‘Shrek 2’ nearly outshines the original

Shrek and Donkey meet Puss in Boots in 'Shrek 2'
Shrek and Donkey meet Puss in Boots in ‘Shrek 2’

Sequels. They are a tricky and sometimes disappointing follow ups to their successful predecessors. And while I wasn’t much of a fan of the original Shrek, its sequel proves far funnier and stronger.

Shrek 2 picks up virtually directly after the events of the blockbuster original. Shrek and his wife, Fiona, enjoy their honeymoon and revel in their happiness. However, upon their return, they receive a request from Fiona’s parents to come home so they could meet her new husband.

Shrek is reluctant to go. Being an ogre, he is traditionally harassed and threatened by humans with pitch forks and torches. He quickly submits to Fiona’s wishes, however, and along with his trusty sidekick, Donkey, travel to Far, Far Away.

Which, like its name, is far, far away.

Things don’t go well between Shrek and Fiona’s father and mother. We also discover that Fiona was supposed to be rescued by Prince Charming, whose mother — the Fairy Godmother — then plots to ruin Shrek and Fiona’s marriage in order to bring Charming and Fiona together.

One of the main reasons why I felt this sequel surpasses its predecessor is because of the story. The first Shrek seemed to discard a portion of its storyline, and the predictable ending fell flat as a result (one of the reasons I think its Oscar win was highly questionable). The sequel, however, is much cleaner and smarter.

I also enjoyed how the relationships between the characters developed. Shrek and Fiona’s relationship is at the heart of this film, but so is the relationship between Shrek and Donkey. In both cases, the relationships grow instead of sink backwards. Many times in sequels the filmmakers revert the characters and then try to re-establish the relationships. People who fall in love in the original break up during or before the sequel, so we’re treated to another story of them getting together.

Although some of that happens here, it does so in different and expanded ways where it feels more like a continuation from the first and not an attempt to recapture the same emotions.

While this was said several times when the film was first released, I have to echo that Puss in Boots was a highlight of the film. My first concern was that he would overshadow Donkey, but he is quickly put into his place early on — Donkey says, “The role of loud, annoying sidekick has already been taken!” — and instead of usurping the comic role that Donkey serves in the film, Puss in Boots adds to it.

Even the minor characters who get conveniently forgotten in the sequel — such as the fairy tale characters like Pinocchio — get more screen time in this film. They add to the terrific climactic adventure in some of the funniest and most entertaining moments of the film.

The “Cops” spoof is outstanding!

The only place this film really falls short is the music. While both Shrek films poke fun at fairy tales and pop culture, it seemed to fall victim to the latter with its over dependence on re-recorded pop songs. In one scene, when Shrek, Donkey and Puss in Boots steal a potion from the Fairy Godmother’s factory, the song used fails miserably to heighten or even add to the action. I would go so far as to say it diminishes the sequence.

The performances throughout by the actors are all terrific. Antonio Banderas does a perfect job as Puss in Boots, and I am curious to see how the supposed spin-off adventure for that character will develop.

While the animation is clearly more sophisticated than in the original, I don’t really find anything inspired by it. This is more a personal taste that a criticism. The hair and motion are clearly outstanding. Technically, its nearly flawless.

As for the DVD, it of course includes the usual collection of documentaries and features. The behind the scenes bits are informative, and the filmmaker’s commentary is entertaining and has some good stories. But I found the “technical goofs” bit a little lame. Okay, some of the goofs are funny, but they’re not that funny.

The DVD release also included a special ending, which starts when the credits stop rolling. “Far, Far Away Idol” is a spoof on the popular reality show/contest. And, yes, its funny, but isn’t American Idol a little old at this point? The show’s been on for three seasons, so I think this spoof was a little late. Kind of like how the Matrix spoof in the original were a few years off.

It is rare that a sequel outshines its original, but in the case of Shrek 2, this rare gem out performs and out jokes.

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