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(2004) (voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy) (PG)

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Comedy: An ogre must deal with attempts by his wife's fairy godmother and royal father at undermining his marriage.
Now that's he married to Princess Fiona (voice of CAMERON DIAZ), swamp resident Shrek (voice of MIKE MYERS) would seem to be a happy ogre. Yet, not only must he deal with his persistent sidekick, Donkey (voice of EDDIE MURPHY), but also the fact that Fiona's parents, Queen Lillian (voice of JULIE ANDREWS) and King Harold (voice of JOHN CLEESE), have summoned them to their castle in Far, Far Away Land.

Shrek is reluctant to go, but Fiona convinces him and soon they and Donkey set out on their long trek. While Shrek isn't surprised by his in-laws' reception, Fiona is upset that her parents are disappointed both by how she looks (she's in ogre form) and who she married.

With pressure from Fiona's Fairy Godmother (voice of JENNIFER SAUNDERS) who wanted her son Prince Charming (voice of RUPERT EVERETT), to be the one who rescued and then married Fiona rather than Shrek, King Harold tries to do in the ogre. He does so by hiring the feline assassin Puss in Boots (voice of ANTONIO BANDERAS).

With a magic potion causing Shrek, Donkey and Fiona to become physically attractive, and Fiona being under another spell where she'll fall in love with the first person she kisses, the characters must overcome various obstacles as they try to prevent Harold, Charming and the Fairy Godmother from getting their way.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
The problem with expectations is that, well, they cause people to expect or anticipate something whether it's actually going to happen or not. It's usually a good thing when something meets or exceeds others' expectations about it. Yet, such success -- whether it's having a banner year selling real estate, setting the single season home run baseball record, or having a beloved, hit movie -- often generates two different sorts of expectations about any follow-up attempt.

One is that people will automatically raise the level of success bar, thus making it that much more difficult for any ensuing effort or sequel to match what happened the first time around, at least in their eyes, hearts and/or minds. On the other hand, others will have lowered expectations since they figure there's no way that the previous level of success could possibly be equaled.

Both have likely been running through people's minds upon hearing that "Shrek 2" was being released. After all, the original 2001 film was a highly original, completely engaging and thoroughly entertaining offering that put a unique spin on all sorts of things ranging from fairy tales to pop culture and even some not so subtle jabs at Disney.

I'm happy to report that while the Mouse House might not be as square in the filmmakers' sights, this sequel is every bit as good, funny and enjoyable as its predecessor. Granted, there's only one "first time" for such an offering and thus the novelty factor is thus missing. Yet, the picture obviously benefits from its familiarity in terms of story and character, and sports some new additions -- ranging from quite good to brilliant -- to what's arguably the best assemblage of vocal talent for any animated picture ever.

As in all good fairy tales, the story -- penned by writer/director Andrew Adamson ("Shrek") and Joe Stillman ("Shrek," "Beavis and Butt-Head Do America") and J. David Stem & David N. Weiss ("Clockstoppers," "The Rugrats Movie") -- is simple enough for young kids to understand, yet filled with all sorts of material aimed at older kids and adults.

Like many a sequel, the film does retread some of the themes and plot elements from the first time around. Thankfully, the "been there, seen that" feeling isn't remotely distracting as the writers and trio of directors - Adamson, Kelly Asbury ("Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron") and Conrad Vernon (making his feature debut) -- have infused the film with plenty of humor, romance, action and satire.

In fact, this is one of those rare films that'd you'll likely want to see again, not just because it's that good, but also so that you might catch some of the many cultural references that zoom by from time to time. Whether it's the various visuals spoofing Hollywood and tony Beverly Hills or all sorts of clever word play, the film certainly can't be accused of lacking wit.

From the obvious fairy tale riffs to bits featuring jokes or references to "From Here to Eternity," "Hawaii Five-0," "Rawhide," "Pretty Woman," "Mission: Impossible," Starbucks, Bob's Big Boy, Justin Timberlake, Bob Barker, Joan Rivers and the Red Carpet show, the TV arrest show "Cops," Frankenstein, Godzilla, "Flashdance," and, of course, Michael Jackson, the film is a smorgasbord of witty and clever satire.

Yet, just like the first time around, what makes the film work so well are the characters. As the main plot loosely spoofs "Meet the Parents" (with Shrek having to meet his new wife's royal parental units who obviously won't be pleased with him or his appearance), we follow the characters as they go through the trials and tribulations of just wanting to be loved and/or accepted. That most of it's funny obviously makes it go down quite easily, but there's some real heart behind all of the hilarity and that's what really makes the film so engaging.

To its credit, the characters are done so well that it's easy to forget that we're watching the output of a bunch of computers. Yes, the film is technically amazing and the strides in computer-generated animation since the first film are easily recognized. Yet, it's the "human" characteristics that the filmmakers have captured that are the most magical. The looks and expressions on various characters' faces -- especially when they're not really doing anything active -- are truly priceless.

Mike Myers ("The Cat in the Hat," the "Austin Powers" films), Eddie Murphy ("The Haunted Mansion," "Daddy Day Care") and Cameron Diaz ("Gangs of New York," the "Charlie's Angels" films) return to reprise those characters and are all just as good the second time around.

John Cleese ("Die Another Day," "Rat Race") and Julie Andrews ("The Princess Diaries," "Victor/Victoria") join them playing Princess Fiona's regal parents, but I found them rather bland in comparison. That's more a fault of the script than their vocal performances, but King Harold is clearly no Lord Farquaad in terms of entertaining villainy.

Jennifer Saunders ("Muppet Treasure Island," the TV show "Absolutely Fabulous") gets the "meatier" villain playing a decidedly different fairy godmother, while some fun is had with Rupert Everett ("The Importance of Being Earnest," "The Next Best Thing") voicing her arrogant and vain son, Prince Charming.

Much like Murphy's Donkey character in the first film, however, the scene stealer this time around turns out to be another sidekick. And he's Puss in Boots, the sword-yielding feline assassin hired by the king to dispatch Shrek. Terrifically voiced by Antonio Banderas ("The Mask of Zorro," the "Spy Kids" films) and featuring some of the more entertaining visual moments in the film (the big, pleading cat eye bits are fabulous), the character is an instant film classic and one can only hope he returns for the inevitable sequel.

Yes, you heard me right. It's rare that I look forward to a first sequel, let alone the third film in a series, but this is one of those rare exceptions to the rule. Simply put, if you loved or at least enjoyed the original picture, this one isn't likely to disappoint. The funniest, wittiest and most thoroughly enjoying film I've seen all year, "Shrek 2" equals its predecessor and also rates as an 8 out of 10.

Reviewed May 13, 2004 / Posted May 19, 2004

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