Shrek 2 (2004)

While Shrek was an enjoyable film, it failed to keep its manic and whimsical tone all the way through. In its final half hour, it became more of a drama than an action/comedy. That shift felt awkward to me and didn’t pay off in the end in what was supposed to be a very touching moment. Shrek 2, conversely, rectifies this mistake by keeping a consistent tone throughout, which allows it to be, on the whole, a better film.

It also introduces a couple of major villains. In the first film, that didn’t really happen. Sure, Lord Farquaad was kind of a jerk, but he didn’t really seem to mean anything by it, and he was rarely in direct opposition to Shrek. This time, there is a tag-team working to make sure Shrek won’t live happily ever after, as well as a couple of minor villains who may or may not switch sides before all’s said and done. Stay tuned for those not-at-all-surprising turnarounds.

Our tale begins with Shrek (once again voiced by Mike Myers) and his now-ogre wife, Fiona (Cameron Diaz) living happily in their swamp. Donkey (Eddie Murphy) also lives with them, on and off, much to the couple’s chagrin. Or maybe he just decides to show up once in a while and annoy them — it’s not exactly made clear. Anyway, Shrek and Fiona are summoned to the castle in Far Far Away, because, if you’ll recall, Fiona happens to be a princess, and she therefore has royal parents who would like to meet her new husband.

So, we’re off on a journey to meet the parents. Donkey tags along because, well, he’s the sidekick, I guess. Eventually we meet them, and things don’t go well. While the queen (Julie Andrews) doesn’t mind the fact that Shrek happens to be an ogre, it really bothers the king (John Cleese). There also is a plot to make Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) Fiona’s husband, because that’s how it was supposed to be. With the help of the Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) and the king, he plans to make this happen.

There are our villains. Now we just need a reason for Shrek and Donkey to leave Fiona alone for a long enough while. Well, King Harold provides that reason. After the terrible first meeting, he arranges to go hunting with Shrek in the woods. He’s not really going to the woods, though, instead, he enlists the help of an ogre-killer named Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) to slay Shrek once and for all. That lasts about two minutes before the cute little kitty joins Shrek and Donkey to try to get Fiona back.

The plot plays out likely how you’d expect, save for a twist that comes from a magical potion that can un-ogre you and your spouse. Shrek actually spends a great deal of time looking like a human, which comes in very important later on. Of course, he and Fiona will only stay that way forever if they kiss before midnight, and, as one character remarks, I had to wonder why it’s always midnight. Because it gives us a convenient time frame, I suppose.

As I mentioned earlier, Shrek 2 works better than the first one because it keeps a consistent tone throughout. It perfectly balances action, comedy and drama, instead of keeping them at separate ends of the party. Previously, certain sections of the film were dedicated to one area, and the other was ignored. You could say “oh, this is a drama part of the movie.” Here, it’s all blended together to make an incredibly enjoyable and endearing viewing experience.

This means that the ending pays off much better this time around. Because dramatic elements were thrown in during the story instead of piled right at the end, these characters grow on us as the film is playing. Before, we felt as if the filmmakers were trying to get us to care about their lives. This time, we want to care. It’s a small difference, but it means that the audience isn’t going to feel manipulated. When the ending comes, you’ll quite possibly feel something, which is better than the nothing that came from Shrek‘s finale.

Despite this, the simplicity of the story is kept. There isn’t ever too much going on to overwhelm the children that Shrek 2 targets. This is another tandem-on-a-quest story, even if it doesn’t feel as much like an adventure film as its predecessor. Maybe it’s because it takes longer to get going, or because actual villains are involved, but instead of it being about the hero finding himself, it’s about defeating the baddies.

This is still a great world for a film to take part in. The introduction of Far Far Away means the setting is changed, but many of the supporting cast members return and the scenery looks familiar to us as well. This is simply an enjoyable place to spend 90 minutes in. The detail put into the models and background is incredible, and the animations are smooth.

Shrek 2 is a great sequel to a very good film. It improves on one simple thing from the original, the consistency to its tone, and that makes a world of difference. Everything works slightly better than it did in the first film, and instead of a tonal shift, all of the elements blend together to create a wonderful experience. That is done without sacrificing a simple and straightforward narrative. Shrek was taken and made better. This is a sequel done right.

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