SHREK 2: We are Definitely Not in the Swamp Anymore

Shrek 2 (2004) – Directed by Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, and Conrad Vernon – Starring Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, John Cleese, Rupert Everett, Jennifer Saunders, and Tom Waits.

SHREK 2 is a solid animated feature, artfully blending a good story, good characters, and excellent visuals. It’s funny, but with enough drama in the foundation to give the story adequate weight. The interplay between the characters is top-notch, and the addition of Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) helps to add a new dimension to the Shrek/Donkey (Mike Myers/Eddie Murphy) dynamic. At it’s core, SHREK 2 is an ode to acceptance, communication, and the dangers of preferring appearance over action. There’s a solid story here, but there are some frustrating parts of the film – specifically, Shrek’s continued self-pity and a few too many pop culture references.

SHREK 2 is a very good movie, but it’s also the kind of movie that becomes less enjoyable over the years due to the scattered nature of all the pop culture references. The movie is much better when focusing on the story and less successful when it’s reveling in Joan Rivers cameos, spoofs of Cops, plugging Starbucks (with a Farbucks parody) or jamming in as many pop songs as possible. Now, those features are a big part of what makes the SHREK franchise so successful, but many of those references become less successful with repeated viewings.

Shrek and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) leave the swamp to visit Fiona’s parents in Far Far Away. Shrek doesn’t want to go because he’s a home body and suffers from a distinct case of giving a crap about what other people think. It is a little frustrating at how far they go to sell Shrek’s poor attitude, and more than a little frustrating how far they go to sell Donkey as annoying. What saves SHREK 2 is that they film does move through the story at breakneck speed – we never spend too long in any of the film’s set pieces. As soon as Shrek’s attitude becomes unbearable, the film hits the road. As soon as Donkey’s endless, “Are we there, yet?” questions lose all humor, we arrive at Far Far Away, which plays Disneyland to the first SHREK’s Disney World setting.

Fiona’s parents, the King and Queen (John Cleese and Julie Andrews) did not know of the events of the first SHREK movie, and they are of differing minds of what’s happened and their daughter’s decision to marry an ogre. The Queen is relatively cool with it, but the King is not. Later in the film, we learn that Harold was the Frog Prince back in the day, and is thus touchy about appearances, but at first he just comes off as a jerk by judging Shrek without getting to know him.

The King’s obsession with appearances is matched by Shrek’s, and thus all of the movie’s following drama is set in motion. If Shrek was cool with the way he looked, or didn’t have such a self-defeating attitude, he wouldn’t have been swayed by reading Fiona’s diary.

From when she was a kid.

But because he is, he sees all of her “Fiona Charming” drawings and assumes that the younger Fiona still speaks for the grown-up Fiona. Given’s Shrek’s personality it does make a bit of narrative sense for this to happen, but it also means that, deep down, Shrek remains unmoved by the events of the first film. Again, almost all of the problems in SHREK 2 would not be problems in characters just talked to one another. Note that I don’t mean complete strangers talking to one another, either, but husband and wife, parent and child, and in-laws. Barring that, it would have been nice to see the filmmakers do something with the fact that Fiona is changed – and not just physically. All it would take is a few lines from the King and Queen about how their daughter has matured, for instance, to give the film a little more weight.

This is a small complaint, though, because the humor in SHREK 2 goes a long way to making this film as enjoyable as it is.

Key to the humor is the addition of Puss in Boots. Initially, Puss is hired by the King to kill Shrek, but then becomes an ally of the guy he will spend the rest of the film referring to as, “Boss.” The interplay between Puss and Donkey is the comedic highlight of the film as they fight for Shrek’s affections and revel in giving each other subtle digs, largely behind Shrek’s back.

The trio steal a “Happily Ever After” potion from the Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders). Shrek and Donkey both take the potion (after Puss tricks Donkey into being the “test animal” instead of him) and in the morning are transformed into a handsome man and his glorious white steed. Fiona gets transformed, too, and thus we get a drama of identities where Fiona is tricked into thinking Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) is Shrek, though she never quite believes it.

There’s a bunch of convoluted back and forth between the King, the Fairy Godmother, Charming, and Fiona, while Shrek wallows in self pity about how Fiona is better without him and blah blah blah. Luckily, we’ve got Donkey to set him straight, but then they’re arrested, and the Cops spoof starts and all the fairy tale creatures who are house-sitting Shrek’s place back in the swamp.

Here’s the thing about Pinocchio, the Three Blind Mice, the Gingerbread Man, the Three Little Pigs, and the Big Bad Wolf – they’re not in the film as much as I remember. In my head, they’re all over SHREK 2, but when I rewatched it last night, they’re really not in it very much. Every time they are in the film, however, it’s memorable.

If they’re dead set against making more SHREK movies, why can’t we get a Fairy Tale movie? I’d pay ten bucks just to listen to the Gingerbread Man talk for 90 minutes.

SHREK 2 is a really good, really enjoyable movie. There are some issues with the film, but it moves so fast and causes so much laughter that I’m willing to let that slide. If it comes down to an either/or, I’ll always take the original over the parody, and while SHREK 2 does tell it’s own story, it also succeeds largely because of all the parodies it offers up.