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Newsflash, in case you didn't figure it out by now: SHREK 2 is now in theaters. Just in case the 42.7 commercial spots per hour didn't clue you in. Or the visages of Fiona and Donkey giving you the evil eye every time you step into the Post Office. Or the cast of the film hovering above when you just want a chicken snadwich from Burger King. Or the giant face of his Shrekness staring at you from bottles of Sierra Mist. Or SHREK-colored popcorn, SHREK-themed candy, SHREK ice cream, or SHREK cereal that would easily rank on my top movie-related cereals list if it were redone today. Yep, SHREK 2 is a reality. You can thank me later for that public service.
Yes, somewhere underneath that mountain of merchandising tie-ins there actually is a movie hiding out, and it's probably not a stretch to think that all of this hype is designed to mask a heaping pile of suck. I mean, it's a sequel, so it can't be any good, can it? There's no way that after being exposed to the virtual monsoon of advertising, we can expect anything more than a generic flaming piece of shit, right?
Well, believe it or not, SHREK 2 doesn't suck. In fact, it actually impressed me more than I expected it to, considering how much I liked the first one. It takes a lot of the elements that made the first one work so well, turns up the pop culture references to 11, and spits it all back at you in a film that's fun for both kids and adults.
Since the last SHREK film pretty well tied up all the loose ends and didn't really leave room for a sequel, this one creates that scenario for itself. Shrek and his new ogrish bride Fiona have returned from their honeymoon, only to find Donkey has been holding down the fort. They quickly receive an invitation from Fiona's parents to join them in the land of "Far, far away" so that they can meet her new groom. Shrek thinks it's a bad idea, but the three of them eventually pack up the onion carriage and hit the road.
Once they arrive at "Far Far Away" (a giant spoof on Hollywood itself, complete with Rodeo Drive imagery and its own take on the famous "Hollywood" sign) they're not exactly met with the friendliest reception. Fiona's father butts heads with Shrek quite a bit, and Fiona's fairy Godmother reveals herself to be a scheming opportunist who was relying on Fiona to marry her son, Prince Charming. Fiona's pop puts a hit out on Shrek, in the form of a Zorro-influenced Puss in Boots. Eventually, Puss and Shrek team up to stop Charming from undermining Shrek's marriage. Hilarity ensues.
The first SHREK was designed to be a spoof of just about every conceivable fairy tale ever written, as well as a gigantic middle finger to the Walt Disney company. This one does that as well, but turns up the volume a bit. Fairy Godmother herself is a spoof on CINDERELLA, her musical bedroom suite is a play on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and there are throwaway nods to THE LITTLE MERMAID and SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES as well. But it goes far beyond that in the spoofs department.
You want movie parodies? I lost count somewhere anound the dozen or so mark, and they go from the obvious to the obscure. LORD OF THE RINGS. SPIDER-MAN. THE MATRIX (yeah, I know, not exactly new territory.) GHOSTBUSTERS. ALIEN. THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. THE PRINCESS BRIDE. THE WIZARD OF OZ. Probably a ton more that I'm forgetting.
It doesn't stop there, though. There's a nod to Cameron Diaz's real-life squeeze Justin Timberlake, a pinup of "Sir Justin" in Fiona's girlhood bedroom. In a brilliant spoof of Fox's reality TV legend Cops, entitled Knights, a familiar reggae jingle provides the background for a series of scenes where the King's law enforcement pin down Shrek and crew. While searching the feline member of the gang, they retrieve a bag of catnip, which Puss denies any knowledge of. Hilarious stuff. There are references to stuff that's way over the heads of the intended audience, including a Fred Sanford-worthy "I'm comin', Elizabeth", a neutering joke that name-drops Bob Barker, and a mention of Goldfinger songstress Shirley Bassey. One of the more obscure references, which I found myself chuckling audibly for, involves the orange feline Puss sipping from a cup while sighing "I hate Mondays." If you don't get the reference off the bat, there's a movie coming out this summer involving another orange cat that might refresh your memory a bit.
And the casting couldn't be better. Yeah, the Scottish accent has worn thin a bit for Mike Myers' Shrek, but Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy are welcome back as Fiona and Donkey. On top of that, we've got a whole new crew of voice actors who work well in this one. John Cleese and Julie Andrews are fantastic as Fiona's parents, while Jennifer Saunders and Rupert Everett shine as the Fairy Godmother and her son Charming. The real standout is Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots, channeling some great comedic charm with a certain level of intensity. But the most impressive voice talents are in the cameos: Larry King plays an "ugly stepsister". Yes, that Larry King. Tom freakin' Waits entertains a crowd at a piano bar. Joan Rivers even pokes a little fun at herself playing, well, herself.
The question is bound to pop up, though: was it better than the first one? Well, probably not. It was certainly different from the last one, introducing a lot more characters and focusing on a new story rather than the beginnings of the tale. But the original SHREK was a one-of-a-kind cinematic achievement that can probaly never be duplicated. It's one of those cases where the sequel probably could never approach what the first one was.
But don't worry: SHREK 2 still rocks. If you can get a chance to grab a screening, preferably one not on a holiday afternoon when the theater is full of little ones, then I recommend doing so.
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