One of the great successes of modern animation is how the same film can be enjoyed at different levels by both children and adults. This success comes from a careful mix of fun gags and over-the-top humor to thrill the kids, and adult references coupled with a much more subtle and witty humor to entertain the adults. Shrek nailed this balance of humor perfectly and was rewarded with mega box office success. This time around in Shrek 2, the balance feels slightly askew; although young viewers will surely enjoy Shrek 2, the real audience for the film might just be the adults who accompany them to theaters.
The core of Shrek 2 is a romantic tale that follows Shrek and Fiona as they deal with the realities of being married, and their attempt to find a way to live 'Happily Ever After'. This time around the obstacles in the film aren't fire-breathing dragons or pits of lava, they are Fiona's parents (voiced expertly by John Cleese and Julie
Andrews) and Shrek's doubt about if a princess can really ultimately be happy with an Ogre. Shrek 2 isn't all serious, though - like the first, it is packed with gags, pop culture references and enough music to fill two soundtracks, but the core of the film is tonally different from the first.
About ten minutes into Shrek 2 it was clear that somehow it wasn't going to be the instant classic that the first Shrek was. After a brief spitfire of jokes, the film seemed to settle down into a much slower and more somber film. But everything changed with the infused energy of new sidekick 'Puss-in-Boots' voiced fantastically by Antonio Banderas. Banderas is a lightning bolt to the film and the film literally turns on his appearance.
Across the board the performances from the voice actors are excellent; in addition to Banderas' phenomenal Puss-in-Boots, Rupert Everett does a wonderful Prince Charming, Jennifer Saunders (from Absolutely Fabulous fame) does one of the most wicked Fairy Godmothers you'll ever hear, and of course Mike Myers is as good as always.
One noticeable advance in Shrek 2 is the quality of character animation.
Dreamworks Animation has done a fantastic job of giving the digital characters richer features and a much more life like feel. The look of Shrek
2 is very much the same as the first Shrek but with a vast improvement in the characters, especially the human ones.
Animation fans will surely catch a great number of digs at Disney Animation throughout the film (watch carefully early on as the Little Mermaid gets gobbled up by the sharks from Dreamwork's upcoming A Shark Tale).
The first Shrek film was an instant classic, and while Shrek 2 may not be at that same level, it isn't far off. Young kids might not be as thrilled with Shrek 2 as they were with the first film but there's certainly enough about it that they'll enjoy. I'd actually recommend this more for adults, if you've got kids or not. Shrek 2 is a wonderful and fun romantic comedy that, even with a slow start, delivers in full. At the end it's easy to start thinking about a Shrek 3 and 4 and beyond. One note: be sure to stick around after the first round of credits (the ones with the main characters) as there's a fun little segment there (but nothing after the long credits at the very end).