Written by Andrew Adamson, Joe Stillman, J. David Stemand David N. Weiss
Starring Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Jennifer Saunders
It's lightning quick, it's ultra-slick, it's awfully funny and, needless to say, it's state of the art, digitally animated right down to the last perfect hair on that donkey's smart ass. Even better, in a computerized culture that has cartoons looking realistic and live-action seeming cartoonish, and in a topsy-turvy world that has children looking grown-up and grownups seeming childish, this sequel is shrewdly pitched to the shared middle of the spectrum -- that amiable place where parents can hold hands with their kids, marvel in unison at the digitalized sights and, who knows, maybe even explain the jokes to each other. Yep, Shrek 2 deserves nothing more than its own user-friendly rating: Two tooty-ears up, way more than halfway up.
The script jumps in where all fairy tales (and Shrek 1) leave off -- after the happily ever after, as our kindly ogre and his freshly minted missus get spirited away on a whirlwind honeymoon. Cue the montage of merriment in the mud, where the amorous sights are almost as reassuring as the old sounds: a besotted Shrek with his Scottish brogue (more Mike Myers), a fulfilled Fiona with her Everygirl chirp (Cameron Diaz again). Gosh, in passion's swamp, theirs is a monstrous love to make us green with envy.
Meanwhile, back in the real world where beauty is reassuringly more than skin deep, the King and Queen (John Cleese and Julie Andrews) have issued a royal invite to the newlyweds, summoning them to the pleasures of the court. So with their faithful comic relief in tow (can't have a sequel sans Eddie Murphy's motor-mouth donkey), the trio make the journey to the kingdom of Far, Far Away, which bears a certain resemblance to a land that is Near, Near and Dear -- on a posh Romeo Drive, the medieval glitterati shuttle from Versarchery to Abercrombie & Witch, stopping for a skinny latte at Farbucks and a sinful snack at Baskin Robbinhood (XXXI Flavours).
You get the picture. The puns come thick and fast, while the pop culture riffing never stops, as yesterday's fables get decked out in today's quips. Bring on the Guess Who's Coming to Dinner parody: Daddy takes a dim view of his daughter's mixed marriage; he prefers his princes charming and vain and sporting the haughty accent of Rupert Everett at his most plummy. So does the Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders at her Ab Fab best), who weaves a mean wand in this outing. Summoned by Fiona's tears, her entrance is a gorgeous piece of animation with a wicked kicker -- she emerges out of one bubble only to burst another.
From there, yesterday and today continue their lively jitterbug. The fable introduces a potion that turns a jive-talking ass into a preening white charger and a one-woman ogre into a babe-magnet hunk. Of course, in fairy tales, metamorphosis is always a great teacher, and the lesson here is more of the same -- you know, pretty is fine, but home(ly) and hearth are better. That's the moral, yet it's just an old-fashioned face to accommodate all the contemporary winking at everything from Mission Impossible and Justin Timberlake to reality cop shows and Livin' La Vida Loca. Sometimes, old and new morph together, as when the Gingerbread Man balloons into a brown Michelin Man, or when a down-at-the-heels Captain Hook pops up in a dingy piano bar croaking out a Tom Waits tune -- namely, Little Drop of Poison. Don't know how many eight-year-olds will catch that reference, but it's a funny earful for the rest of us.
Most of the humour is like that, the split-level kind that has one tier for the adults and another for the kiddies, with a common room to house the sight gags. But everyone in the place, regardless of age, will agree on the tiny star who steals the show. It's the diminutive Puss in Boots, a swashbuckling fur-ball with a pirate hat and a baleful gaze and a heap of hilarious attitude, thanks to the vocal pyrotechnics of Antonio Banderas (no doubt warming up for his own sequel in Zorro 2). Even Murphy's donkey is daunted, and snarls in a jealous snit: "I'm sorry -- the position of Annoying Talking Animal has already been taken." Spoiler alert: Making for very strange bedfellows indeed, Puss 'n Donk end up proving just how loca la vida is.
In short, the Shrek franchise is alive and well -- Model 2 is zippier, sleeker, with ever-improving graphics, vast commercial potential and the same sly ability to reach out and hook the whole family. So brace yourself. Children love repetition (almost as much as Hollywood) and, a year from now, when you've bought little Johnny the DVD and watched him watch it 400 times, be prepared to feel married to the ogre yourself -- more or less happily, and surely ever after.