WFTB Score: 7/20
The plot: Shrek and his new bride Fiona are summoned to Far, Far Away to meet the in-laws. Finding his daughter disagreeably green, the king plots to do away with Shrek and, for his own reasons, install Prince Charming as a replacement husband; Shrek will need help from more than his faithful donkey if true love is going to win out this time.
The original Shrek became a massive hit not because it looked fabulous, taking computer animated feature films to a new level, but because it was really, really good; it took the conventions of fairytale storytelling and turned them on their head, with feisty heroes and heroines that lacked the pert noses and chiselled chins of a hundred Disney princes and princesses, and a smart script that satisfied children and adults alike. Best of all, the happy ending was true to the spirit of the film, Shrek and Fiona’s wedding tying up all the loose ends very nicely indeed.
Unfortunately for Dreamworks, the ending had to be unknotted a little when it became clear that a sequel would make the studio pots of money was artistically in the best interests of all concerned. Once again the animation is terrific, and there’s nothing wrong with the set-up, Shrek, Fiona and Donkey (voiced again by Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy respectively) travelling to the Hollywood-like Far, Far Away to meet the King and Queen (John Cleese and Julie Andrews); but once there, the plot becomes complicated very quickly, with the King in hock to Jennifer Saunders’ Fairy Godmother, who demands that her self-narrating son (eh?) Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) should be Fiona’s real husband. Meanwhile, the bad-tempered introduction to the family causes friction between Shrek and Fiona, the ogre reading his wife’s diary and coming to the conclusion that he may not be her ideal husband.
Marital strife doesn’t sound like everyone’s idea of fun, and it is clear that, even allowing for affronted furniture, the dense plotting of Shrek 2 often pushes the jokes to one side. The script lurches from scene to scene rather than flowing naturally like its predecessor, and it has to be said that few of the new characters have either the charm or pantomime villainy you would hope for. This is particularly true of the King, for whom Cleese’s voice is a poor match (why does he have to be English when Fiona is clearly American?); also, British audiences are treated to the vocal ‘talents’ of Jonathan Ross and Kate Thornton, the latter particularly misplaced as her character looks exactly like Joan Rivers!
Thank heavens, then, for Antonio Banderas’ Puss in Boots. Originally assigned to assassinate Shrek, he accompanies the ogre and Donkey on a Quest to make Shrek beautiful in a fairly predictable reversal of the first film. Puss sounds the part and, with his big eyes, is cute as a button. He carries the middle part of the film, because although Donkey’s transformation into a stallion is entertaining, Shrek as a handsome brute of a human is less fun than when he’s a green beast.
Anyway, the plot shoehorns the favourite fairytale characters (Pinocchio, the gingerbread man, the pigs etc.) into rescuing these adventurers and preventing Charming from kissing Fiona before midnight. There are a few decent jokes during this sequence, not least the appearance of Mungo, the giant gingerbread tribute to Mr Stay-Puft in Ghostbusters, heroically downed by Cappuccino, or Pinocchio’s momentary transformation into a real boy; but there is nothing to match Dragon’s storming of the church, and too many tiresome pop culture references.
Talking of pop, some of the music is pretty poor too – Pete Yorn covers the Buzzcocks’ classic Ever Fallen in Love?, Butterfly Boucher make a horrible mess of Bowie’s Changes and a ghastly version of Holding out for a Hero by Frou Frou runs over the end credits. And before you ask, I’ve never heard of any of these people either.
There’s as much to lament as there is to laud about Shrek 2. On its own terms it’s adequate, obviously successful enough for the producers to have yet another go and in no way disgracing the memory of the original (yes, I am looking at you, Babe: Pig in the City); but neither does it build much on the original. Given the choice, and assuming it isn’t too fresh in your memory, watch the first Shrek every time.