Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Shrek 2



USA 2004 : Andrew ADAMSON (with Kelly ASBURY, Conrad VERNON) : 92 mins

This very likeable sequel to 2001’s blockbusting, Oscar-winning CGI-animated hit is, if anything, a slight improvement on the entertaining original. Though ostensibly a children’s entertainment, the humour in the four-writer* script is tilted even further towards adults (Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs adaptor Ted Tally is ‘story consultant’) with endless movie and pop-culture references that will fly straight over the heads of the smallest viewers.

"Fear me if you dare!" - Puss in BootsAs before, the plot is fundamentally conventional and sentimental, despite the apparent irreverence of the ‘post-modern fairytale’ format. At the end of the last film easygoing green ogre Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) married the beautiful Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) – or rather, Fiona in her green-ogre form. Now the pair journey with Shrek’s motormouth sidekick Donkey (Eddie Murphy) to meet Fiona’s parents: the King (John Cleese) and Queen (Julie Andrews) of ‘Far Far Away.’ In this ‘fairytale kingdom’ – which looks a lot like modern-day Los Angeles – the real power behind the throne is the devious, unscrupulous Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders), who schemes to replace Shrek with her self-obsessed son Prince Charming (Rupert Everett). Raucous shenanigans ensue.

This franchise’s fundamental ironic paradox persists: how many kids these days really know the fairytales, nursery-rhymes and legends on which the films are based, when children’s imaginations are currently crowded with megabucks entertainments such as this, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Spider-Man, etc, crafted as they are by endless legions of programmers and animators? What’s certain is that hardly anyone under 35 will know Shirley Bassey, subject of one baffling non-sequitur gag. Nor will they appreciate the soundtrack, in which Harry Nilsson’s ‘One’ (revived in Magnolia) pops up alongside covers of classics by the Buzzcocks and David Bowie (‘Changes’, sung by one Butterfly Boucher but with Bowie himself on backing vocals). Not to mention brief ‘in person’ contributions from the unimpeachably cool and adults-only Tom Waits and Nick Cave.

It’s even harder to keep track of the countless movie allusions which punctuate almost every scene: Shrek 2 arguably out-nods even Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, culminating in a delirium of frenzied compound- referencing when a giant gingerbread-man named Mongo (a la Blazing Saddles) strides down a city-street (just like Ghostbusters‘ Doughboy) to besiege a fortified castle (in a manner heavily reminiscent of Return of the King). How many people have a sufficiently wide frame of cultural knowledge to accommodate both Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute (Shrek, transformed into a handsome human prince, awakes surrounded by a trio of adoring maidens) and Jennifer Beals’ self-dousing moment from Flashdance? This sight-gag is performed by Shrek 2‘s movie-stealing new character, a swashbuckling Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas in Zorro mode) who proves a top-value replacement for Shrek‘s underused Monsieur Hood (Vincent Cassel) and announces his presence with the endearingly nonsensical line, “Fear me if you dare!”

Despite all the in-jokes (and some lame puns like a shop named ‘Versarchery’) the real delights of Shrek 2 are the ones which don’t actually refer to other movies: pretty much everything involving Puss (especially the fur-ball, tree-purring, bum-licking and kitten-eyes moments); absolutely everything involving a terminally cute, non-speaking Bichon Frise puppy (much-abused, but amusingly present and healthy in the final jump-for-joy freeze-frame); tiny grace-notes like a visual joke involving “pepper-spray”, Fiona’s stuffed dragon-toy; the semi-dejected, unmistakeably computer-generated way a troupe of royal trumpeters slink out of shot.

On the vocal side, Shrek 2 sees a welcome infusion of dependable British talent: Cleese, Andrews and Everett, plus the (hitherto) lesser-known Saunders going into boisterous overdrive as the gleefully malevolent Fairy Godmother. There are so many Brits on board, in fact, that the decision to add two more for UK release (Jonathan Ross replacing Larry King as an Ugly-Sister barmaid and the little-known Kate Thornton overdubbing Joan Rivers as a very Joan Riversish broadcaster) seems at best ill-advised, especially given Ross’s status as Britain’s most famous and influential film-critic. As if they needed to ensure a positive BBC review?!Gordon Brown???

But with all this Anglo talent around, we must conclude that Shrek 2‘s most surprising and consistently hilarious element must, against all odds, be deliberate. Because when Shrek turns ‘human’, he’s a strappingly Byronic laddie with a soft Scottish burr: a dead-ringer for Britain’s Chancellor (and unofficial PM-in-waiting) Gordon Brown. Surely not a subversive kick in the teeth for Brown’s arch-rival Tony Blair from Hollywood’s cheeky anti-Bush left?

8th July, 2004
(seen 29th June)

by Neil Young