A sequel that edges out the original due to more laughs and less sappiness, "Shrek 2" became what will likely stay this year's biggest hit, taking in over $400m. The sequel stars off with Shrek (voiced by Mike Meyers) and Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz) remaining happily married, if somewhat aggrivated by the constant pestering by Donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy), who's the odd one out now that Shrek and Fiona are married.
Shortly after, the newlyweds are offered an invite by Fiona's parents, King Harold (John Cleese) and Queen Lillian (Juilie Andrews), to visit their castle in the kingdom of Far Far Away (read: Hollywood.) Shrek thinks this to be an extremely poor idea, but he goes along with it anyway. His fears are confirmed when they meet ogres Fiona and Shrek, thinking that Fiona was going to be changed back when she was rescued by Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), who arrived quite a bit late. Charming hasn't given up yet, however, and with the help of Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) and Puss-In-Boots (Antonio Banderas, downright stealing the film), he tries to knock Shrek out of the picture.
The second picture is a bit more consistently funny, as the second film focuses a bit more on laughs, for the most part. There's also some very amusing sequences, such as a downright hilarious satire of "Cops" (named "Knights", where Puss is arrested for possession of catnip) and a lot of other minor moments, such as when Shrek and friends break into the Fairy Godmother's office claiming to be from the local union ("We don't even have dental", says a secretary.) There's also nods to such films as "Lord of the Rings", "Little Mermaid", "Ghostbusters" and "Alien", among others. The film does drag a bit in the second half as it stops being a buddy picture and returns to Shrek going after Fiona, but the pace didn't suffer terribly.
The performances are generally very good, as well. Meyers does the accent for what seems like the thousandth time, but he offers a decent portrayal of "Shrek". Diaz doesn't have a great deal to do as Fiona. The best elements of the film are the supporting players: Saunders makes a perfectly nasty Fairy Godmother and Cleese makes a compelling king. However, it's Banderas as Puss-In-Boots that is the film's true find. Delivering his lines with comedic timing that's so good it's scary, Banderas - never someone I regarded as much of a comedian before - offers up some of the funniest moments of the year.
The animation quality is about the same - once again, PDI ("Antz", "Shark Tale") is responsible for the animation. The second film was such a hit that a third film is already on the way. Hopefully, it'll drop Shrek, Fiona and friends in someplace completely unexpected for their next adventure.
VIDEO: "Shrek 2" is presented by Dreamworks in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is quite excellent, with nearly nothing in the way of faults. Sharpness and detail are superb, as the picture appeared crisp and well-defined throughout, showing off all of the details of the CGI animation.
The picture did show a few minor traces of pixelation, but remained free of any edge enhancement. Given that I'm guessing this transfer is taken directly from the digital source, there are no print flaws. Colors remained bright and well-saturated, with no concerns. Overall, a first-rate effort.
SOUND: "Shrek 2" is presented by Dreamworks in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's soundtrack largely sticks to what one would consider the requirements for a "comedy mix", but there are some exceptions to that rule. While much of the film's audio is fairly front-heavy, there are occasional moments where the surrounds are put to creative use for some sound effects. Overall, the sound design lives up to what one expects for family/children's fare. Audio quality was fine, with excellent clarity and a rich, full sounding score. Dialogue and sound effects seemed crisp and well-recorded.
EXTRAS: The DVD offers two audio commentary tracks from the filmmakers. The first commentary is from co-directors Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon, the second from producer Aron Warner and editor Mike Andrews. Bouncing between both commentaries, I found them fairly dry, but at least moderately informative. Throughout both commentaries, we get to hear about the production came together after the success of the first film, casting, working with the voice talent, story issues that had to be ironed out, footage that didn't make it into the movie and other obstacles that had to be overcome. Those interested in getting an overview of the production may want to browse through these commentaries, but I found patches of them fairly slow going, as the participants occasionally started narrating the film.
"The Tech of Shrek 2" is a 6-1/2 minute featurette that takes a look at some of the advancements in computer animation that the production took advantage of for the sequel. "Meet the Cast" is a 10-minute promo piece that visits with the voice talent and rounds up the characters. "Meet Puss-in-Boots" is a 4-minute featurette that focuses on the film's scene stealer.
"The Music of Shrek 2" is a 5-minute piece that talks about picking the music for the soundtrack and visits with some of the musicians involved. "Technical Goofs" shows some CGE (Computer Generated Errors) that were produced during the production. "Previews" offers trailers for "Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events", the anime feature "Millenium Actress", "Two Brothers" and "Thunderbirds".
Finally, "Far Far Away Times" offers some amusing newspaper articles, and we get cast/filmmaker bios, as well as production notes. There are also a few options that are accessible off the main menu instead of the special features section. "Far Far Away Idol" is an American Idol parody, complete with Simon Cowell. Viewers can go online to the "Shrek 2" website to vote for their favorite. In the "Dreamworks Kids" section, viewers will find a music video for the Counting Crows' "Accidentally In Love", interactive games, weblinks and more. Finally, Ben Stiller offers a preview for the upcoming Dreamworks animated feature, "Madagascar".
Final Thoughts: "Shrek 2" starts to drag a tad in the second half, but the film offers more laughs than the first film and the marvelous creation that is Puss-in-Boots. Dreamworks offers a DVD that boasts solid audio/video quality and a wealth of supplements that are fine, but a bit of a mixed bag. Recommended.