Release Date: May 19, 2004
Rating: PG (for some crude humor, a brief substance reference and some suggestive content)
Run Time: 105 min.
Director: Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, Conrad Vernon
Actors: Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, John Cleese, Julie Andrews, Jennifer Saunders and Rupert Everett
Really good films are oh-so-rare these days, so when one combines top-notch writing, excellent acting, a positive message and brilliant satire about pop culture, I can't help but rave. I've also never been a fan of animation, but I am now.
Shrek (Mike Myers), the green ogre from the swamp, has married his bride, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz). The two enjoy a romantic honeymoon and return home, where Donkey (Eddie Murphy) awaits. When an invitation to a wedding ball arrives from Fiona's parents, the King and Queen of the Kingdom of Far Far Away, the honeymoon is over. The couple bickers then packs their bags, with motormouth Donkey in tow.
As they step onto the red carpet, the entire kingdom gasps. Apparently, Mom and Dad had no idea that their precious daughter had become a full-time ogre, nor that she had married one. Over dinner, Shrek shows terrible table manners and the king (John Cleese) criticizes him harshly. The queen (Julie Andrews) tries to keep things under control, but that night, her husband steals off to the Poison Apple Inn and hires renowned ogre-assassin, Puss-in-Boots (Antonio Banderas). Along with Fiona's scheming fairy godmother (Jennifer Saunders), he wants Fiona to marry Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), who just happens to be the godmother's perfect, though terribly vain, son. Feigning reconciliation, the king persuades the trustful Shrek to meet him in the woods for a hunt.
Puss is unable to do the job, however, in a moment of cat-like weakness. Shrek shows him mercy, sealing their friendship. Donkey is jealous, but helps Shrek break into the godmother's castle to steal some "Happily Ever After" potion, which transforms Shrek into a handsome prince, Donkey into a beautiful stead and Fiona back to her beautiful self. But before Shrek can return to Fiona, the godmother tricks her into believing that Prince Charming is Shrek.
Shrek 2 offers a strong message about making marriage work, despite differences and difficulties, the need for forgiveness and the dangers of manipulation. Witchcraft, long the bastion of fairy tales, is much more than potions and spells. If we focus on the mythical black hats and cauldrons, we miss its underlying reality, which is about manipulation and control of others - exactly what the godmother and the king want to do. So, while spoofing fairy tales like Pinocchio and the Three Pigs, Shrek 2, also shows witchcraft for what it is - sinful selfishness. It reveals the dark underbelly of magic and the occult by showing us the devastating consequences of influencing others for selfish reasons, whether we do that with potions or just with words.
The film also alludes to cross-cultural marriages and racism. With everyone trying to tear them apart, Shrek and Fiona must fight an uphill battle. But fight they do, and we can only applaud their success, which waves the banner for marriage, against all odds. Both, but especially Shrek, demonstrate what it means to forgive. The film also attacks our cultural obsession with beauty. Shrek and Fiona are overweight and homely, and thus receive scorn for not fitting the prevailing (yet ever-shifting) cultural definition of "beauty." They nevertheless make a counter-cultural decision which goes against Hollywood's usual fairy-tale ending. In a time when many long to receive an "extreme makeover," Shrek and Fiona tell us that it's okay to be who we are, with all of our physical "flaws."
The acting is fabulous, with great lines and attitude from Donkey, courtesy of Murphy. "I'm sorry," he says to the interloping Puss, "but the position of annoying, talking animal has already been taken." When Puss tries to give Shrek advice, Donkey quips, "If we need an expert on licking ourselves, we'll give you a call." Banderas, as Puss, is also wonderfully self-deprecating, mocking Latino machismo with great humor.
The most brilliant part of the film is its deconstruction of our materialistic postmodern culture. In the Kingdom of Far Far Away (which has it's own "Hollywood" letters on a hill), we see palm trees, mansions and a slew of trademarked signs that include Farbucks Coffee, Saxxon Fifth Avenue and the Pewtery Barn. Great music, including the theme from Mission Impossible and Ricky Martin's "La Vida Loca," add to the effect. The film alludes to movies as well, with scenes that spoof Flashdance and Ghostbusters, among others. A character gripes about his Miranda Rights. Employees complain about lack of healthcare. The godmother acts like a godfather, complete with henchmen. News choppers report an escaping "white bronco" (an allusion to the O.J. car chase) as Shrek and Donkey sprint through the woods. Frankly, the dialogue is positively inspired, with dozens of cultural references to amuse adults - so listen carefully.
A couple of objectionable - and unnecessary - elements are worth mentioning. Pinocchio is a cross-dresser who is caught wearing women's underwear (he lies about it and his nose grows). The fairy godmother writhes on a piano, singing a sexy song. And, Larry King plays a cross-dressing ugly stepsister/bartender.
Otherwise, this film is a great send-up of who and what we've become. Well done, DreamWorks. This is the best film I've seen all year.