The plot picks up with Fiona insisting that her big green husband join her on a long trip to meet her parents (voiced by Julie Andrews and John Cleese), the king and queen of a village known as Far Far Away. The place resembles Hollywood right down to the number of chain coffee shops and clothing stores, and the obvious product placement is jarring. It reminds us that commercialism is just as much a part of the corporate formula for animated movies as it is for live-action features.
The King and Queen host a terrific banquet for Fiona and Shrek that digresses into a great food fight with some assistance from the donkey (reprised by Eddie Murphy), who presumes that he, too, should sit for dinner. The nightmare event spurs the king to wander off into the night to engage an assassin to do away with Shrek, but he hires less than he bargained for in the guise of a fierce orange tabby with high boots and a fencing foil. This Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) has a Zorro complex that’s at odds with his inner feline nature. The King’s plan backfires when Shrek saves the kitty’s life and enlists little Puss to assist him and the donkey in finding a potion that will enable Shrek to win back his bride.
“Shrek 2” hits high gear when our three comrades sneak into the Fairy Godmother’s potion factory to the sound of the Buzzcocks’ infectiously poppy “Ever Fallen In Love?” performed here by Pete Yorn. The movie also makes crafty use of David Bowie’s song “Changes,” covered by Australian singer-songwriter Butterfly Boucher. Puss in Boots finds a beauty potion in the enormous factory that turns Shrek and Fiona into attractive human beings. The donkey also imbibes some of the magic purple liquid, turning him into an overzealous white stallion.
Pop culture references flourish as do fairy-tale creatures — Pinocchio, the wolf from “Little Red Riding Hood” and even three blind mice. But it’s the Ginger Bread Man who gets the most attention. He’s super-sized to King Kong scale as Shrek attempts to rescue Fiona from the Fairy Godmother’s (Jennifer Saunders) scheme to make her fall in love with her vain son Prince Charming (Rupert Everett).
There are a couple of regrettable musical numbers with the Fairy Godmother. The songs squander screen time that would be better served by plot or humor. Still, “Shrek 2” is an explosion of vibrant color and inventive comedy that plays like a cartoon come to life. While it lacks the freshness and fast-twitch wit of the original, “Shrek 2” is a spirit-lifting joyride. *** S
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