PDI/DreamWorks Animation (May 19 2004), DreamWorks Home Entertainment (November 5 2004), single disc, 92 mins plus supplements, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, Rated PG, Retail: $19.99
Set again in the magical kingdom of Far Far Away, this sequel picks up with Shrek and his enchanted ogress bride Fiona returning from their honeymoon, right where the first film left off. Barely settled in back at home, they get an invite from Fiona’s parents, requesting that they meet their son-in-law (raising the plot point of why they weren’t at the wedding)! Moving past that, the film takes the turn of being an animated Meet The Parents, with the King and Queen not on surprised but dismayed to find their daughter in her “ugly” state and wedded to a sometimes not-so-jolly green ogre. Despite trying his best, Shrek doesn’t get on too well with the King, leading to the ruler’s secret plan with Fiona’s Fairy Godmother to be rid of Shrek and set up Fiona’s marriage to the Godmother’s son, Prince Charming. Into all this comes Puss In Boots, a mercenary for hire whose job it is to bump off Shrek. Meanwhile, Fiona must question her devotion to her family against the will of her heart, and Shrek, who undergoes some changes of his own, must race to stop the Godmother’s plan and losing Fiona forever…
The Sweatbox Review:
DreamWorks’ Shrek has a lot to answer for. That the film broke Disney’s stronghold on feature animation only validated Jeffrey Katzenberg’s jump from the Mouse House to form his own company with Steven Spielberg, and, after a couple of lacklustre jump starts (the underrated Antz, and The Road To El Dorado, Spirit), the company found itself with a major hit on its hands. It also helped fuel the urge for all animation to become computer-animated comedies and signalled the dismal end to big time, studio produced, traditional hand drawn fare. Whatever the naysayers proclaimed, Shrek was a massive hit.
Supposedly plagued with story problems, Shrek 2 eventually hit theater screens earlier this year with a great amount of hoopla. A screening at Cannes set things off nicely, and the film garnered surprising amounts of critical praise. Opening weekend saw the film retain high box office figures, eventually beating even the indestructible Spider-Man into second place for the summer. Everything about Shrek 2 screams sequel, from the bigger moments, the hyper activity on screen and the louder soundtrack. But, against the odds, it ranks up there with such follow-ups as The Godfather Part II, The Empire Strikes Back and Toy Story 2 to be one of filmmaking’s exceptional re-treads that betters the original.
While I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original film (I thought much of it was either characters simply arguing or infantile), I very quickly warmed to Shrek 2’s story and performances. Whereas the first film wanted to play around with fairy-tale film conventions while also being part and parcel of that genre (thus wanting its cake and to eat it too), Shrek 2 is more happy to go with the fairy-tale flow and just happens to be set in a world that features references to such tales. With the first film, it took a while for me to find Mike Myers’ Shrek and Eddie Murphy’s Donkey agreeable, and although there were many decent sequences, their “comedy” rested on very little more than shouting insults back and forth.
It wasn’t until I saw the film on a plane trip, where there was little else worth watching (hey, it was Shrek or the Sly Stallone “epic” Driven, okay?), that I actually found more depth in the film and I started to warm to it. The DVD provided me with a third go around, at which point I took it for what it was and purely enjoyed it. Though I could have done with less of the pop/rock contemporary soundtrack, which I think will date the picture sooner rather than later, I finally wound up liking the original Shrek and found myself studying the film more and being impressed with the level of background detail in the film (the character animation still seemed fairly stiff).
Bring on Shrek 2, and most of what I couldn’t get to grips with in the first film has been resolved. This time there are real written gags that don’t rely on two famous voices shouting at each other. This time, there are less contemporary tracks and more traditional music score, and where songs have been used, they are of the already classic mould (such as Hero, and Bowie’s Ch-ch-ch-Changes), so will not date as easily. The film still throws in some popular culture references, but even these too work in the main, since this time around Shrek’s world has largely been expanded and everything is more believable.
