PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Film

Shrek 2 (2004)

Cynthia Fuchs

Cute, confident, and utterly stylish in his feathered hat, Puss confronts Shrek and Donkey in the woods: 'Ha ha!'"


Shrek 2

Director: Conrad Vernon
Display Artist: Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, Conrad Vernon
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: DreamWorks
Cast: Mike Meyers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Rupert Everett, Julie Andrews, John Cleese, Jennifer Saunders
First date: 2004
US Release Date: 2004-05-19

Shrek (Mike Meyers) and Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are looking aptly satisfied during these happily ever after days. Following the drama of Shrek, the honeymoon looks darn blissful. Skipping through sun-dappled fields (chased by villagers with pitchforks) rolling in From Here To Eternity-ish surf, and snogging in bubbling mudbaths, the ogres have no notion what trouble lies ahead. First clue: they return to the swamp to find Donkey (Eddie Murphy), lonely and yearning for attention.

If sequels are supposed to repeat their precursors' pleasures -- such as they are -- then this one appears quite on track. It is all about repetition. Though time has passed, repeated concerns, images, and jokes are in play from frame one. In this case, that frame would be the one introducing a big fat fairy tale book, pages turning and narrating provided by Prince Charming (Rupert Everett). He's extolling his own adventures, riding through dark forests and snowstorms, flipping his hair like Lucy Liu, in an effort to save the lovely Princess Fiona from the fearful Dragon. And yes, that's the same Dragon from whom Shrek last time saved Fiona and with whom Donkey was last seen entranced. This time, Dragon is missing from most of the action, as Prince Charming soon learns -- he missed the first film's deadline completely, and now has missed his chance to rescue and marry (read: possess) the Princess.

Determined to get his way, Charming complains to his mommy, who happens to be Fiona's Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) and have a mysterious past relationship with Fiona's dad, King Harold (John Cleese). Dark forces conspire (or maybe it's just coincidence), when Fiona asks Shrek to accompany her on a visit with her parents (Queen Lillian voiced by Julie Andrews), in their kingdom called Far, Far Away. Though Shrek knows it's a bad idea (he being the son-in-law who's unwelcome by definition), he agrees, and Donkey does what he does -- he tags along.

So far, so familiar. And yet, DreamWorks' self-congratulatory, Disney-baiting, and beautifully animated Shrek 2 selects its repetitions carefully (whether this is a function of lack of imagination or tunnel vision is not entirely clear). The trio's journey this time is not precisely difficult (as was their first), but it does evoke memories of their shared past and take aim at a more general cultural past, that is, the fairy tale traditions and conventional children's fare (i.e., the sort conjured by Michael Eisner and them). While the sheer precision of the CGI carries this business forward for a few minutes, it's not long before that innovation wears off and the lack of story kicks in. While the film's targets are surely worthy, they are also old.

A long shot of the carriage bearing Shrek, wifey, and Donkey reveals a sign that looks like the Hollywood sign, reading, "Far, Far Away." As they approach the castle, the visitors (accompanied on the soundtrack by "Funkytown") pass palm trees and boutiques, Starbucks and Burger King, and a billboard advertising "Happy Endings," courtesy of Fairy Godmother herself. Following a tense greeting on the grandiose castle stairway (witnessed by loyal subjects gathered to provide colorful background, and, as the animators tell it to HBO, a chance to show off their ability to make assorted fabrics and jewelry), the royals and ogres sit down to a dinner that turns rambunctious and then just ugly, as the males fight for dominion.

Harold throws in with Fairy Godmother (who fails to persuade Fiona that dancing furniture, à la Beauty and the Beast, is her heart's desire), agreeing to do away with his son-in-law, to clear the way for Charming's egotistical wooing. To that end, the King skulks off to the scary Poison Apple Inn, where Captain Hook (Tom Waits) plays piano and drinks are served by a transgendered Ugly Stepsister (Larry King). Here he locates an assassin, namely, the legendary Puss-in-Boots. Voiced by Antonio Banderas, Puss not only offers up a nifty parody of Zorro, but also puts on a big-sad-eyed kitty face when he anticipates the failure of his more overtly aggressive strategies -- swordfighting, clawing, hurling himself at his opponent.

Cute, confident, and utterly stylish in his feathered hat, Puss confronts Shrek and Donkey in the woods: "Ha ha!" This just before he cuts his initial -- "P" in Zorro-esque slash-- into a nearby tree. At first, he threatens Donkey, who claims the "position of annoying talking animal" for himself, but eventually he grows on even this most insecure of opponents. In Donkey's defense, Puss is hard to resist, this despite or because of his timeout from a fight to cough up a yucky hairball.

Puss' fuzzy hijinks aside, he mos def has Banderas' charismatic freshness going for him. Whereas everyone else in sight is delivering what you've seen before, in the first Shrek if not elsewhere -- broguey ogre, spirited princess, smarmy prince, angling stage mother -- Puss is downright strange, and erratic to boot. Even when the plot devolves into '80s music montages, wily Puss is depressed at the bar, crying into his milk ("I hate Mondays!") or denying knowledge of the catnip he's just been busted with ("That's not mine!"). Unfortunately, he is called on to "enliven" proceedings by singing and dancing "La Vida Loca" against a splashy backdrop, an odious number if ever there was one. (Can we all move on from the stereotypes attached to the Latin Explosion, please?)

The moral of this version of Shrek is much the same as the moral of the original, wrapped up, again, in Fiona's decision as to whether she will be an ogre or a humanish-animated girl. While Shrek 2 ostensibly celebrates difference over conformity, it settles for what's paid off before.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.