Credit Shrek 2 for being the rare sequel that more or less equals its predecessor—the first film was garbage, and so is the second. The filmmakers ladle the sentiment onto ogre couple Shrek (Mike Myers) and Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) as their love faces the challenges of a disapproving world, but reversing the “happily-ever-after” paradigm is not the same thing as challenging it. Shrek’s alternative fairy-tale world (where, for example, the Three Little Pigs trade snappy one-liners with the Three Blind Mice) is built out of spare pop-cultural parts that never cohere into a profound vision, so Shrek 2 seems a bibliographical addendum to the first film’s worn-out conceptual thesis, the cinematic equivalent of elementary school kids playing “Opposite Day.” The film’s biggest sin, aside from a thuddingly rote locale (the kingdom of Far Far Away, a faux-satirical visualization of—gasp—Hollywood), is the shameful waste of its varied vocal talents.
Taking the most obvious casting approaches, the filmmakers reveal an ignorant superficiality and general contempt of character. Myers and Diaz, he of the Scottish burr, she of the Charlie’s Angel retro-feminist whine, go through the “love-means-never-having-to-say-you’re-sorry” motions. Eddie Murphy (awful) and Antonio Banderas (wonderful) play the second-tier sidekicks Donkey and Puss-in-Boots, respectively, with appropriate gusto, though they’re undercut by constant rib-nudging jests of race-appropriate minstrelsy (the “Livin’ La Vida Loca” production number is a gag way past its time and deeply offensive to boot.) As Fiona’s parents Queen Lillian and King Harold, Julie Andrews and John Cleese contribute their always-welcome Brit sensibilities to sadly hollow misconceptions—respectively, a dull mother/mentor figure by way of The Princess Diaries and a babbling simpleton given to off-putting bouts of bug-eyed mugging.
The villainous Fairy Godmother, meanwhile, provides Jennifer Saunders another opportunity to revisit her hedonistic Ab Fab role, though it’s noticeably tempered for fear of encouraging the kiddies to drink and do drugs. Perhaps most tragic is Rupert Everett’s vainglorious Prince Charming, a character of less-than-singular dimension who cruelly exists to not get the girl, thus further enclosing another openly gay actor within a restrictive Hollywood box. Under the guise of tolerance, Shrek‘s corporate-minded creators engage in a dangerous form of double-speak, promoting a love-the-sinner/hate-the-sin dichotomy in which two jolly-green ogres are ideal role models of love, while a fey blond prince and transsexual Ugly Stepsister (Larry King) are discomforting, slapstick figures of fun. No less than the butt-ugly, digitally animated version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Shrek 2 continues its predecessor’s facile race and gender thematics while stubbornly playing to the rabble in the pit.