Not that the film is perfect. The set up for the Puss In Boots character doesn’t quite come off as well as it could. The film has an amazingly “talkie” mid-section, where a lot of plot and emotions are brought to the surface and must be dealt with. Boots’ entrance could have been a lot bigger, and whereas in the movie as shown, the cat simply allies himself to Shrek’s cause simply because the ogre doesn’t know what to do with him, I found myself wishing for an action sequence. Such a moment, no matter how small, would have lifted this potentially draggy middle and provided more of punch for the new character. We never really see Puss at his job (to bump off Shrek), and so a little sequence of him attempting to kill him, followed by Shrek’s triumph over the cat (possible hindered by his pal Donkey) and the ogre’s sparing of Puss might just have supported Puss’ decision to stay with Shrek. In the film, it’s just a hairball that halts Puss’ actions, and I never really bought whether his intentions to join Shrek were real or not.
There’s also too much Fairy Godmother. Voiced by Absolutely Fabulous’ Jennifer Saunders, who I have slowly gone off over the years of over-exposure on UK TV screens, I was dreading having her as a character here. Luckily, she works really, really well, though the producers seem to have gone overboard in giving her character too much business. She gets a fun song that gently knocks Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, and some fine one-liners, but the choice to bring her back for the film’s climax, to sing (I Need A) Hero, is highly mis-judged, leading to the break down of these sequences that only really picks up again when Harry Gregson-Williams’ score kicks in again and Shrek comes to the rescue.
The Godmother song is also just one of the many pot-shots this sequel takes again at the Disney Empire. Long known more for their acrimonious split than for the films they originally greenlight, DreamWorks’ Katzenberg only set up his studio when he was shown the door at Disney by head honcho Michael Eisner, after a successful run of Disney films that took in the fairy-tale structured Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast and Aladdin, as well as the phenomenally successful Hamlet riff, The Lion King. Subject to a lengthy and public law suit, Katzenberg eventually walked off with a generous payout, but the tensions between the two, and subsequently their filmmaking companies, have never really calmed down.
So, this time around, the jokes at Disney’s expense are perhaps even more pronounced: the throwing of an orange-haired mermaid to some sharks is a joke that is so closely tied to Disney’s Little Mermaid Ariel that I wondered how they got away with it. There are also personal swipes taken at Eisner himself: various initials spell out M.E, such as the TV network that covers the events in the film (is this saying that, post-Katzenberg, Disney’s films are old hat, being Medieval Entertainment?) and there has been more than one speculation that once Shrek goes through a huge physical alteration in the movie that he resembles Eisner (circa 1984 Disney takeover) even more than his supposed ogre-Shrek based model!
But, for those who see the Shrek films as little more than a Katzenberg dig at his old employers, there’s much more going on too. The film, I believe, holds some sort of record for the amount of film references and in-jokes packed within its running time, and there are plenty of web pages out there that cater to list them all. Suffice to say that it’ll take you more than a couple of viewings to catch them all! On the most part they’re fun, more hit than miss, and though a few fail to score their targets, it’s all done with such a nod and a wink that one can’t be dazzled with the sheer quantity of gags being thrown about (and here quantity almost matches quality).
That’s the writing – how’s the animation? Well, whereas character stuff in CGI is still a little way off from being perfected (and no-where as near as the best traditional artists can convey human movement), Shrek 2’s animation is certainly above par, being way more agreeable than the creepy-looking wax figures of this holiday’s The Polar Express. Movement is more natural, though the “lightyears ahead” in production that was banded about at the time of release doesn’t really come across on screen – it’s very much a case of being “more of the same, with bells and whistles on”, though especially with Shrek and Fiona, there are moments of real “acting”, and not simply through the voice artists.
The voice cast, with the exception of John Lithgow, all return and put in performances in keeping with the characters and personalities they set up first go around. Added to the mix is John Cleese as the King and Julie Andrews as his Queen, a not always successful pairing that results in a surprisingly flat delivery, sometimes. Their characters are also the least successfully animated, possibly because they are supposedly the most human, but I found Queen Lillian especially hard to warm to for that exact reason. Again, the producers rely on the actors’ reputations to help carry their roles, so Andrews’ Queen comes across as stately, but safe, while Cleese’s King is another of his manic characters, the ghost of a royal Basil Fawlty never far behind.
