100 Film Favorites – #49: Shrek 2
(Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, & Conrad Vernon, 2004)
Already into the 40s!
Yeah, that’s right. Today’s pick is a non-Pixar animated sequel. I live dangerously. Three less-than-universally acclaimed selections in a row. I promise that after this cluster of entries we’ll be getting back into films that are either less well-known or more critically praised. The hoity-toity among you can now rest easy.
Shrek 2 begins where 2001’s Shrek left off, with newlyweds Shrek and the now permanently ogre-ized Princess Fiona on their honeymoon. Upon their return to their swamp home, the two ogres are greeted with a fanfare by heralds sent from “Far, Far Away.” The trumpeters come bearing a royal invitation: Fiona’s parents, the king and queen of Far, Far Away, have learned of their daughter’s marriage, and invite Fiona and her new husband to a celebratory ball in their honor. Shrek reluctantly tags along, though he suspects he will receive a less-than-warm reception from the royals.
Shrek turns out to be right, and the King and Queen (voiced by iconic British actors John Cleese and Julie Andrews) are displeased with Shrek’s monstrous appearance and uncouth behavior, as well as their daughter’s enduring ogre-ness. It is revealed that Fiona’s parents were the ones who ordered her confined to the dragon-guarded tower of the first film, in the hopes that she would be rescued and kissed by a handsome prince, and thus restored to her human form for good.
In fact, the King and Queen already had a prince lined up to do the rescuing, before Shrek unexpectedly took the initiative himself. The monarchs’ intended rescuer, Prince Charming, is still moping around feeling cheated, and his mother, Fiona’s fairy godmother, sees red. She accosts King Harold (John Cleese) and insists that they made a deal that Fiona and Charming would wed, a deal which Harold has now broken. The fairy godmother demands he do something to get Shrek out of the picture.
Meanwhile, Shrek is struggling to sleep in Fiona’s childhood room. Reading her diary, Shrek discovers that Fiona was once quite infatuated with Charming, and he begins to wonder whether neverending ogredom is really the life Fiona wanted.
That same night, King Harold heads to the Poison Apple, a seedy pub frequented by fairytale villains, to employ a legendary assassin. The assassin, seen only in shadow, accepts his offer to off the ogre.
The next day, the King invites Shrek and Donkey (oh, yeah, Donkey’s there too) on a hunt, as a ruse to lose them in the woods. As the duo wander through the forest, they are suddenly confronted by the assassin: Puss-in-Boots (Antonio Banderas), a diabolical hybrid of masterful warrior and cute kitty-cat. Puss, modeled after Banderas’ role as Zorro in 1998’s Mask of Zorro, is the breakout character of the film, and his trademark gambit of luring adversaries into a false sense of security with a super-cute cat face before suddenly lashing out with his flashing blade is one of the movie’s funniest bits.
Puss is unable to best the massive ogre, and so concedes victory to Shrek. The two become fast friends, though Donkey feels that Puss is a rival for his title as “annoying talking animal sidekick.”
The three journey to the Fairy Godmother’s office, where Shrek implores her to grant him a “happily ever after,” so that Fiona can have the prince and the life she deserves. The Fairy Godmother angrily insists that “ogres don’t have happy endings” and sends him away. Shrek, Donkey, and Puss break into her potion storeroom anyway and make off with a vial of “happiy ever after,” which Shrek and Donkey drink. The potion overtakes them, and they collapse on the ground.
The next morning, Shrek and Donkey awaken to find themselves transformed: Shrek into a handsome “prince,” and Donkey into a noble stallion. Simultaneously, back in the castle, Fiona has been restored to her human form.
Deducing what has happened, the Fairy Godmother plots to pass off Prince Charming (whom Fiona has not seen for many years) as the human-ized version of Shrek. Though she is suspicious, Fiona seems to appreciate some of “new Shrek’s” traits, such as his genteel manners and dancing abilities.
The real Shrek races back to the kingdom, in spite of the Godmother’s efforts to stop him. Recruiting the rest of their fairytale friends to aid them, the storybook posse heads to visit the Muffin Man, the Gingerbread Man’s creator. In a Frankenstein-inspired scene, the Muffin Man gives life to “Mongo,” a monstrous gingerbread man 50-feet tall, with which Shrek storms the castle.
Fearing Shrek’s approach, the Fairy Godmother gives King Harold a love potion, ordering him to give it to Fiona so that Charming’s kiss will cement their bond. If Harold refuses, the Godmother says, she will take away the King’s own “happily ever after.”
Shrek and Donkey gallop into the midst of the ball just as Prince Charming pulls Fiona in for a kiss (Puss having stayed behind to fight the castle guards in a “Go on without me!” aristeia moment). Fiona smacks the surprised prince, and King Harold reveals that he decided not to give Fiona the love potion. Furious, the Fairy Godmother revokes the “happily ever after” she had once granted a young Prince Harold: the King reverts to his true from, as the Frog Prince (which, though not explicitly stated, was probably a contributing factor as to why his daughter is some kind of green monster). The happy-ending-taking-away spell also rebounds and explodes the Fairy Godmother in a cloud of bubbles. Hey! Convenient!
The real humanized Shrek approaches Fiona, and tells her that “things can stay this way,” with Fiona in her human form and Shrek as her handsome Prince, living the life destined for a fairytale princess. Fiona says what she really wants is “to live happily ever after with the ogre I married.” They wait until after midnight to kiss, and are restored to their ogre forms. Donkey is likewise a donkey again, but Shrek states that he will always see him as a “noble steed.”
Then everyone has a dance party.
The first two Shrek films are both great animated films which play with conventions of the fairytale genre, but there’s a few reasons why I enjoyed this installment more than its predecessor:
-We get to see Shrek’s willingness to sacrifice for Fiona. In the first film, Fiona assumes her “monster” form permanently and decides to live the ogre life with Shrek, but Shrek himself doesn’t really need to change his lifestyle (aside from being more open to love and friendship). Here, Shrek demonstrates that, as Fiona changed for him, he is willing to return that sacrifice, remaining human to share the typical “happy ending.”
-Puss-in-Boots is a great character. I’m a big fan of Antonio Banderas’ Zorro, and you’ll see him again ere the Countdown is over. Re-packaging the saucy Latin vigilante in the body of a cute cat was a stroke of comedic genius.
-The castle-storming sequence: This scene, set to Jennifer Saunders (as the Fairy Godmother)’s performance of “Holding Out for a Hero,” is my favorite moment in all the Shrek films. It’s action-packed and fast-paced, while still maintaining a sense of humor throughout. Also, there’s a roaring gingerbread man of Godzilla proportions smashing down a drawbridge. That’s pretty hard to beat.
7 more weeks of posts remain – tune in tomorrow for a very “7” movie selection. And no, it’s not Se7en. Already did that one.