Fast but not terribly funny, Shrek 2 is the perfect movie to sort of pay attention to in the back of a minivan. At the screening I attended, the most vocal audience "response" was two children chasing each other up and down the mountainous stairs of the cineplex aisles, while giggling maniacally, for the duration of the movie (as their mother, evidenced by the slow slapping of her flip-flops, pursued them in too-slow-burn mode). I'm pretty sure neither of the kids has any idea what happened during the movie, but they seemed to be having a lot of fun.
Lest you think the rambunctious rascals soured me on the movie, consider this: Shrek 2 twists itself into knots to invent a reason to remake the same decision already made by its lead characters in the first film. It is a pointless exercise in rehashing which only intermittently succeeds at logically extending the first film and rather focuses on restaging all the bits people seemed to like the first time: the fart jokes, the pop-song covers, and the TV and movie parodies. Unfortunately, those elements are just as weak now as they were the first time.
What 2001's Shrek had in its favor was comic zing, a startling animation style, and a novel-enough premise based on William Steig's book. Shrek 2--dedicated to the now-late Steig--remythologizes the first film's remythology, and nothing feels more played out in the summer of 2004 than tweaking fairy tales (Ella Enchanted, anyone?). The new film resumes and upgrades that smooth animation style (spectacular settings and "camera" moves, cold facial expression), but mostly falls down in the joke department. The gags are well-executed but overly familiar, like the deceptively cute "puppy-dog" eyes of feline avenger Puss in Boots. The most memorable joke in Shrek 2 is a bawdy one, catching Pinocchio in an unpleasant admission about his style of dress.
The rest is a sort-of impressive jog to the climax, built on hollow-ringing motivation. After a bland honeymoon montage stringing together movie parodies, Shrek and Fiona (voices of Mike Meyers and Cameron Diaz) face a meet-the-parents weekend in the land of Far Far Away. As the first film's DuLoc was to Disneyland, Far Far Away is to Hollywood and, yup, there's Joan Rivers playing herself. Again, this post-modern fairy-tale pop-culture survey targets Disney, but anyone can make fun of "Be Our Guest" from Disney's Beauty and the Beast (and let's face it, many have). The problem is that Beauty and the Beast is superior to either Shrek movie, so just who's laughing at whom here?
DreamWorks attracted Julie Andrews and John Cleese to play Fiona's royal parents, which is great except that neither is given any stellar dialogue. Eddie Murphy returns as the mouthy Donkey and supplies a running stream of moderately amusing invective. The most entertaining voice comes from Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots, but the actor's panache must compensate for a thinly drawn character whose shifting allegiance is undersold.
Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous) plays a nasty Fairy Godmother ("Ogres don't live happily ever after!") who's fodder for a vibrant magic-wand keep-away sequence. Cameos by Pinocchio, the Gingerbread Man, Three Little Pigs, Three Blind Mice, and the "gender-confused" Big Bad Wolf spice up the last act, which is otherwise weighed down by wan take-offs of Mission: Impossible and Ghostbusters.
Not every animated kid-flick includes a pirate saloon pianist with the singing voice of Tom Waits, but for every "Little Drop of Poison," Shrek 2 seems to have ten "Living La Vida Loca" routines. Now that movie ticket prices are stratospheric, a family's best bet is to wait, plunk down $19.99 for the DVD, and let the rambunctious rowdies half-watch it endlessly in the backseat of the minivan.
The picture quality of the four Shrek films seems to get better as the films progress, though it's a bit of a trick of the mind. All four transfers are equally good at recreating the original source material: it's the CGI animation that evolves over the decade-long span of the films. The hi-def images are uniformly razor-sharp and brilliant in the bold color representation. Detail and texture become more impressive with the increased detail and texture of the animation, but rest assured these transfers maximize the original elements. And are you ready for this? All four films get lossless Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mixes. These top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art mixes burst with activity and energy, keeping all elements in perfect balance: dialogue is never less than crystal clear, the steady stream of music is full-bodied, and the many crowd scenes and action sequences bristle with life.
Extras are...voluminous. All four films get the Picture-in-Picture feature The Animators' Corner, an illustrated video commentary tracing all aspects of the filmmaking from pre-production to post-production. All four films also get the Shrek's Interactive Journey treatment, with a hyperlinked map taking viewers to design artwork about that environment. Secrets of... (HD) for each film delve into the voice cast, animated "Easter Eggs" in the nooks and crannies of the film frames, pop cultural allusions, and more. And of course we get the ever-present DreamWorks Animation Jukebox, with music videos from other DreamWorks Animation films.
Shrek comes with a filmmakers commentary track featuring directors Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson and producer Aron Warner. Featurettes and additional footage include "Spotlight on Donkey" (11:38, HD), focused on the voice cast; the music videos "'Best Years of Our Lives' by Baha Men" (3:08, SD) and "'I'm a Believer' by Smash Mouth" (3:15, SD); "Shrek in the Swamp Karaoke Dance Party"Shrek the Musical (2:53, HD); musical number "What's Up Duloc?" from (3:57, HD); and three "Deleted Scenes" (8:01, SD) round out this collection of extras.
Shrek 2 includes filmmakers commentary with directors Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon and a separate commentary with producer Aron Warner and editor Michael Andrews. Featurettes and additional footage include "Spotlight on Puss In Boots" (10:46, HD); "Far Far Away Idol" (5:53, HD), a short with an animated Simon Cowell, Shrek, and Fiona judging the Far Far Away version of American Idol; music videos "'Accidentally in Love' by the Counting Crows" (3:22, SD) and "'These Boots Are Made For Walking' by Puss In Boots" (2:17, SD); and musical number "I Know It's Today" from Shrek the Musical (5:36, HD).
Shrek the Third extras include "Spotlight on Fiona" (9:53, HD); eco-friendly featurette "How to Be Green" (4:03, HD); Worcestershire Academy Yearbook (HD); four "Deleted Scenes" (25:56, SD); "Donkey Dance" (0:35, HD); and musical number "Freak Flag" from Shrek the Musical (3:58, HD).
Shrek Forever After kicks off with commentary track with director Mike Mitchell, writer-performer Walt Dohrn, and producers Gina Shay and Teresa Cheng. Featurettes and additional footage include "Spotlight on Shrek" (13:46, HD); three "Deleted Scenes" (5:44, HD); "Conversation with the Cast" (9:18, HD) with Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and others; "The Tech of Shrek Forever After" (7:32, HD); and music video "Darling I Do" (4:00, HD). This time, Shrek the Musical gets a bit more coverage: "From Swamp to Stage: The Making of Shrek the Musical" (8:13, HD) and musical number "Who I'd Be" (1080p, 3:56). Also on hand: "Shrek's Yule Log" (30:18, HD, Dolby TrueHD 7.1), a franchise-themed video fireplace; "Donkey's Caroling Christmas-Tacular" (5:11, HD, Dolby TrueHD 7.1) with optional karaoke subtitles; "12 Days of Christmas Pop-Up Book" (2:18, HD), as told by Shrek himself; interactive game Donkey's Decoration Scramble (HD); and "Cookin' With Cookie" (4:54, HD), with recipes for Baked Chimichangas, Ogre Orange Slices, Puss' Peanut Butter Yule Logs, Gingy's Gingerbread Cookies, and Donkey's Mouthwatering Waffles.
With two of the films making their Blu-ray debuts and some brand-new bonus features, this release is definitely enticing for Shrek fans (the only proviso is that a Blu-ray 3D collection—currently a Samsung exclusive—provides another choice of how to view the films at home).
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer