Combustible Celluloid
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With: (voices) Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas
Written by: Andrew Adamson, Joe Stillman, J. David Stem and David N. Weiss, based upon the book by William Steig
Directed by: Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon
MPAA Rating: PG for some crude humor, a brief substance reference and some suggestive content
Running Time: 92
Date: 05/15/2004

Shrek 2 (2004)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Getting Ogre It

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Call me an ogre, but I'm among the very few who found the original Shrek (2001) thin, average and severely overrated. Three years later, whatever was fresh about Shrek is now gone.

The new sequel, Shrek 2, gives the impression that its team of writers woke up everyday in Hollywood, drove to someplace else in Hollywood, and wrote about their experiences in Hollywood. Shrek 2 lacks any awareness of the outside world, fairy tales and children's stories included.

None of the jokes stand on their own as jokes; they depend on the usual boys' bathroom humor and on pop culture references that range from a bit outdated to very outdated. How many people even today will get the reference to "fine Corinthian leather" for example? Younger audience members, and certainly future generations, will wonder what this film was supposed to be about.

Shrek (voiced with a still-unexplained Scottish accent by Mike Myers) and Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz) have just enjoyed their honeymoon -- a montage of images and references from other movies -- and returned home to find Donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy) living in their swamp home. A messenger arrives inviting the happy couple to visit Fiona's parents (voiced by John Cleese and Julie Andrews), the King and Queen of Far, Far Away.

Of course, Far, Far Away is merely Los Angeles -- complete with silly movie posters and Starbucks-like coffee houses -- dressed up as an animated wonderland. The movie's dubious climax even takes place at a red-carpet premiere-like party with "celebrities" arriving and an announcer yapping about their clothes and status.

When the king and queen's daughter arrives and she turns out to be an ogre, awkwardness sets in. The film could have done something interesting with this Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? premise, but instead it goes off in a hundred different directions, trying for lame jokes and winding up with a hackneyed plot.

Myers doesn't even get to do anything funny here; he's the straight man. As Shrek wanders through the story taking beautification potions and trying to get back to Fiona by a certain time, most of his dialogue consists of mournful whining: "if only" this and "maybe I should" that.

Fortunately, Antonio Banderas has joined the cast as Puss In Boots, an assassin hired to kill Shrek, who winds up joining him for no discernable reason. Aside from the expected "coughing-up-hairballs" and "licking-his-privates" jokes, Banderas manages to imbue the feline with a unique personality. His greatest trick is to subdue his enemies with his big, sorrowful kitten eyes. If we have to endure yet another sequel, I would prefer Puss get his own film.

Meanwhile, even though they scrimped with their bargain basement script, directors Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon have spared no expense in making the film look spectacular, and it does. Computer animation has come a long way, and the filmmakers do not shy away from tricky effects such as human and animal hair, fire and water, as well as more complex facial expressions. The story's villain, the Fairy Godmother (voiced by Jennifer Saunders), has particularly expressive eyes and eyebrows. Even some of the walk-on characters have vivid facial features and personalities.

But no film has ever succeeded on its technical prowess alone. It's shocking how much work went into a film with such an obviously shaky foundation. With all those hundreds of animators and technicians and voiceover artists pouring their time and effort into this thing, didn't anyone notice that it wasn't funny or involving or entertaining in any way?

Animation fans should instead rent Toy Story 2 (1999) for proof that a computer animated sequel can edge close to greatness -- if only someone cares.

(Note: This review also appeared in The San Francisco Examiner. See also Shrek the Third.)

DVD Details: Available subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Available Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), Commentary by the filmmakers, Technical Goofs, Meet Puss in Boots, Meet the Cast of Shrek 2, The Tech of Shrek 2, Over 20 Games and Activities, Shrek's Music Room, & More

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