2004Director: Andrew Adamson
Cast: Voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy
he world, as should be abundantly clear by now, is a profoundly unfair place. Good people die, bad people thrive, and assorted injustices pepper our daily lives. But rarely does manifest inequity stare one so clearly in the face than during the summer movie season. This is a time when an animated film about green ogres and talking donkeys that relies heavily on fart jokes can clearly surpass an epic based on one of the greatest literary works in recorded history on every artistic and escapist level known to film criticism. Yes, Shrek 2 is better than Troy. No, it’s not even close. And interestingly enough, this was predictable—Homer’s masterpiece The Iliad was bound to be a stomach-churning catastrophe in the hands of Hollywood producers, while the nerdy, self-referential ironists over in the Dreamworks animation department were bound to crank out a witty and sometimes surprisingly meaningful sequel to their 2001 smash hit. It’s enough to make you wonder if bombastic action combined with literary depth is too difficult a formula to pull off for the lowest common denominator mentality currently ruling the Hollywood roost, while the Shrek team got a dismissive “write something funny for the kiddies” mandate that they proceeded to twist and subvert to their hearts content, freed from the “we are making an Event Film” straitjacket that clearly doomed Troy to creative oblivion.
"We were going to use the Three Bears' house for the honeymoon, but they killed Goldilocks and all she did was eat some porridge, so..."
Enough meta-analysis. We are, after all, talking about a movie in which the funniest line has to do with Pinocchio’s apparent proclivity for ladies’ undergarments (who knew? Does this mean Jiminy Cricket was into rough trade?). As with the first film, Shrek 2’s genius lies in the ability of the writers to ostensibly create an entertaining diversion for the children while simultaneously lacing the screenplay with enough eyebrow-raising double entendres to keep adults of all ages grinning throughout. Given that it is, after all, a sequel, this Shrek’s humor sometimes feels a little forced, and the action scenes are a little too Bigger! Faster! More! for my taste. Overall, though, Shrek 2 is the proverbial gold at the end of the summer movie rainbow.
Plot-wise, we rejoin the story with Shrek (Mike Myers) and his new bride Fiona (Cameron Diaz) in the throes of newlywed bliss, with but one small detail to resolve: they have to get the blessing of Fiona’s parents, the King and Queen of Far Far Away, who are unaware that their beloved daughter went off and got herself hitched to an ogre, of all things. Mom (Julie Andrews) takes the news rather well after the initial shock wears off, but Dad (John Cleese) had apparently struck a deal with the Fairy Godmother to marry Fiona off to Godmother’s son Prince Charming (a hilariously self-absorbed Rupert Everett). Fairy Godmother is a little pissed that Shrek interfered by rescuing Fiona from her captor dragon first, so their union will have to be broken up and Fiona somehow attached with Charming. Along for the ride in this little chamber drama is old pal Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and the dashing, Zorro-esque Puss ‘N Boots (Antonio Banderas, in the best thing he’s done since...ever).
"I swear, the green goes away. It's just a little food poisoning."
In between the inevitable (and enormously entertaining) fart jokes, one-liners, pop culture references, and parodic winks to the audience lies one of the more heartfelt messages about love and relationships you’ll hope to find in mainstream film. Sure, it’s coated with plenty of sugar so the kiddies will lap it up, but the theme of mutual respect and the necessity of compromise between couples rings more true than the “messages” of the vast majority of treacly rom-coms dotting the shelves of your local Blockbuster. Shrek hates Fiona’s parents, but his self-righteous sermonizing is mocked by Donkey, who knows that the big guy has to swallow hard and bear it if he’s to maintain his wife’s affection. Thankfully, the serious stuff isn’t drilled into the audience’s head through numbing repetition, but rather smuggled in artfully among the merciless jabs at Hollywood chic (a shop called “Versarchery”) and modern trends (Fairy Godmother is on a thinly disguised version of the Atkins diet) that populate most of the film.
Shrek 2 is a delightful, frequently hilarious, and genuinely touching movie (incidentally, the character of the Ugly Stepsister is voiced by... Larry King. If you needed any further proof that this is a must-see film...). We’re starting to expect this from the most talented of the animation folks, who are leaving the overly bronzed, grimacing, spear-wielding Greek warriors in the summer movie dust. Here’s some free advice for Wolfgang and the boys: spend less money on elaborately orchestrated, utterly meaningless battle scenes and more on screenplays that don’t creak under the weight of their own grinding plots. Until then, give me fewer Trojans and Spartans, and more ogres and donkeys.
By: Jay Millikan
Published on: 2004-05-21