Considering the sick sums of money that 2001's Shrek raked in at the theaters and on video, it's no surprise that a sequel was produced. What's surprising is that Shrek 2 not only lives up to its beloved predecessor, but also frequently surpasses it. The three central stars from the first installment all return for another round of laughs: Mike Myers delivers his cranky Scot routine for the voice of the titular ogre, Cameron Diaz chimes in as the love of his life, Princess Fiona, and Eddie Murphy deftly jabbers away as verbose comedic sidekick Donkey.
Shrek 2 picks up right where the original left off, opening with scenes of Shrek and Fiona living happily ever after. But their wedded bliss is quickly disrupted when a royal invitation from Fiona's parents force Shrek to meet his prim-and-proper in-laws, King Harold (John Cleese) and Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews). Reluctantly, Shrek meets up with Fiona's folks, only to find himself immediately at odds with his new dad. Further conflict is introduced by the crafty, commercialized Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders), who conspires to break up Shrek and Fiona so that her vacuous son Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) can marry the Princess and claim the throne. And as if Shrek didn't have enough problems, he also has to contend with Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), a feline assassin hired to put a hit on him.
With its Meet the Parents vibe and its twisted take on classic fairy tale standards, Shrek 2 is always entertaining and often hilarious. Visually, the film is an impressive achievement--the genre of computer generated animation continues to make big strides in progress, and Shrek 2 clearly takes advantage of new technology. The human version of Fiona looks less mannequin-esque this time around, and complicated renderings like fur and hair look more realistic. But as 2001's Final Fantasy proved, even CG features can't use high-tech wizardry to completely replace a solid story and characters that connect with their audience. These are the areas in which Shrek 2 is a true success.
The writing is sharp, and even brilliant on occasion. Clever parodies and pop culture references abound, including an awesome spoof of Cops that offers an ingenious take on a "white bronco" fleeing authorities. On the downside, Shrek 2 repeats the original's habit of sometimes getting a little too sappy with its message of sacrificing everything for true love. But these doses of the sickeningly sweet aren't overly long, and the story quickly recovers from these lapses to get back in its comedic stride. By the end, laughs are the main goal, and this offbeat tale definitely delivers them in abundance.
The characters are funny and memorable, especially the supporting ones. As in the original, Eddie Murphy's Donkey overshadows Mike Myers' marquee Shrek--the chatty, singing beast of burden expertly carries out his self-defined duty of being the "annoying talking animal." Returning bit players like Pinocchio, the Gingerbread Man, the Three Blind Mice, the Three Little Pigs, and the Big Bad Wolf also fill their roles nicely. But the animated sidekick who truly steals the show (at the expense of Donkey's screentime, no doubt) is Antonio Banderas' Puss in Boots. The minuscule orange cat with the plumed hat and "fine Corinthian footwear" is an uproarious exercise in self-parody for Banderas, who eagerly exaggerates his version of Zorro into something gleefully absurd.
Thoroughly family-friendly, Shrek 2 is one of those rare movies that can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages. It really has something for everyone, from little children who don't know what's what to their frazzled parents who hate being dragged to lame kids' flicks.
Rating: 8 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)