Shrek 2

When the first Shrek came out, like millions of others I was won over by this irreverent fairy tale. But as funny as the endless pop culture references could be, what really made the Oscar-winning animated flick so enjoyable were its wonderful characters. I identified with miserable loner Shrek to an almost embarrassing extent, couldn’t get enough of loud-mouthed but loyal friend Donkey and I loved how Fiona was more assertive and quirky than your usual princess.

After going on their honeymoon, Shrek and Princess Fiona are summoned by her parents to the Beverly Hills-like Kingdom of Far, Far Away. It’s a place all about glamour and image, so predictably the arrival of big green Shrek and his now permanently ogre-size bride sends shock waves through Far, Far Away. Queen Lillian understands that her daughter is just following her heart, but King Harold won’t have any of it and turns to the manipulative Fairy Godmother and a vacuous Prince Charming to try and give Fiona a proper Happily Ever After.

Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz are back voicing our ogres in love, as is Eddie Murphy, getting many laughs as their ass of a friend. He gets competition though from newcomer Antonio Banderas, poking fun at his Zorro persona with the sword-wielding Puss in Boots, who tags along with Shrek even though Donkey warns him that “the position of annoying talking animal is ALREADY TAKEN!”

The casting of John Cleese and Julie Andrews as the voices of Shrek’s in-laws is inspired, but they don’t get much to work with, and neither does Rupert Everett as Charming. Jennifer Saunders’s Fairy Godmother takes up the most place, provoking all the story twists and performing two musical numbers. These are pretty good, as is the rest of the soundtrack. The filmmakers thankfully got over their inexplicable Smash Mouth infatuation, going instead for songs by Counting Crows, the Eels, Dashboard Confessional, Nick Cave and even Tom Waits.

It’s all well and good, but the fact remains that “Shrek 2” is most of all about milking a proven formula. As such we get more Pinocchio, more Gingerbread man (a LOT more!), more gender-confused Big Bad Wolf and, naturally, more of the three leads. It doesn’t further the characters, which had already completed compelling arcs by the end of the first film. Shrek had learned to allow himself to love and be loved, Fiona had realized that inner beauty is what matters most and Donkey… Well, Donkey’s Donkey, life lessons aren’t his game. Getting to spend more time with these guys is a treat, but ultimately “Shrek 2” is a mostly unnecessary sequel.