Friday, May 28, 2004

'Shrek 2'

—Originally published 5.28.04

It's hard to believe "Shrek" and "Shrek 2" are even related because the sequel far surpasses the original.

My major problem with 2001's "Shrek" is simple: It's a collection of pop-culture references cobbled into a story. The second is a compelling (if cliché) story that works in some ingenious pop-culture references.

And, unlike the original, it's hilarious.

"Shrek" may have won an Oscar for best animated film, but with the sequel, DreamWorks provides the first real challenger to Pixar for the true championship of computer-generated supremacy. "Shrek 2" is still not as good as most Disney/Pixar efforts, though, because I doubt it will be as laugh-out-loud funny for viewers 10 or 20 years from now when many won't get the cultural send-ups.

Mike Myers returns to voice Shrek, the ogre, and the story picks up essentially right on the heels of the first film. Shrek and new ogre-bride Fiona (Cameron Diaz), princess of Far Far Away, return from their honeymoon to Shrek's swamp home only to have wedded bliss interrupted by a call from the kingdom -- Fiona's parents, the King and Queen, want to throw the newlyweds a party.

You're about 10 minutes into the movie now and giving away much more would ruin what should be a joyful trip to the theater for children and adults alike. Suffice it to say, there wouldn't be a sequel without some kind of trouble for the big green couple, and they find plenty in what turns out to be a pretty typical (but extremely well-done) romantic comedy/fairy tale.

Everything about "Shrek 2" is better than the original, including the writing, plot and graphics. While it was everything I could do just to stay awake through "Shrek," the sequel had me really belly-laughing. The main culprit is a brilliant new character, the assassin Puss-in-Boots, a tiny cat dressed like Zorro and voiced by Antonio Banderas ("The Mask of Zorro"). The feline is flat-out hysterical, especially when arguing with Shrek's other (jealous) sidekick, Donkey (Eddie Murphy).

Credit screenwriter J. David Stern -- new to the Shrek team -- for these exchanges:

* Donkey to Puss-in-Boots: "The position of annoying talking animal has already been filled."

* And again: "If we need an expert on lickin' ourselves, we'll give you a call."

* Or, when Donkey collapses in a heap, Puss says to Shrek, "Hey, boss, let's shave him."

(Parents should know there are a couple scenes that require the PG rating, including a tangent reference to drugs -- which is hysterical, by the way -- and another scene in which one male character is forced to admit he wears women's underwear.)

Incredibly entertaining, "Shrek 2" is one of the best-reviewed movies of the year, and deservingly so (even if reactions were mixed on which was better, No. 1 or No. 2). The sequel is nearly flawless, but falls just short of the bar set by Pixar classics like "Toy Story," "Monsters, Inc.," and "Finding Nemo."

Any movie that ends with a Ricky Martin song is incapable of perfection.

Grade: B+

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