(Originally published in Rocky Mountain Bullhorn)
Shrek and the gang return for more pop culture-referencing, fairy tale mixing-and-matching, and rampant farting in Shrek 2, a sequel to the 2001 blockbuster that delivers neither less, nor more, than its wildly popular predecessor. As is customary during the summer movie season, this second go-round is a slightly brasher, more hyperactive photocopy of its source material that slavishly replicates the first film’s delights while avoiding any alterations that might threaten to alienate even a single fan. Competent, inoffensive, and frustratingly familiar, it’s a mild retread that, for good or bad (depending on how you felt about the original adventure), never strays from its Brothers Grimm-meets-Access Hollywood jambalaya template.
Now living happily ever after, Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) and Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are summoned by Fiona’s parents (John Cleese and Julie Andrews) to celebrate their daughter’s nuptials in the land of Far, Far Away. The problem, though, is that Fiona’s mom and pop think she’s betrothed to Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) – son of the mercenary Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders), and the dashing hero who was supposed to break Fiona’s ogre spell with a single kiss – and don’t react too kindly to their new son-in-law’s big, green, monstrous exterior. Since Far, Far Away is a hokey fantasy version of Hollywood, we get rampant allusions to films such as Alien, Austin Powers, and The Lord of the Rings, as well as general nods to the ubiquitousness of Starbucks (here dubbed Farbucks), Joan Rivers’ red-carpet shrieking, and the TV show Cops. The cumulative effect of all this name-dropping, however, is that Shrek 2 comes across like an egotistical know-it-all flaunting an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture, with random, easily recognizable asides about Ghostbusters, Mission: Impossible and Justin Timberlake (Diaz’s current boyfriend, no less!) included to make the audience feel like they’re in on the (excruciatingly obvious) joke.
Whereas Pixar’s infinitely superior Toy Story and Finding Nemo eschew cheap scatological silliness in favor of incisive wit, Shrek 2 continues the franchise’s penchant for wallowing in a morass of manure-related gags. Nothing wrong with some well-timed toilet humor, mind you, but having characters periodically interrupt scenes with arbitrary blasts of flatulence reeks of comedic desperation and further sullies the recycled narrative’s moral about embracing one’s inner beauty. Antonio Banderas’ cute and cuddly assassin Puss In Boots – a knowing riff on the star’s dashing performance in 1998’s The Mask of Zorro – exhibits a swashbuckling mischievousness, and the feisty orange feline’s vibrant animation is a testament to the film’s dazzling coloring-book visual palette. Yet watching Puss cough up a furball and, later, lick himself in public just serves to remind one that underneath Shrek 2’s surface splendor lurks a penchant for potty-mouthed puerility.