorks has shamelessly copied Disney films, starting off with “Antz” being a low-rent “A Bug’s Life” and “Deep Impact” being a low-rent “Armageddon.” When the first “Shrek” came out, I couldn’t help but feel it was an attempt to ride on the coattails of “Monsters Inc.”
The other problem I had with the original “Shrek” was Mike Myers. Unlike many out there, I don’t think Myers made “Shrek” good, but rather “Shrek” was good in spite of him. “Shrek” was originally developed as a Chris Farley vehicle. When Farley died in 1997, Mike Myers stepped up to play the green ogre.
However, I just couldn’t shake the fact that Myers’ Shrek was nothing more than a retread of his SNL “If it’s not Scottish, it’s CRAP” character. (And seeing what a frightful mess “The Cat in the Hat” was, I’m convinced that Myers’ repertoire of character voices is shockingly slim.)
We’re three years out from the first “Shrek.” I’ve gotten used to Mike Myers in the title role. I’ve even gotten used to his over-the-top Scottish accent that makes Dick Van Dyke’s chimney sweep cockney sound authentic. Now there is a sequel, and it is well worthy of the “Shrek” name.
In this new film, Shrek and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are happily married. One morning, they are woken up by a messenger requesting the presence of Fiona and her new prince to meet her parents. The happy ogres travel to the kingdom of Far, Far Away to a less-than-hospitable reunion. It seems that King Harold (John Cleese) and Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews) are not too happy about their daughter turning into an ogre. (Would you be?)
Fiona’s Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders), who has been in cahoots with the King to get Fiona to marry her own Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), tries to drive a wedge between the newlyweds. This leads Shrek and Donkey off on “another whirlwind adventure” to find a way to keep love alive.
The real charm I found in “Shrek 2” is that they deliberately did not just rehash the first film. While the first “Shrek” was a clear send-up of the fairy tale genre, “Shrek 2” takes a less traditional approach. By making a plot that is more about the actual characters than a knock-off of a stock fairy tale message, the filmmakers have put together a rather interesting story.
There are enough familiar faces (and voices) in this film, with all the main characters reprising their roles. The only disappointment here is that there was no way to bring back John Lithgow as Lord Farquaad. He’s the only one missing from this cinematic reunion.
Pinocchio, the Three Pigs and even the squeaky-voiced Gingerbread Man make some nice cameos that call back funny moments of the first film. They are introduced into “Shrek 2” in creative ways, without simply pandering to the original audience. Believe it or not, they actually find a way to bring back the Gingerbread Man as a critical plot point.
While Everett and Saunders give stand-out performances as Prince Charming and the Fairy Godmother, the best new character is Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots. I’ve never been a huge fan of Antonio Banderas’s dramatic works. I think he’s a hack when it comes to drama. He overacts and relies too much on his sexy look to get by. However, in comedic roles, he’s brilliant. I really first noticed this in “Spy Kids,” and whenever he’s in a position to not take himself too seriously, he can be hysterical. To me, he’s the antithesis of Brandon Fraser (who I feel stinks at comedy but does pretty well at straight acting).
Too often, big sequels can be rather disappointing. Maybe the filmmakers psyche themselves out too much and feel they have to live up to something. Maybe there’s too much tinkering by the studios to make sure they have plenty of Happy Meal crossovers. Maybe it’s because some movies can only work once.
But there’s something special about these computer-generated cartoons. Of the CGI feature animations that have been released by Disney/Pixar and DreamWorks, none of them have tanked, and even the worst ones are still pretty good. (Sadly, this blessing doesn’t stretch to non-cartoon features like the awe-inspiring but forgettable “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.”)
“Shrek 2” reminds me of how “Toy Story 2” was an equal match for its predecessor. Perhaps this is because with a CGI film, as Robert Rodriguez suggested in his “Spy Kids 3-D” commentary, there’s always the ability to “reshoot” a great portion of the film as revisions are made. Whatever the reason, “Shrek 2” works – not just as a family film or a kids film, but for a film that almost anyone can enjoy. It’s just as good – if not better – than the original.