No doubt, given the huge box office takings and ensuring the future of the series, that you’ve all probably seen this already, or been exposed to it greatly through its expansive and aggressive marketing push earlier this year. As a gigantic hit, it’s a shame that such a loud, dare I say crass film, has taken the highest-grossing-animated-feature honors over something more original, but as a film, and a sequel at that, Shrek 2 delivers the goods: plenty of fun for the media-savvy family, made by one of the slickest producers of such fare.
Is This Thing Loaded?
Leaked to various online destinations, DreamWorks had a situation on its hands earlier this year when authentic DVD copies of the disc started springing up weeks after the theatrical release. Not only were the menus featured across the web, but the specs and extras for the release were known by fans even before DWs had put out their own announcement! What this reveals is that the filmmaking process and the eventual DVD incarnation have very much become one and the same process, with disc extras even being talked about during the film’s pre-production.
This means, in Shrek 2’s case, that a plenty amount of additional animation was completed by the same production team for use in the DVD – something that adds great added value, and something that DreamWorks (with strong sales of the original Shrek and Sinbad) knows a lot about – both those discs contained ’specially produced material. That the Shrek 2 disc leaked a while back means that the menus and what lies in store may not be as exciting as they might have been, but do rest assured that just because this is a single disc doesn’t mean that there’s lots of fun in store.
As the disc spins for the first time, we’re presented with previews for DreamWorks’ current hit, Shark Tale, and their upcoming Madagascar – forced previews that only allow fast-forwarding through rather than any skipping or menu selection (and a real bore to have to manoeuvre when starting from scratch again). Both are presented in letterboxed widescreen, with the Shark Tale trail being rather mysterious in whether it’s promoting the current theatrical release or the fact that it’s coming to disc, while the Madagascar sneak peek has voice star Ben Stiller riffling through the story (though not in as an enthusiastic way as he might have). The clip is also accessible from the main menu.
And…speaking of which: the disc then kicks in with the aforementioned menus, and anyone who saw the images before will know that the characters from the movie have been placed in a Brady Bunch-styled screen of windows. Center of them all is Donkey, who argues that Shrek 2 is a lame title and should have reflected his greater role. Various suggestions include 2 Fast 2 Donkey, The Fellowship Of The Donkey, The Donkey King, The Real Jackass Movie, Donkey Reloaded, and so on.
Picking New From DWs Animation takes one back to the lacklustre Madagascar preview, but much more fun, and this disc’s big bonus, is the Far Far Away Idol, a virtual recreation of the hit game show, set in the same palace ballroom as the film’s finale. The clip is also pushed as an “All-New Surprise Ending” and plays as a bolt-on to the main feature once all the credits have rolled. As a stand-alone selection, the clip lasts around five-minutes, and despite a fun set-up, it’s never as good as it sounds, or even as infectious as the Swamp Karaoke segment on the original film’s DVD. In Far, Far Away Idol, we’re promised eleven hit songs sung by the film’s cast of characters – that’s true, but we only really get snippets interspersed with Shrek and Fiona’s comments, where they are joined by a virtual Simon Cowell, who provides his usual jibes to the contestants.
Top “honors” must go to Puss In Boots’ rendition of These Boots Are Made For Walking, Larry King’s ugly sister routine is fairly amusing, and the Gingerbread Man’s dance with Tinkerbell is funny. The Cowell character isn’t really given a lot to do, and though he looks the part, he never comes over as being “real” enough – spooky! Post contest, the viewer is given the chance to vote using the remote control, for their favorite, launching a 30-second winners’ clip, followed by an interminable end credits scroll that somehow manages to last almost three minutes on its own! For those who want to take the voting further, there’s a weblink provided where one can register online, and DWs are also running a real competition for three days after the release date (though the link wasn’t active yet at the time of review).
