Mon
Feb 8 2010 6:35pm
Movie Review: Shrek 2

Once upon a time, the animated film Shrek broke box office records as a clever fairy tale parody that cast William Steig’s rude and crude ogre as a reluctant hero who rescues a princess—who turns into an ogress herself. Though it riffs on the traditional quest narrative and the search for true love, the film never loses the romantic heart of fairy tales, right down to its happy ending. The 2004 sequel picks up where the first installment left off, continuing to subvert fairy tale conventions by showing that “and they lived happily ever after” is a lot more work than it sounds in the stories, and might not be strictly true.

When Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) return from their honeymoon montage, they receive an invitation from her parents to visit the kingdom of Far, Far Away. Fiona’s apprehensive about going home, since no one there has seen her since she got married and became a full-time ogress. Indeed, everyone is stunned at her striking appearance, most of all her parents, Harold (John Cleese) and Lillian (Julie Andrews). After a rather uncomfortable family dinner ends with Fiona in tears, the Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) shows up and offers to set things right.

Shrek realizes that he’ll have to change if Fiona’s family is going to accept him, so he and Donkey resort to stealing the Happily Ever After potion, which promises “beauty divine.” They’re enveloped in bright, magical light, and when Shrek awakens, he’s surrounded by doting women enamored of his newly acquired “cute button nose, thick, wavy locks, (and) taut, round buttocks.” Donkey has been transformed into a magnificent white stallion, a fit steed for the handsome man Shrek has become. Fiona has also returned to her former beautiful, human form.

After some exciting escapes, action-packed chase scenes, and a charged confrontation with the Fairy Godmother and the smarmy Prince Charming at a red-carpet ball, Shrek offers Fiona a choice. He’s willing to remain a handsome man for her, but she chooses the ogre she fell in love with... and it’s time for another celebratory dance party!

While Shrek is about being loved for who you are, Shrek 2 concerns change and compromise. Fiona has changed considerably for Shrek, but he’s too set in his ways to do the same for her, until he worries that he’ll lose her. King Harold tells Fiona, “...people change for the ones they love. You’d be surprised how much I changed for your mother.” We discover that he is also not exactly what he seems, which explains his strong disapproval of his new son-in-law. What ultimately keeps Shrek and Fiona together is embracing each other’s flaws in addition to their better qualities, while being willing to make some sacrifices to ensure their happily ever after.

In addition to the emotional strengths of the movie, the concept of someone stealing another person’s destiny is also intriguing. Under other circumstances, Prince Charming would have ended up with Fiona, though it’s pretty clear she’s much better suited for Shrek. Though the plot is relatively simple, it’s much deeper and more interesting than many animated films, especially the hit-or-miss output of Dreamworks. The Shrek films are written as much for parents as their children, and at times they seem unabashedly adult. Shrek 2, in particular, features more sly innuendo and naughty suggestions than its predecessor. Some of the script is even downright brilliant, aided by the fine comic delivery of actors like Mike Myers and John Cleese. Check out the scene where the two couples first meet, with Shrek and Fiona’s dialogue blending into the king and queen’s whispered conversation:

Queen: Well, he's no Prince Charming, but they do look...
Shrek: Happy now? We came. We saw them. Now let’s go before they light the torches.
Fiona: They’re my parents.
Shrek: Hello? They locked you in a tower.
Fiona: That was for my own...
King: Good! Here’s our chance. Let's go back inside and pretend we’re not home.
Queen: Harold, we have to be...
Shrek: Quick! While they’re not looking we can make a run for it.
Fiona: Shrek, stop it! Everything's gonna be...
King: A disaster! There is no way...
Fiona: You can do this.
Shrek: I really...
King: Really...
Shrek: Don't... want... to... be...
King: Here!

The movie is full of witty jokes and visual gags that you might miss if you blink, bursting with pop cultural references that more or less hold up under the test of time, including overt nods to other films and TV properties such as The Lord of the Rings, Spider-Man, The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and even Mission: Impossible, Hawaii Five-O, and Rawhide. There are also a fair number of gags that build on Shrek, such as the Muffin Man (you know, the one on Drury Lane) and the return of favorite characters including Gingy and Pinnochio, whose appearances don’t yet feel contrived or tired. Throw in some social commentary, with the shallowness of Far, Far Away standing in for Hollywood as the crass commercialism of Duloc paralleled Disneyland, and Shrek 2 delivers a fun and engaging experience, astonishingly all without the use of 3-D technology. This is the rare sequel that is at least as good as the first, and is highly recommended if you enjoyed Shrek even a little bit.

THE END


Eugene Myers still feels like he’s cheating on Pixar when he watches Shrek, but it’s just so darned romantic. Even so, he has no intention of seeing Shrek Goes Fourth, or whatever they’re calling it this week, even though he’s even more of a sucker for alternate universe stories. Unless Shrek has a goatee...

4 comments
Warren Ockrassa
1. warreno
Wow. De gustibus non est dispudandem, I guess. I loathed every single frame of Shrek II. The jokes all felt like floor-sweepings from the first film, and the plot really dragged, I thought.
Eugene Myers
2. ecmyers
@1 warreno

When Shrek 2 came out, everyone kept saying it was better than the first one, and my reaction was "I don't think you remember how good the first one is." But when I re-watched both films before this review, I liked Shrek 2 a lot more. So... maybe give it another shot?

We can probably agree that this was better than the third film though, right?
Kathleen J
3. tanaudel
But it had Puss in Boots! I liked Antonio Banderas so much more after this movie came out.
Patrick Garson
4. patrickg
Interesting fact: This movie was such an incredibly huge success here, that when you crunch the numbers, it works out that just under 2 out of 5 Australians saw that movie in the cinema - an astonishing figure, especially given the dvd sales were equally incredible.

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