I am firmly entrenched in the Pixar camp when it comes to CGI animated movies, but that won't stop me from watching a Dreamworks movie if it's worth my time. I loved Shrek for the same reasons many people did: a funny script that skewered fairy tales (and Walt Disney), gorgeous animation, and a rarely-heard message that I think kids need to hear in this image-obsessed culture: it's not what you look like, it's who you love (and who loves you) that's important. Naturally with huge success comes the inevitable sequel. Does Shrek 2 live up to its predecessor?
Shrek 2 begins where the original ends: Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are enjoying their honeymoon the way that only two irascable ogres can. They get home to their beloved swamp to find an invitation from Fiona's parents to come meet them and receive their blessing. Despite Shrek's reluctance, they travel to the Kingdom of Far Far Away accompanied by their annoying friend Donkey (Eddie Murphy). Fiona's parents are noticably perturbed by the now permanent appearance of their daughter and her new husband. Fiona's mom (Julie Andrews) seems more accepting but her dad (John Cleese) is positively livid about his new son-in-law. Turns out dad has some ulterior reasons which are influenced by the scheming of the Fairy Godmother (the absolutely fabulous Jennifer Saunders) and her son, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett). Shrek decides after encounters with Dad, Fiona's old diary, and kitty sword-for-hire Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) to try to do something to change for the better for a troubled Fiona.
To answer my own question, no, I don't think Shrek 2 is as good as the first, but it is highly enjoyable, pretty much for the same reasons the first one was. The script takes on more fairy tale concepts and turns them on their heads, the CGI is improved and even more impressive, and the story drives the point home that it is far better to be who you are than to waste so much time and effort being something you aren't. I think the story drags in a few places, and because the story and characters are now familiar it simply doesn't have the same complete charm as the first one. I do enjoy the introduction of the new annoying sidekick for Shrek (not that Donkey was replaced) - Puss in Boots is just an all out fun character. I admit a prejudice here; cats tend to be villains in cartoons or at least the targets for heaps of abuse (see Tom and Sylvester for examples) so it is nice to see a good guy kitty for once. This is a "Shrek" cartoon though, so Puss gets to yak up a hairball and hoist a limb to the 12 o'clock position to clean around his tail, but that's what makes these movies so endearing to me.
Movies like Shrek 2 are why DVD became such a popular format so fast. This animated movie is all about rich color and lines, sound and music, and this disc showcases how good the movie-watching experience at home can be. If you still have friends who refuse to convert from VHS, have them watch this movie on your system (if they still refuse to convert, a gift certificate to an opthamologist might be in order). The animators worked hard on escalating texture and lighting improvements over the first movie and it shows. The movie's soundtrack also begs for a good system, not just for the normal scoring but for the fun covers of old and new pop songs. Jennifer Saunders' rendition of "Holding Out for a Hero" must be seen and heard to be believed.
Like the first movie this disk is chock-full of extras including games for children (I was bored pretty quick, but I'm not the target audience). The bonus animated "Far Far Away Idol" has some good laughs but isn't as snappy and fun as the Shrek Karaoke Party on the original movie's DVD release. If you're dying to hear Antonio Banderas cover old Nancy Sinatra tunes, however, here's your chance. There are some outtakes of rendering goofs which are downright bizarre and rather thorough filmographies of the lead actors, and something completely different - a help section for people who can't figure out how to navigate through DVD screens.
For those totally fascinated with behind-the-scenes documentaries, the one included here is too short and skimpy on information. It's also a plug for Hewlett-Packard which explains some of the coupons in the disc case. However, I did like the commentary which helped fill the gap of information left by the documentary. Two commentaries are included and not only do they talk about the whole production process, it gives the viewer a chance to really inspect different scenes for the remarkable animation values as the commentators point them out.
Yes, I love both Shrek movies, and the sequel is a worthy addition to the series and to my DVD collection. I received my money's worth: striking graphics, fun songs, some laughs, sly mean humor to keep the adults smirking, and a story I hope my future kid will take to heart. More children's movies need to emphasize (in non-sanctimonious ways, Shrek and Shrek 2's true achievement) that you shouldn't judge people by their looks, and that you shouldn't think that only beautiful people can find true happiness. That, and farting in mud puddles is perfectly socially acceptable and a lot more fun if you do it with your spouse.