Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Shrek 2

Posted By on Wed, May 26, 2004 at 12:00 AM

There is a scene about three-quarters of the way into Shrek 2 that sums up how funny, smart and hip it is. A gingerbread man, as tall as a medium-sized building (in a not-so-subtle nod to a similar creature in Ghostbusters) is marching through the streets of Far, Far, Away (a city with a not-so-subtle resemblance to modern-day Los Angeles). Along the way, a Starbucks coffee shop is destroyed. The occupants run screaming out of the crumbling building, and where do they head? Across the street to another Starbucks. It’s a lightning-fast sight gag in a movie that’s brimming with them. If you don’t find one of them funny, just wait about 30 seconds for another to come along.

Besides the never-ending cultural references and the gentle satire on our celebrity-worshiping society, Shrek 2 once again visits the ageless parables of “being yourself” and “beauty is only skin-deep” with seamless computer animation and gorgeous visuals. Those enlisted to chaperone the young-uns will have just as good a time, if not a better one, than the tykes sitting beside them.

The clever fairy tale picks up where the last one left off. Shrek (Mike Myers) and Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are celebrating their honeymoon in high ogre fashion. Fiona, previously afflicted with a curse that turned her into a green and flatulent creature, has accepted her fate and is enjoying sweet matrimony with her monster hubby. Upon returning to the swamp, home to Shrek as well as other creatures from a thousand other storybooks, the newlyweds receive news that the King and Queen, Fiona’s parents, are throwing the lovebirds a gala affair. Fiona’s love for her parents and Shrek’s reluctance to go to a place where he will be looked at with fear and prejudice collide. He comes around, however, when he sees how much it all means to Fiona.

Such domestic interactions happen frequently throughout the film, tenderly and subtly exploring very real and very grown-up themes not necessarily associated with kid flicks. Love is compromise and sacrifice, and Shrek and Fiona’s love is tested as it was in the first Shrek.

The donkey (Eddie Murphy), Shrek’s incessantly chattering companion from the first movie, joins the couple in their sojourn to Far, Far, Away, where the King and Queen reside. The donkey is separated from the Dragon, blaming it on her foul mood. We find out there is good reason for her foul mood. Now, I am aware that many think this donkey character and his non-stop neurotic gabbing was one of the comic highlights of the first Shrek. For me, however, he slowed the movie down with his constant whining and not-that-funny sidekick antics. Fortunately, Shrek 2 is so crowded with other funnier, less irritating characters, it is easy to ignore him.

The trio’s entrance to Far, Far, Away is one of the real highlights of the movie. The kingdom is a medieval La-La Land and there are so many laugh-out-loud details to the cityscape that the film demands a second viewing. I won’t ruin the visual surprises by detailing the dozen or so I caught. Suffice it to say you’ll get whiplash trying to catch them all. The “slow” command on your DVD player will come in mighty handy when the film gets released for home viewing.

King Harold (John Cleese of Monty Python fame) and Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews) are not that thrilled when the couple arrives. They would rather have their daughter go through life without the problems associated with being an ogre. So, the King hires a hit man to whack the gentle giant in order to free his daughter to marry Prince Charming (Rupert Everett). The hit man is a cat named Puss-in-Boots (voiced with an oozing Spanish charm by Antonio Banderas), a hilarious cross between a musketeer and a feline con man. In Shrek 2, it is Puss-in-Boots who gets the best lines, forever mugging and stealing the show. Instead of wasting the friendly ogre, Puss-in-Boots joins him in reclaiming Shrek’s wife from the dastardly Prince Charming.

The Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders from “Absolutely Fabulous”), Prince Charming’s mother, is another character forever stealing the show. Played like a cross between a Mary Kay cosmetics saleswoman and Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate, the Fairy Godmother is a sneaky, manipulative queen of industry who intends to marry her pretty-boy son into the royal family.

Shrek 2 does not feel like a sequel. It’s very funny, very fresh, and leaves one anxious for the next installment. Maybe they can leave the donkey out next time.

Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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