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Rated 3.01 stars
by 2662 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
A Fresh, Funny Sequel
by Jeffrey Chen

The original Shrek had many good things going for it, including a unique style of 3-D animation and some snappy comedy, but it was definitely in "attack mode." Underneath its polished surface and immediately gratifying humor was an ugly, bullying approach that got its kicks from making fun of others, even as it preached self-belief. In its not-so-veiled jabs at Disney and its head honcho Michael Eisner, Shrek undermined its own message of allowing different beings to co-exist. For instance, it's funny to me that the thing I remember most about the movie, after admittedly having quite a good time viewing it, is how it made fun of its villain's diminutive height while its hero, an "ugly" ogre, righteously defended his right to have feelings.

At least the makers of Shrek seem to have gotten that out of their system now. Shrek 2 is thus the lucky benefactor -- a movie with a fresh attitude, light on its feet and no longer feeling the need to prove something. The first movie spent a lot of energy making fun of conventions and getting comedic mileage from setting up the audience for an expectation before giving them a blatantly unexpected result. That gave it this weird sense of self-consciousness, which is thankfully nowhere to be found in the sequel.

Shrek 2 has a funny story to tell and just tells it, its humor mainly coming from its very familiar human situation and various pop culture references. The mean streak has been purged, unless you count making fun of Beverly Hills as mean. The movie also benefits strongly from its new characters, of which there are several, with King Harold (voice of John Cleese) perhaps being the most notable. In this conflicted father, the movie's writers have found the real soul of their tale -- Shrek's (voice of Mike Myers) inclination to sacrifice his pride for his love is a well-covered condition, but the battle of a father trying to fight his own prejudices for the well-being of his daughter is more hefty material, especially when the temptation of taking the easy way out is all around him.

Wow, that's some pretty serious stuff, huh? OK, enough of that -- here's what everyone really wants to hear: Shrek 2 is hysterical. Laugh-out-loud, uproariously side-splitting. Not only is there just some spot-on gaggery on display, but the movie kicks it into a higher gear once Puss-in-Boots shows up. I said King Harold was the most notable new character, but Puss-in-Boots is easily the most memorable. He's expertly voiced by Antonio Banderas, who uses him to lampoon his own suave image by having this smooth Spanish voice coming from this rather ordinary-looking cat. And the writers bombard Puss-in-Boots with cat jokes, and I just couldn't stop laughing every time he was on the screen. The best part is how Puss-in-Boots doesn't have any need to be in the story -- he is seriously there for no reason other than just to be there, and he emerges as one of the most grin-inspiring comic creations I've ever seen.

In an interesting way, the presence of an ulterior motive in Shrek gave it an extra dimension, even though it was what I considered a weakness. That makes Shrek 2 fluffy in comparison -- it's a new story, but it almost doesn't have much to do with Shrek in a psychological way. This is because the sequel carries on with what was essentially the surface material in the original -- that of self-confidence in one's image, no matter how outcast that image was. The theme is the meat of Shrek 2, but, unfortunately, its association with the first Shrek weakens the weight of the theme because now we can predict where it's supposed to go. All together, it makes the experience as a whole less fulfilling than it could have been.

Standing alone, though, this movie is a comic treasure that can be viewed and appreciated by anyone. In that light, it's a perfect package for the summer.

(Released by DreamWorks and rated "PG" for some crude humor, a brief substance reference and some suggestive content.)

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