Directors: Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury
Cast: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Julie Andrews, Antonio Banderas, John Cleese, Rupert Everett, Jennifer Saunders, Aron Warner, Kelly Asbury, Cody Cameron, Conrad Vernon, Larry King, Joan Rivers
Duration: 93 minutes
There is something special about Friday. It's barely beyond the realm of reason to suggest that beside the anticipation of the coming two day's sofa allowance there's actually something upgraded, exclusive, exceptional, of that most hallowed weekday. Not too dissimilar to your hazy 19th year, with the days to your 20th firmly closing upon the final epoch of heady adolescence - when you grasp that you'd better make it a good one. But that's the catch. No accountant was nineteen. Rest assured that the kind man who dots each fiscal I and crosses every financial T couldn't do so if he had a whiff of Springsteen about him. Eighteen 'til he dies? No chance. Better omit the decade, whole.
So while it's prudent to suggest that the numbers probably add up in DreamWorks' handbag, they won't allow the little money-men within striking distance of the animation department. They're probably still at Disney, although DreamWorks has nabbed practically everyone else.
Admittedly their first attempt - Antz - didn't quite come close to the brighter, cuter tour-de-force A Bug's Life (Disney/Pixar, both 1998) but, in the three years before Shrek burst on to the international consciousness, important lessons were learned. One was that thrift is a poor cousin to investment: after Shrek's original voice artist Chris Farley quit for Valhalla and Mike Myers re-recorded the vocal track, Myers then persuaded DreamWorks to coughed up a further four million (going rate, allegedly) to record and re-sync it all over again - this time with Myers' dubious Highland brogue.
The second lesson being that revenge was just too sweet to squander; Lord Farquaad's realm took an uncanny resemblance to Disneyland, and Farquaad himself shared certain attributes with Disney's CEO Michael Eisner. But that's just a bit of fun.
Of a sort, at least. But then, a part of the philosophy behind computer-animated films actually has nothing to do with how realistic it looks - after all we enjoyed Space Invaders without demanding to be convinced of the alien's technical accuracy - but more important than approaching perfection was that it expanded upon the previous limits. Whether the digital mutt would walk on its hind legs as well as you was irrelevant. Each animated film is the new toy. This bit isn't exactly fun, but is an attribute as potentially necessary as any other.
In the end it's crucially down to tone, and while Finding Nemo is certainly brilliant, Disney/Pixar created a mood infinitely more earnest than the creation by which the DreamWorks crew intend to earn their lunch. Fish and Humans can't really compete with Ogres and Princesses, and if your daughter wants princesses then somebody ought to deliver. The Shrek crew have volunteered kings, queens, charming princes, beautiful princesses, scheming witches, castles, and ogres, donkeys, potions and Antonio Banderas specially for your daughter's mother.
Shrek 2 is of the type of films that do exactly what they say on the tin, only better. But that's exactly what the ingredients promise: you cannot imagine how this movie shall look. It's not just a bonus, since Toy Story it's part of the formula that the filmmakers have traded on. Like Snow White in 1937, Disney has created - with a little help - a new revolution for the cinema. Trouble is, they're not the only ones playing. And when the first Shrek feature hit the screens in 2001 it became pretty plain they'd missed a trick. This trick, over-sufficiently demonstrated by Shrek 2, is simply not to miss an excuse for a laugh. Ever.
And the jokes come thick and fast. Even in the more touching (yes, really) episodes there's always some little subtlety that pokes fun at itself. Whether it's gleeful abuse of famous scenes from films of yore, or even more-yored fairy tales, the whole idea seems to pick up a rather compelling Sondheim-esque mélange of Tales Your Kindergarten Teacher Taught You and twist them around little kernels of ideal decency, love and respect. If anything, it's occasional whiff of blackmail and touches of self-effaced pomposity only increase its incredibly broad appeal. Myers' turn as Shrek has gained a little in confidence, and his Scottish turn is pleasant - or at least not half so inexorable as its first outing in So I Married an Axe Murderer. Cameron Diaz maybe even gains a little something in being so green.
The basic premise is that, as a recently married couple, the time's come to do the decent thing and meet the in-laws. Shrek's disinclination is returned when Fiona's parents cotton on that something's amiss, namely that Shrek isn't the dashing prince they'd imagined and so Fiona hasn't lost that accursed greenness: if anything it's gained a little in permanence. The good monarch of Far, Far Away (not too close to the swamp, then) and his wife sound uncannily like John Cleese and Julie Andrews, and so much the better. The great songs are belted out by Jennifer Saunders in the UK release, as presumably Joan Allen isn't well known enough on this side of the pond as she is on hers. I can't see why it matters, but my time as a film mogul hasn't quite come upon me. The final big name belongs to Banderas, who fills a corner of the screen as the feline assassin hired to dispose of the emerald protagonist, the infamous Puss in Boots. He's certainly suave, sultry and indelibly charming - if a little diminutive - but the worst charge is as he's the sole Latin ingredient in the story, he's undoubtedly responsible for the hopelessly unnecessary Rick Martin number that ends an otherwise fantastic film. La Vida Loca belongs to 1998, and hence thence should remain.
Hollywood ideas of ugly have always been a bit of a pickle, and here Shrek and Fiona are certainly jade and portly but at least have a cute nose, loving eyes and endearing voices. Aye, even Shrek's. So the whole "ugly but with such a nice heart" thing washes less than the average swamp-ogre.
Casting has always been as pivotal for an animated feature as in any other, and the team's big hitter seems to be Eddie Murphy, at least from the hype. He's certainly found a relaxing niche as Donkey, but it's rather hard not to see him as much more than a benign relative of Jar-Jar Binks, just not so far, far away.
There's no shortage of cute in-jokes and digs at contemporary cultural abscesses. These might do little to advance the storyline, but as a film for the family, it's rarely the kids who treat their parents to the cinema - and so the grown-ups have to appreciate something. The producers have steered clear of any biting profundity, but you'd struggle to fault the effort invested or the quality of the return: it's fun and frothy, certainly, candyfloss soaked in Chateau D'Yquem.
Yet if you're a passionate accountant, assuming that makes any sense, then perhaps give Shrek 2 a wide berth. The absence of absence is stunning, as no expense of thought has been spared. And for the sake of progress, it's all too rare. But - perhaps - we all share some quiet, hidden desire simply to end the week slouched upon turquoise velour, watching green ogres and fairytale princesses carve up our familiar understanding of local mythology. You never know, it may catch on. And in the considerable time since Oscar Deutsch began Entertaining Our Nation, what men, women and children want hasn't fundamentally altered. It's just the tools that have changed. A perfect film? No - but peerless entertainment.