Shrek 2 was generally granted the same glowingly positive reception that the original received and opened to great box-office success. I must admit, while I was expecting to enjoy Shrek 2, my response was a good deal less enthusiastic. It feels like a lesser sequel. The first Shrek had a clearcut character arc that of a classic fairytale quest story, which it wittily subverted by playing everything against expectation. By contrast, all that Shrek 2 does is to pump up the element of fairytale parody and coast by on the familiarity of the characters and humour. What seems to be crucially lacking is the freshness that the original had. The familiar characters seem muted this time around Shrek is no longer a grumpy ogre but spends most of the film mooning about in love; Fiona is not given much to do; while Eddie Murphy launches into the same smartass ingratiating donkey character but only gives us more of what we have seen before.
The most engaging of the new characters is Antonio Banderass Puss in Boots who seems to have been modelled on Mandy Patinkins Spanish swordsman in The Princess Bride (1987). Puss in Boots fairly much steals the show he has a particularly appealing move where he charms opponents by mooning his eyes at them but even then his character arc is poorly defined the scene where he swaps over from assassin to loyal follower of Shrek comes with amazingly little motivation and decision. It is a similar case with other plot points the quest story is perpetually being subverted by flashy action/humour sequences a break-in to the Fairy Godmothers factory to steal the potion; a big climactic sequence rushing to save Fiona from the marriage with all of the characters getting into the action amid animated acrobatics; even a gratuitously motivated jailbreak sequence. There is a plot connecting this but on many of these occasions the connecting points between sequences are slim.
In Shrek, the fairytale parody and contemporary culture reference played around the sides of the film with an acceptable sense of humour but Shrek 2 has irritatingly bumped this to centre stage. Personally, I hate fantasy films that are constantly twisting everything around to make contemporary culture jokes. It ruptures the suspension of disbelief to have characters in fantasy realms referring to contemporary tv shows, celebrities and pop culture. It is a pandering to lowest audience common denominator making everything familiar to the audiences in the here and now and is certainly something that guarantees Shrek 2 a lack of shelf life beyond passing interests of the moment. Try to imagine J.R.R. Tolkien deciding he could make The Lord of the Rings (1954-6) more sellable if he were to have hobbits and elves cracking jokes about post-War shortages or doing parodies of stars of the day.
In Shrek 2, we get gags about Far Far Away Land being a parody of Beverly Hills replete with fantasy equivalents of brand-name places like Starbucks and Versaces and where every fairytale princess lives behind a gated mansion; the Fairy Godmothers crystal ball has its own answer phone; there is a parody of the tv show Cops (1989 ) called Knights; the pending wedding ceremony is like a Hollywood gala premiere and so on. It seems vaguely amusing but fails to rouse a laugh particularly often. Similarly, familiar fairytale characters make various comic appearances the most amusing of these is when Pinocchio, the Three Blind Mice and the Gingerbread Man conduct a jailbreak by lowering Pinocchio on his wires and getting him to bridge the gap by making his nose extend when he denies that he is wearing a thong. (There is an adorable sequence after the end credits have started to roll where we meet the donkey and the dragons kids). Alas, Shrek 2 feels more like one of the endless video sequels that Disney are continually turning out to their classic product a routine effort where all the freshness that the original had has been buried under formula.
(No. 1 on the SF, Horror & Fantasy Box-Office Top 10 of 2004 list).