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Ogre and Over Again

 

Shrek 2

Andrew Adamson, USA, 2004

Rating: 3.0

 

 

Posted: May 24, 2004

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Its name to the contrary, the land of Far, Far Away -- the far-flung locale in which Shrek 2 is set -- is an unsettlingly familiar place. It may be geographically remote (or not; although the principal characters must undertake a 700 mile trek to get there in the film's early going, a late-in-the-film rescue by Shrek's friends from back home is startlingly instant by comparison). But in terms of its purpose and overall feel, it's not that far at all from the home of John Lithgow's Lord Farquaad in the original Shrek. Whereas Farquaad's theme-park-ish kingdom was a winking way for Dreamworks to poke at its rival, Disney, Far, Far Away is a gentle jab in the ribs of Hollywood.

As the setting goes, the rest of the film follows: Shrek 2's attempt to tweak the ultimate land of make-believe would carry more weight were the movie itself not as Hollywood as the day is long: It is a movie sequel, after all, and as sequels go, it displays such unwavering fealty to the theme (if not the plot) of its predecessor that, despite its winsome, humorous moments, one feels vaguely cheated for having paid to sit through the same movie twice. It's difficult to laugh too hard at Far, Far Away's evocations of glitzy Beverly Hills and environs, from shops with names like Tower of London Records and "Farbucks" coffee shops on every corner to a cameo by Joan Rivers, when Shrek 2 is as calculated a commercial product as any Farbucks latte.

The plot involves large green newlyweds Shrek (voiced once again with a surprising lack of over-the-top buffoonery by Mike Myers) and Princess Fiona (a grating Cameron Diaz) returning from their honeymoon to a reunion with Shrek's over-eager sidekick Donkey (Eddie Murphy in top vocal form) and a summons to Fiona's homeland of Far, Far Away so that her parents can celebrate her new nuptials. The catch is that the King and Queen are unaware that in the previous film, Fiona was saved from her curse (human by day, ogre by night) not by the expected Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) but by Shrek, and as a result she became a full-time ogre. This greatly upsets the King (John Cleese, whose personality doesn't shine through), who had struck a deal with Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) to hook Fiona up with Charming as payback for some mysterious help the Godmother gave him long ago.

Under pressure to make things right and get rid of Shrek, the King hires fabled assassin Puss-in-Boots to dispatch the ogre, and it's the addition of this new character that gives the film most of its spark. Antonio Banderas voices Puss-in-Boots with just the right amount of swashbuckling swagger and bravado, adding zest to some of the film's best bits, including one in which the local constabulary find catnip on his person and he quickly insists "That's not mine" in true COPS fashion. (Sadly, the script neuters Puss quickly, making him a loyal sidekick prone to calling Shrek "Boss.")

Where Shrek 2 goes off of its own track and into the well-worn wheel treads of the original is in Shrek's ensuing crisis of confidence. In the first film, Shrek eventually comes to terms with his otherness, accepting himself both as an outsider and as a worthy suitor for Fiona. Here, the plot rests on the King and Fairy Godmother undermining that hard-won self-esteem, a task they accomplish far too easily. Shrek spends the majority of the film wrestling with self-doubt, torn between trying to become the kind of man he thinks Fiona will want (which he briefly accomplishes with the help of a magic potion) and wondering if he'd be better off leaving her to her old life. It's a reasonable enough dilemma, as far as ogres' romantic crises go, given that the stimuli of Fiona's homeland accentuate Shrek's already obvious differences. But since it's an emotional journey he's already successfully navigated once before, to use it as the crux of a second film feels unimaginative.

All of which may seem a lot of critical baggage to lay at the feet of an animated fairy tale whose sole purpose is to entertain. And the film certainly does manage to do so, from a rescue scene in which Pinocchio attempts a Mission: Impossible-style dangle only to get tangled in his own wires (and a lie involving women's underwear: don't ask) to quick bon mots like Captain Hook playing piano in a bar and sounding like Tom Waits. Still, the film's occasional sparkles of wit aren't quite enough to dispel the nagging familiarity of its story, which relieves its barbs at Hollywood consumer culture of any real bite.

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