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"Shrek 2" Fun, But Lacks Element of Surprise

The first Shrek startled all who saw it. It was a truly funny film that made the leap every cartoon dreams of, from the dungeon of “children’s entertainment” to the blessed, lucrative waters of the mainstream. Its method was a mix of overturned expectations, visual parody and sheer fun. Now the sequel has arrived, and while the latter two ingredients carry over to the new film successfully, some of the original’s unpredictability does not.

Shrek 2 sees Shrek and Fiona return from their honeymoon to find that Donkey is moving in on their love nest, er, swamp, and that Fiona’s parents, the king and queen of Far, Far Away, have invited the happy couple to a wedding ball. Obviously Shrek is underwhelmed by the prospect of meeting the in-laws, but the pair eventually set out to meet Fiona’s (entirely human) parents. Awkwardness ensues. As it turns out, Fiona’s dad has got himself mixed up with The Fairy Godmother, a magical Mafioso who convinced him to lock up his daughter in the tower in the first place so that the Godmother’s son, Prince Charming, could rescue her and live Happily Ever After. Naturally, this isn’t what Fiona has in mind, but the Godmother doesn’t take no for an answer.

The fun little touches from the first film are all here. Far, Far Away is a medieval Hollywood, complete with the sign on the hillside, and the chic shopping strip features such stores as “Old Knavery” and “Gap Queen.” Other cultural references include Starbucks, E.T. and The Lord of the Rings. The wedding ball even features Joan Rivers (who also provided the voice), there to criticize the fashion of medieval celebrities like Tom Thumb and Thumbelina (who are later unceremoniously swept into a dustbin). The humor is just as quick as in the first film, but some was probably destined to fall flat, and many of the pop allusions seemed to slow down the story a bit.

Much of the dialogue also drags, and through the first half of the film I caught myself losing interest a few times. Fortunately, the second half picks up significantly, and the final action sequence, featuring Shrek riding to the rescue on the back of a Frankenstein-esque giant cookie, is one of the high points of the film.

The vocal talent shines. Cameron Diaz, Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy are delightful in their old roles, while Antonio Banderas milks his role as Puss in Boots, a feline Zorro stand-in, for all it is worth. Rupert Everett makes an appropriately creepy pretty-boy Charming, and John Cleese turns in a surprisingly touching performance as Fiona’s father.

In the end, what Shrek 2 has, for better or worse, is “more”: more jokes, more songs, more pop culture references, more fights, more characters, more sets. The film is quite a visual accomplishment in this regard, since every aspect is rendered with the same careful visual subtlety as the original. The joy of the first film is still here and the tongue-in-cheek humor is still in full force, making Shrek 2 an amusingly weird way to spend a few hours. However, in following their urge to meet our expectations for a sequel, the filmmakers have taken away part of what made the original film so special: its originality and sense of surprise.

Related story: “Shrek” Rhymes with “Dreck” in Dreary, Predictable Sequel

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