Heading into the Audio Options, and as well as the multiple film soundtracks, we’re given an additional two Audio Commentary tracks, one with directors Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon, the other with producer Aron Warner and editor Mike Andrews. Skipping through both, I’d say these were decent enough tracks, with the two affable directors delivering clear and interesting information on their film. After such an energetic track, I was apprehensive that the other might have been more lacklustre, but the second two participants offer more on the film, though at a more stately pace, touching more on the story side of production rather than the directors’ focus on the more technical aspects of the shots and scenes. In fact, there’s hardly a spacious moment in either, and they are very much good old-fashioned commentaries in the true sense, and well worth sitting through both.
Everything else one could wish for has wound up in the Special Features selection. Apart from the staples of a good DVD, such as Production Notes and Filmographies, the disc offers as much information on the film as one could want. Running through the list, and The Tech Of Shrek 2 is your basic fluff piece on how great the technological breakthroughs were in the making of the movie, with all the principal artists speaking on how they achieved the wonders in the film. Lasting six-and-a-half minutes, the clip seems a little overly soft, having likely been transferred from an EPK tape, and one shot of Jeffrey Katzenberg looks very squished for some reason! We don’t really learn anything in the first half, with computer monitors running various impressive looking simulations, but no explanation of a scene or the context of the effect, and some of it might seem like an orgasmic commercial for Hewlett Packard, but it’s an okay run through of what effects were attempted. The second half calms down a lot more, with a proper look at the design of the characters, costumes and world of Shrek.
Meet The Cast looks visually a lot sharper, with plentiful bites from the film and some interesting comments from the vocal team. Though the pace is zippy, this 10-minute featurette packs tons in, and doesn’t play as a self-congratulatory piece, featuring some great footage of the actors in the vocal booth performing their roles. The one strike? The whole is presented in letterboxed widescreen – why no anamorphic enhancement? Meet Puss In Boots expands on the voice footage to get the cast’s take on their new co-star, voiced by Antonio Banderas. The full-frame clip, running four-minutes, is most fun for seeing the Zorro star having fun with the character in the vocal booth.
The Music Of Shrek 2 covers both the contemporary tracks and the Gregson-Williams score, with soundbites from all involved, though again the full-screen clip contains some varying aspects ratios that haven’t all been converted to 4×3 properly. No matter, the five-minute piece is a welcome look at a stage of filmmaking that all too often is overlooked. Technical Goofs is always a fun inclusion, especially for those who are involved with CGI on a daily basis. Here, three minutes of the most visually messed-up shots, from test renders of scenes, are presented with sections of the score playing along. These are the kind of unplanned occurrences that happen when the computer goes off and calculates the various shots, and a little piece of code doesn’t want to play ball. The results, as seen here, can be unintentionally hilarious – and sometimes more than a little bizarre!
The Far Far Away Times is a collection of still images that collects various pieces of artwork created for the film and presents it as the pages of a medieval newspaper. A great idea, it’s a shame that one can’t access the multiple images close up and take a better look. However, the headlines are fairly amusing and the images, such as a Lethal Arrow 4 poster and the cover of Pork Illustrated, are very funny. Rounding things out is a Previews section, which includes the upcoming deliriously bizarre teaser for Lemony Snicket’s Unfortunate Events, Millennium Actress, the non-DWs related Two Brothers, and the Spy Kids-lite flop ThunderBirds.
In DreamWorks Kids, there’s an additional bunch of extras, adding another few minutes of material. Here you’ll find another link to Far Far Away Idol, and a Kids’ Favorite Scenes menu, as well as Shrek’s Music Room, featuring the Counting Crows Accidentally In Love music video, Fiona’s Jukebox (another alternate scene selection feature), and a short Sing-along clip that replays the Fairy Godmother’s song with onscreen lyrics. Gingy’s House Of GamesMap and Find Puss In Boots options seemed pretty pointless to me, and the Save Fiona trivia question game is a once-only play, due to the same questions being asked over again and the “prize” is simply a clip from the movie.
