Sunday, May 23, 2004

Shrek 2

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 May 2004 at Loews Boston Common #6 (first-run)

At a certain point, a comedy wins. You overlook characters who don't reach their full potential, the jokes that weren't quite funny, and weak plotting because you have laughed enough to justify the $6.50 you spent. Often, when a comedy works, there's one bit that pushes you over the edge to the point where the rest of the movie could be Adam Sandler and Gilbert Gottfried arguing over traffic and parking without the movie possibly moving into the loss column. For me, for this movie, it was during one of the big set-pieces, where, having already primed the comedy pump by breaking into a song so definitively 80s that it was on the Footloose soundtrack, the sound guys insert Godzilla noises. I lost it then, though I had greatly enjoyed the movie up until then - that was the point when Shrek 2 went from being funny to being a favorite.

The story itself is simplicity itself - upon returning from their honeymoon, Shrek and Fiona are invited to visit Fiona's parents in the Kingdom Far Far Away. Shrek and King Harold (John Cleese) do not get along, and Harold tries to remove Shrek from the picture to clear the way for Fiona's arranged marriage to Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), the daughter of the Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders). Hilarity ensues.

One thing I couldn't help but notice is that this movie looks really amazing. The first Shrek was funny, but I found it visually a step down for Pacific Data Images from Antz; there were several sequences that yelled out video game. Here, though, everything looks smooth. It's worth noting that human models still aren't quite up to the more fantastical ones - in the first movie, the model of Princess Fiona looked good in part because we saw it before we saw the ogre Fiona. Here, we see the fantasy creatures first, and the humans don't seem nearly as expressive.

Two of the new voices, though, are keepers - John Cleese as King Harold is, well, John Cleese, and hilarious. Antonio Banderas plays Puss In Boots, a relatively unknown (in America) fairy tale character, and does it with such charm that the flimsiness of his presence in the movie is able to be completely overlooked. That said, the funniest use of Puss is almost entirely visual, as he makes gigantic cute-kitten eyes.

Is Shrek 2 quite as brilliant as the original? Maybe not. It's a little clumsier with the use of music (I may still buy this soundtrack, though), squanders Julie Andrews and Rupert Everett, and doesn't make quite as much use of the "Fairy Godmother" idea as it could. It does, however, have Eddie Murphy at his best, and frequently achieves the guffaws it aims for.


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