- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The animators and jokesters responsible for the “Shrek” franchise confront the challenge of their first sequel by blithely pretending that success couldn’t possibly spoil their sense of playfulness. Maybe not, but it has induced a certain amnesia and dubious backpedaling.

It was my impression that the first movie, a rollicking hit of the summer 2001 movie season, decisively illustrated the truism that beauty is more than skin deep. While transposing a children’s book by William Steig to a computer-animated format, the filmmakers matched a reclusive ogre named Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) with a captive princess named Fiona (Cameron Diaz), demonstrating that the gnarliness of the former and prettiness of the latter could be deceiving — and romantically reconcilable.

“Shrek 2” is predicated on the refusal of troublemaking characters to be reconciled to the happy match. The newlyweds accept an invitation to visit Fiona’s royal parents, Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews) and King Harold (John Cleese), in their kingdom, called Far Far Away and designed to resemble a cartoon fusion of Beverly Hills with Disneyland.

The publicity for this installment is already assuring fans that two other sequels are in the works. What we see is a “Meet the Parents” variation, which obliges a reluctant Shrek and trusting Fiona to withstand a separation conspiracy, actively pursued by a treacherous fairy godmother (Jennifer Saunders) on behalf of her son, a jilted Prince Charming (Rupert Everett). It is passively abetted by King Harold, who eventually proves decent enough to make amends.

The most entertaining characters are showoffs who care a lot about appearances. Nothing would happen without the bossiness of Miss Saunders’ domineering mama, who operates a magic-potion factory. Her most potent essence, “Happily Ever After,” transforms Shrek and Fiona into better lookers during the climactic episodes.

A vintage swashbuckler, Puss-in-Boots, enters as an agent of the villain, then opportunistically switches sides and becomes a delightful asset to the heroes.

Exuberantly dubbed by Antonio Banderas, who seizes the opportunity to exaggerate his own Zorro character from concealment, Puss emerges as such a witty, stellar addition to “Shrek 2” that he may need to be promoted immediately to a franchise of his own. Nimble, wily and overconfidently undersized, he already places the resident comical critter, Eddie Murphy’s Donkey, an obstreperous juvenile, at a disadvantage.

I liked the look of the castle and its environs in “Shrek 2 ” but not the tongue-in-cheek replica of Sunset Boulevard, which takes the liberty of cross-plugging numerous retail outlets while purporting to tease them. Recruiting Larry King to dub a bit role and Joan Rivers for a self-caricature also induces queasy sensations. These gestures reflect an excess of chumminess and backslapping within show-biz circles.

***

TITLE: “Shrek 2”

RATING: PG-13 (Occasional comic vulgarity and sexual allusions)

CREDITS: Directed by Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon. Screenplay by Mr. Adamson, Joe Stillman, J. David Stem and David N. Weiss, based on characters originated by William Steig. Supervising animators: Raman Hui, Tim Cheung and James Baxter. Production design by Guillaume Arestos. Visual-effects supervisors: Ken Bielenberg and Philippe Gluckman. Music by Harry Gregson-Williams

RUNNING TIME: About 90 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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