Finally, a Help option, comprising of still frames, works both as an intro to the DVD format and to the disc’s contents, though most will know how to use a DVD disc! The only thing missing, as is more and more the case on animation discs, is the theatrical teaser and trailer – once the mainstays of DVD extras, why can’t the studios just include them!?
On the plus side, and in keeping with the Far Far Away Idol theme, there are also some HP Printable pages DVD-ROM-packed on to the disc, as well as website links for the DreamWorks and Shrek 2 sites (and don’t forget to only use HP products when you use the disc, kids!) – quite a lot of stuff to browse through.
Rubbish – just rubbish! The highest-grossing animated film ever, and one of the biggest hits of the year, and it doesn’t even get an insert! Though the disc is stacked, fans will be annoyed by the simple disc case, and even the fact that it’s a bog-standard black keeper is a shame (Canada and the UK get white cases). At least the “Number 1 Comedy Of All Time” banner has been dropped, though be careful to watch out which version – widescreen or full-screen – you’re buying (and that should be widescreen, natch) as the wording is small and tricky to find!
A four-disc edition, labelled The Story So Far is also available in a luxury slipcase, but be aware that this set ONLY features full-screen versions of the films. Included is the pan-and-scan, single-disc edition of the original Shrek, the Shrek 3D disc that was released this past summer (as before, the 14-minute short is presented in widescreen, in both 3D and 2D “flat” versions), plus the full-framed Shrek 2 disc. Rounding things up is an additional bonus disc – but it’s nothing special, being simply made up of kids stuff and a couple of redundant featurettes. This bonus disc is being included in the UK version of Shrek 2, which fills out the set by including full-screen and widescreen options.
Since this was how the first movie was presented Stateside, I wonder what prompted the change of heart at DreamWorks US? No great shakes, but my advice is to wait until Shreks 3 and 4 make their disc debuts, at which point a decent set should be available in HD! Grab the widescreen single for now, and enjoy.
Ink And Paint:
Curiously, Shrek 2 is presented in the original “Theatrical Aspect Ratio” of 1.85:1, rather than the first film’s digital-friendly 1.78:1. Not that it matters much – the image will still fill the full screen on 16×9 displays, while computer monitors and those with overscan will be happy to see that it’s true 1.85:1, with a sliver of black along the top and bottom of the frame (though a little digging finds some clips exposing a negative ratio of 1.66:1). Another digital-to-digital transfer, and Shrek 2 looks gorgeous, rendering the animated world very distinctly. Though this is a pretty packed disc, and there’s tons of added material on board, the main feature’s transfer never wavers, looking very pristine. If artefacts due to compression are present, they’re minor affairs, easily missed, and not worth worrying about. Whereas traditional hand-drawn features can look a little too clean these days, the CGI on show here represents a spotless transfer.
Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, the track here blasts out of all speakers and will work your system through its paces. Though the amount of extras has meant dropping the DTS found on the first film’s release, there’s certainly nothing to complain about here, with a wonderfully lively soundtrack that comes from all directions. For an animated comedy, there’s a surprising amount of dialogue throughout, something that is ably reproduced here. A Dolby 2.0 track has also been included for Pro-Logic users, which does a good enough job of mixing down the 5.1 info, while French 5.1 and Spanish 2.0 dubs are also included.
A fun, fun movie, some glimpses of incredible computer animation, a witty script and spirited performances carry Shrek 2 into being a “must see” event. Whether or not it’s worth owning will be down to if you liked the first movie, though I will say that I enjoyed this more than that one. An infectious atmosphere ensures that everyone should get something out of it, though DreamWorks releasing this on the Friday that The Incredibles comes out stinks of unfair play. My advice, if you’re going to spring for this disc, is to go see The Incredibles while you’re out, or at least make sure you don’t let this Shrek divert you from seeing that film too.
The DreamWorks’ machine goes into full swing on this release, and though the film may be too contemporary to last as an all-time classic, there are certainly enough moments to warrant a purchase and get a couple of views from it. Kids, with whom the Donkey and Puss In Boots characters have become major hits, will adore it even more. Bring on Shrek The Third!
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?