Trying to settle into married life, ogres Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz, with very little to do this time out) are quickly whisked away, with buddy Donkey (Eddie Murphy), to the land of Far Far Away to meet Fiona's royal parents (John Cleese and Julie Andrews). Shocked by Fiona's choice in a husband, the King conspires with the Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) to get rid of Shrek and replace him with Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), employing a dangerous feline called Puss-in-Boots (Antonio Banderas, stealing the movie) to carry out their nefarious plans.
Let me put it out there right away: I was no fan of 2001's blockbuster "Shrek." An excruciating, unfunny, and stale spoof of fairy tales and their inhabitants, as well as a giant jab at the Walt Disney Corporation, I was awed to see "Shrek" rewarded with boffo box office for its creative corruption and reliance on easy-as-pie mockery to earn laughs. "Shrek 2" (IMDb listing) starts out as simply more of the same; a little lame teasing of fairy tales here, a little fart joke there. The opening of the film promises a straightforward exercise in sequelitis, and one that is infuriatingly content to coast on its past successes in comedy targets.
The plot for "Shrek 2" isn't extraordinary in terms of story or dialog, but it is a departure from the freewheeling zaniness that plagued the initial film. In fact, for a franchise built on repelling the Disney influence in animated features, "Shrek 2" plays into the recognizable, white-gloved hand of rodent storytelling for a good chunk of the picture. The new feature boasts a simple, traditional "why can't we be ourselves" plotline (didn't we wrap that thread up in the first film?), features many talking animal sidekicks, and stages an elaborate musical number for the Fairy Godmother that tries hard to send up standard Disney musical showstoppers, but not that hard if you catch my drift. Why tear the formula down when it's made the Mouse House billions? While Disney tries to "Shrek" itself up with empty calorie treats like "Home on the Range," "Shrek 2" could easily fit alongside the Disney lineup with its labored message and family-polarizing sense of humor. Funny how that works.
With the absence of Lord Farquaad for this outing, "Shrek 2" is missing the catalyst for many of its Hollywood and fairy tale targets, and you can sense the filmmakers sweating bullets trying to shoehorn new parodies to tickle the adults in the crowd. Outside of speedy nods to "Lord of the Rings," "Spider-Man," "Flashdance," and one dreadful joke involving union dental benefits, the rest of the sequel isn't nearly as obsessed with hitting jokes at 100 mph, which is astonishing. "Shrek 2" is a quieter affair, and a leisurely one, which might confound the supporters of the original. But the lack of repetitive joke syndrome really makes the tepid, abhorrent world of "Shrek" easier to digest. As does the addition of Puss-in-Boots, played with comic precision by Antonio Banderas. Puss-in-Boots adds healthy laughs to the film, and along with Eddie Murphy's Donkey, the pair make a great team. Maybe for "Shrek 3" the production can ditch the humdrum Shrek and Fiona arc and focus in on the donkey and the cat. That's where the real fun is.
The finale of "Shrek 2" brings back all the familiar faces from the previous film, along with the frenzied spirit that wasn't missed at all (apparently Pinocchio wears ladies underwear, hee-hee?). Once the Fairy Godmother starts singing a Bonnie Tyler song from "Footloose," you can feel the old, annoying "Shrek" take over, and the fun ends swiftly. Fans of the original will no doubt find the thrill is back with this brightly colored sequel, but for the 12 of us who couldn't find any value in "Shrek," "Shrek 2" shows welcomed improvement on this loathsome concept for a feature film.
Filmfodder Grade: B-