I’ve only been a few days removed from the Shrek 2 experience and there have already been two handfuls of people who have asked me about it. “Is it better than the first?” Man, have we become that greedy to actually expect a summertime sequel to not just live up to its predecessor but to surpass it in quality? Shrek was a magical creation that ended up second on my best-of list in 2001. It’s borderline impossible to recreate the way its animation astonished us since technological milestones can only be events like that once. Beyond that we were left with lovable characters and a biting sense of humor which took Disney and fairy tales to task. You’ll be happy to know that the Shrek experience hasn’t changed all that much.Picking up where the first one left us (or, at least, where the new Shrek 3-D DVD creates a bridge), Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are on their extended honeymoon. A gingerbread house in the middle of a swamp may seem like a diamond in the rough, but it’s symbolic of the love they’ve built for each other. When their presence is requested in the land of Far Far Away (modeled after Beverly Hills), the couple head off with constant companion, Donkey (Eddie Murphy) to meet the in-laws.
Since Fiona’s true love was pre-destined to be the vainly handsome Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), her homecoming turns from red carpet to an ogre of a different color. Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews) urges King Harold (John Cleese) to put on his best Guess-Who’s-Coming-To-Dinner-gameface for Fiona’s sake, but he can’t help believing that his daughter has made a tragic error in judgement. When Mama’s Boy Charming has Mum, the Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) conspire with Harold to separate the two, temptation will test the loving pair into the promise of a better life.
The voicework of Shrek has already solidified itself into the lexicon of animated history. Eddie Murphy’s Donkey is as memorable and hilarious as anything he has done since his days on "Saturday Night Live," and Myers’ Shrek is endearing enough to cause a welcome memory lapse on his repetitive Austin Powers shtick and blackboard-grating performance as The Cat In The Hat. But both are upstaged by the addition of Antonio Banderas as Puss-In-Boots. Banderas is already an underappreciated comic actor, and it’s a feline with the Zorro complex that will be having audiences clamoring for a spin-off as he steals the film with the best lines and unquestionably the funniest reaction shot staring back at you all year.
The sequel never disappoints when it comes to harping on the Disney tradition. (Who knew The Little Mermaid was such a tramp?) But it’s not all wise-cracks and cleverer-than-thou snipes. Like its main character, the film’s heart is in the right place and treats the central relationship as that of the soulmate variety; willing to sacrifice their own happiness so not to compromise their spouse’s. There are no jokes about nagging wives or Shrek’s fearsomeness emasculated; only regret for not giving each other everything they feel they deserve. When Shrek goes through some changes of his own, it would have been interesting to see him test the waters now that the world is seeing him through rose-colored glasses. But this isn’t The Shape of Things and we already care for Shrek so much that we wouldn’t be mad, we’d be disappointed if he ever strayed from Fiona.The moneymaking endeavors that sequels truly are tend to disengage the makers from the quality control (or stroke-of-luck) they had when creating the original. The makers of Shrek couldn’t have picked a greater closer theme than “I’m a Believer” the first time out and they should have thought again when choosing part two’s final number. But it’s not indicative of sequelitis and is a minor blemish on an otherwise fabulous follow-up. Shrek 2 is exactly what we want in our sequels; respect for its origins, growth in the characters and an honest attempt to replicate its laugh quotient. Surpassing the original is a bonus plan with interest but you’ll find that Shrek 2 will reward you with a happy return.