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REVIEW: SHREK 2

Posted by Aaron West, 5/21/04

Shrek 2
Directed by: Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, Conrad Vernon
Starring (voices): Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, John Cleese
Running Time: 93 minutes

What is Shrek exactly? Is it for kids or adults? The answer is both, really. Dreamworks has again followed Pixar's lead and created a summer blockbuster that appeals as much to adults as it does to kids. The animation, goofy characters, and fairy tale nature of Shrek reels the kids in, while the pop culture references and the over-the-kid's-head humor rewards the parents for spending their dough. This has become the Pixar and Dreamworks modus operandi, and it should be no surprise that they have firmly planted themselves as the #1 and #2 production companies when it comes to children's animation. Nobody, not even Disney, is at a competitive level.

The second Shrek picks up where the first left off. Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) have just been married and completed their honeymoon, making the most of their newfound romantic bliss. Their privacy turns out to be short lived, as they are interrupted first by a lonely donkey, and second by an unexpected summons. Fiona's parents, the King and Queen of Far, Far Away summon their daughter and new son-in-law to a wedding ball. Only the parents expect the groom to be a prince charming, not the Hulk's long lost uncle. Nor do they know that their beloved princess shares a similar complexion and is quite comfortable with it. The parent's reaction is predictable, just like a parent in the real world might react to their daughter coming home with the neighborhood goth, and sharing his piercings at that. That's right. Not too well.

The Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) that was supposed to rescue Fiona was the benefactor of some sordid nepotism, but he arrives too late to cash in. Instead he must conspire again yet again with his mother (and everyone else's fairy godmother), to rid the world of this skulking brute who has corrupted his beloved once and for all.

The first Shrek worked because it contrasted fairy tale tradition with pop culture, while still poking fun at both. Shrek 2 goes further with the pop culture, maybe too far. For one, there are more product endorsements than in Lebron James' locker. Plus, the world of Shrek contains references to Keebler elves, a Cops TV show spoof, an homage to Ghostbusters, and even steals a scene from Ridley Scott's Alien. Just when the film seems to escape the fairy tale mentality completely, however, it steers itself back on track as if it has consumed one of the Godmother's magic potions.

Shrek might be the last place one would expect political statements, but the film says a great deal about corporate capitalism, corruption and greed. One of the new characters, the Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders of Absolutely Fabulous), is an empire to herself. She has the ambition and creativity of a Martha Stewart, the ruthlessness of Don Vito Corleone, and the moral fiber of Gordon Gecko. She is easy to hate, as she is the embodiment of every negative American stereotype imaginable, plus she is enormously popular and holds herself with composure and grace.

The other new primary character isn't quite as captivating. Puss N' Boots, voiced by Antonio Banderas, lures his enemies with irresistable cuteness and finishes them off with his exemplary swordplay. The idea behind the character is a lot more interesting than the execution. Puss rarely seems overwhelmingly cute or particularly fiercesome. His Spanish, or French, or Italian (who can tell?) demeanor kills the character, mostly because the poor voice acting makes him unidentifiable.

We can easily forgive such failings because Shrek 2, quite frankly, delivers the laughs. The absurd nature of this fantasy world, combined with some terrific voice acting by Mike Myers and of course Eddie Murphy, will keep adults and children in near stitches throughout most of the running time. Not surprisingly, the Murphy's adorable donkey gets the most laughs, either as the annoying attention-seeker, or as the larger-than-life stallion that he eventually becomes. Most of the humor is intelligent for a childrens movie, save for a couple flatulence jokes thrown in, but they are at least somewhat tasteful and forgiveable.

The only significant problems with the film, aside from the muttering kittie, have to do with the narrative and theme. This is also where the experience will differ between child and adult. The story and the theme, for the most part, are too similar to the first film. Shrek 2 is about seeing the beauty within the character, regardless of how flawed they may appear on the inside. It celebrates and rewards romanticism and the ethical character of a person, just like the first film does. Children will be more oblivious to the similarities, but some adults may feel like they are watching the same movie again, with the same type of character arcs and the same pop-song driven score.

Shrek cannot be accurately "rated" with a single score, since the experience varies based on the viewer's age. Children will worship this film and pester Mommy and Daddy to buy every merchandise tie-in imaginable. Most parents will be satisfied with the film and will enjoy the experience with their family, but Shrek 2 probably won't make too lasting of an impression, until said pestering begins.

9/10 - Children
6/10 - Adults