Sunday, January 9, 2011

Film Review: Shrek 2

"Shrek 2" *** (out of ****)

Most movie fans know one of the golden rules of cinema; sequels are never better than the original. But, "Shrek 2" (2004) is an exception to the rule. I had a much better time watching "Shrek 2" than I did "Shrek" (2001).

My problem with the original "Shrek" was I've always felt it was inappropriate for children. The gimmick was suppose to be to take the fairytale genre, which is seen as pure and innocent, and add a certain element of adult humor. That within itself was suppose to be funny. But I've always felt that "Shrek" wasn't as clever as it thought it was. And, yes, I know "Shrek" has gone on to achieve great fame and Dreamworks Animation had a major box-office hit with the series. Though "Shrek", while I admit, at times humorous (I love the gingerbread man "torture" scene when he is threatened with a glass of milk) just didn't gel in my opinion.

So it was to my great surprise to find how much I enjoyed "Shrek 2". This film retains much of the original's sassy attitude but is much more kid friendly and smart enough to entertain the adults.

This time around Shrek (voice of Mike Myers) and Princess Fiona (voice of Cameron Diaz) are married and now Shrek must meet the parents; King Harold (John Cleese) and Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews). They are the rulers of "a land far, far away" and want to throw their daughter a party in honor of her wedding. What Fiona's parents don't know is how Fiona now looks and that she married an ogre.

If you remember from the first film, Princess Fiona had a curse put on her. Every night she would turn into an ogre herself, losing her beauty. So her parents thought the only logical thing to do was to lock her in a tower and wait for a prince to come, kiss her and break the curse. But Shrek rescued her instead.

These scenes and this situation is one any adult can relate to. We all hate the idea of meeting our in-laws or future in-laws for the first time. We are uncomfortable, afraid we will be judged and won't make a good first impression. For this reason adults will find themselves laughing while children will also be laughing but for different reasons. I noticed children like to see Shrek yell and scream no matter what.

Now what viewers don't know, is that during the first film, as Shrek was attempting to rescue Princess Fiona, there was another also attempting the same thing; Prince Charming (Rupert Everett). He makes it all the way to the tower only to find Fiona is gone, instead the Bad Bad Wolf is laying in her bed and informs him Fiona married. This makes Prince Charming mad. Rescuing the princess was his job.

Meanwhile King Harold and Shrek get off to a very bad start. King Harold doesn't want his daughter married to an ogre. How can Fiona live happily ever after with an ogre. Orge's aren't part of the happy ending in fairy tales. King Harold would rather Fiona marry Prince Charming. While Queen Lillian takes the usual mother position that she only wants what is best for Fiona. Shrek's appearance doesn't bother her at all.

But King Harold has made a deal with Fiona's Fairy Godmother (voice of Jennifer Saunders), who happens to be the mother of Prince Charming. They both agreed Charming would be Fiona's husband. Now King Harold must come up with a plan to get rid of Shrek and make Fiona fall in love with Prince Charming.

As I said "Shrek 2" has the original's sass and makes just as many spoof references. One montage has Fiona and Shrek being lovey-dovey as they are positioned in scenes from famous movies. Examples are the beach scene in "From Here To Eternity" (1954), the upside down kiss in "Spider-Man" (2002) and there is even room for a "Lord of the Rings" (2001) reference.

All of this gives "Shrek 2" that edge that most Dreamworks animated films have. These characters are sharp and have attitude. They can get in your face. Sometimes they think the way we think.

"Shrek 2" also does something most people feel is Dreamworks weak spot. It has emotional scenes and some heart. I honestly felt after an hour or so "Shrek 2" got boggled down in trying to have too much heart. The jokes started to fall a little flat for me and I was starting to get restless. "Shrek 2" could have used some trimming.

Two of my favorite new characters in "Shrek 2" is a Douglas Fairbanks, Erroll Flynn type swashbuckler pussycat, Puss-in-boots (voice of Antonio Banderas). The other is a saloon owner, the Ugly Stepsister (voice of Larry King, a funny, unexpected choice). Puss-in-boots is a very funny character who engages in a rivalry with Donkey (Eddie Murphy) over who should be Shrek's talking animal sidekick.

"Shrek 2" was directed once again by Andrew Adamson, who also went on to direct the first two "Chronicle of Narnia" movies. The film was, for many years, the highest grossing animated film ever grossing nearly a billion dollars worldwide and domestically taking in more than $436 million. Eventually "Toy Story 3" (2010) out grossed it. And once again "Shrek 2" was nominated for the palm d'or at the Cannes Film Festival.

I'd honestly skip over the first "Shrek", though the Broadway stage play is quite good, and just show the kids "Shrek 2" instead. This one is much more kid friendly, they will get a big kick out of Puss-in-boots and parents won't have to worry about that very broad, adult humor that the first "Shrek" film had.

"Shrek 2" was nominated for 2 Oscars. One for "Best Animated Feature", but lost to Pixar's "The Incredibles" (2004) which was probably the right decision and was nominated for "Best Song" (Accidentally in Love).