Shrek 2

It's no surprise that Shrek, the lovably grumpy green ogre is back with a sequel, especially given the amount of money the first movie grossed. The original Shrek was enjoyable because it presented a slightly twisted take on many classic fairy tales in a hilarious fashion and combined it with a witty script and gorgeous computer animation. Clearly, the filmmakers knew a good thing when they saw one, since they did pretty much the same thing with most of the same people for the sequel. Much of the voluminous cast is back, and the script takes pains to gently skewer much more, while introducing even more characters and throwing in as many pop culture references as it can. Shrek 2 picks up shortly after Shrek finishes, with Shrek (Mike Myers, The Cat in the Hat, View from the Top) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Gangs of New York) back in the swamp fresh from their honeymoon.

Donkey (Eddie Murphy, The Haunted Mansion, Daddy Day Care) is back to pester them some more when Fiona gets an invitation from her parents, the rulers of Far, Far Away. They want to formally introduce the couple to the kingdom. The King (John Cleese, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Die Another Day) and Queen (Julie Andrews, The Princess Diaries, Relative Values) are shocked that Shrek is an ogre, and the King in particular is aghast. He made a deal with Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders, Fanny and Elvis, Spice World) that her son, the arrogant Prince Charming (Rupert Everett, The Wild Thornberrys Movie, The Importance of Being Earnest) would marry Fiona and become King. To keep up his part of the bargain, the King dispatches Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Spy Kids 3D) to take care of Shrek. Instead, Puss in Boots joins forces with Shrek, who decides he needs to win back the heart of Fiona.

There is a surprising amount going on here. Screenwriters J. David Stern and David Weiss (Clockstoppers, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius), Joe Stillman (Shrek, Beavis and Butt-head do America) put a little bit in for everybody. The story is pretty standard in terms and ultimately predictable, but it's all in how it is presented. All of the characters are so colorful and enjoyable, especially Banderas, that it's fine that people can guess what will happen. The fun is watching all of them interact together and say funny things. Things actually begin a little slowly, but by the time the middle of the film, the screenwriters hit their stride and mass mayhem ensues. The one real weakness is their penchant for pop culture references. Far, Far Away looks a lot The writers have send-ups of The Lord of the Rings, Mission Impossible, COPS, Rawhide, Starbucks, Bob's Big Boy, and even Diaz's relationship with Justin Timberlake. While they are funny, all these references instantly date the movie. Young viewers will probably have no idea what some of these things are, and people in general in a few years may be mystified.

It seems that PDI is attempting to become a much, hipper version of Pixar. While Pixar has amazing CGI and wonderful stories, PDI is going for amazing CGI, good stories, pop culture references, a few good-natured jabs at Disney, and a soundtrack featuring hot bands. It's not necessarily better, but at least it's not trying to copy Pixar. And while the animation is better than the original and exquisitely detailed (look at the hair on Puss), directors Andrew Adamson (Shrek), Kelly Asbury (Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron), and Conrad Vernon (Morto the Magician) know that it is more than how great the detail is. People need to be able to sympathize with the characters, or here, laugh with them at the jokes they make. There's been a big fuss about the possible death of traditional hand-drawn animation. That is a bunch of hooey. As long as the story is engaging (as it is here), it won't matter how the film was made. Shrek 2 is a sweet story rendered exquisitely. It is about the same as the first, but in this case, that's not a bad thing.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 45 minutes, Rated PG for some crude humor, a brief substance reference, and some suggestive content.

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