In our post-“Shrek” world, it can be hard to remember what animated fairy tale films were like in the bad old days. So complete is the transformation that even relatively recent Disney products like “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast” seem hopelessly mired in an outdated moral code.
“Shrek 2” can’t really accomplish the same kind of revision of the genre that the first film made so effectively. The action picks up immediately after the events of the first film, with Shrek (Mike Myers) and Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) taking their honeymoon in an extended montage sequence. After the music stops however, they’re back in the swamp, figuratively as well as literally. Princess Fiona’s parents want to bless the union, so the plot shifts into a Grimm brother’s version of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” (Confusingly for viewers who haven’t seen the first movie recently, Fiona’s parents are not the king and queen we saw before.)
Their faithful Donkey (Eddie Murphy) insists on coming along for the ride, and soon the three companions are enmeshed in palace intrigues involving Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas), Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) and his social-climbing mother the Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders).
“Shrek 2” has little use for the sometimes overbearing whining and hand-wringing of the original. Instead, the audience is treated to a rapid-fire series of set pieces that are chock full of cute pop culture references and satirical commentaries on modern U.S. preoccupations. Don’t believe the hype though, one viewing is plenty of time to catch all the jokes. Shop signs like “Tower of London Records” and characters like the giant gingerbread man (a reference to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from “Ghostbusters”) certainly merit a hearty laugh, but they don’t require much thinking to assimilate.
The film’s message is just as digestible. Just in case anyone didn’t get it through his or her thick head the first time, the filmmakers want to be absolutely certain that everyone understands that “To thine own self be true” is the whole of the law.
But these are hardly drawbacks. Any lack of subtlety is easily excusable since it makes for a fast-paced, amusing romp that adults can comfortably watch with small children in tow.
The film’s reliance on a healthy amount of scatological humor has rubbed a few bluenoses the wrong way. Apparently these prudish grouches have forgotten what it’s like to be four years old. The forbidden, invisible world of gas and feces is endlessly fertile ground for speculation and investigation by pre-schoolers. As well it should be.
In an increasingly complex and duplicitous world, the ability to call someone out and to know crap when you see it is invaluable. Especially when the crap you’re seeing has been sprinkled with pixie dust by high-paid imaginers.