A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 381 – Shrek 2

Shrek 2 – March 16th, 2011

Tonight we continue with the Shrek movies, getting even further away from the original book but deeper into fractured fairy tale territory. I realize I neglected to mention in last night’s review that there’s actually another book: The movie novelization. A book based on a movie that’s based on a book. It’s so delightfully circular. Not that I can speak to the accuracy of the second book. It fell apart soon after we got it at work, as most movie tie-in books do (they’re made so very cheaply) and I never read it. But this one? Well, it’s just continuing along with the story set out in the first one, dealing with the consequences.

I like consequences. I will freely admit that I love Into the Woods, largely for the second act where the consequences of the fairy tale endings come crashing in. Happily ever after is a nice idea and all, but ever after is such a long time and let’s face it. There are other people in the world. So here we have Fiona’s parents inviting her and her new husband (whom they believe to be a prince who rescued her) to visit them in the kingdom of Far Far Away. They’re expecting their human daughter and a dashing prince. Obviously they don’t get that. They get an ogre daughter and her ogre husband. Of course things get messy quickly and there are arguments and misunderstandings and Shrek and Fiona bicker and Shrek storms off and Fiona’s left to cope with a romantic interest she’s not romantically interested in until she kicks some ass and Shrek returns and they get back together again.

Wait. I think I just described the first movie. So yes, it’s following a very successful formula. I could do with a little more pro-activity on Fiona’s part, but overall I don’t have many complaints. It’s a fun movie and the formula is nicely decked out in new duds. My one real issue is the Happily Ever After potion and its place in the pattern for Fiona’s character. And I get the concept! I like the idea that Fiona’s already made her choice to be an ogre but Shrek needs to work through some insecurity about that on his own and truly believe that she wants to be one, not that she’s saying so because she doesn’t want to hurt him. They have a generally good relationship, with ups and downs but also a lot of fun and romance. But they’re just married and Fiona’s family is shocked and upset and Shrek has every reason to expect that they’ll be treated badly as they are. So I get the potion. I get why he uses it to turn them both beautiful and all. But he does it without her consent. He changes her without asking if she wants to change. And that follows the pattern of her family locking her in a tower to be saved by a prince, because they want to change her, without asking her if she wants to change. I realize I’m getting all invested and academic over Shrek 2, which is supposed to be a fun little twist on fairy tale conventions with lots of pop culture jokes and all, but I can’t help it.

Anyhow, putting aside the issues I have with people around Fiona acting like she can’t damn well decide for herself what she wants to be and do, I really do enjoy the movie. It’s great seeing Shrek and Fiona together in the montage of their honeymoon, throwing preconceived notions of fairy tale perfection to the wind. I like that so many of the characters from the first movie make repeat appearances, either as bit parts of major roles. And I like that the jokes and story are kept fast and snappy. I love the twist on fairy godmothers and charming princes and the bit at the end with the king is a lovely little callback to another classic fairy tale. I like all of those things and I really do like Shrek’s character arc. I just wish it had involved him offering to change Fiona back. Oh well.

Distracting me from those issues are some truly fantastic performances from the new cast members. Now, not that I don’t enjoy the cast from the first movie, but let’s face it, you’ve got to work pretty fucking hard to compete with John Cleese, Julie Andrews, Rupert Everett and oh my goodness, Antonio Banderas and Jennifer Saunders. The first three get some excellent moments (John Cleese especially) but the latter two are the ones who really shine. Of course, they both get plenty of screen time and Saunders as Fairy Godmother gets to sing a few times. She makes for a fantastically outrageous villain and I love her. And then there’s Banderas as Puss in Boots. I am not ashamed to say that I laughed myself sick at the hairball scene when we first saw this. Anyone who has a cat knows that sound and that look and it just goes on and yeah. He totally steals every scene he’s in, which is impressive given the established characters and the actors portraying them.

Overall I’ve got to say I really like this movie. Annoying issues aside, it’s got some great characters, fantastic acting, fun jokes and references and creepy mutant donkey dragons. How can you not love the creepy mutant donkey dragons? Okay, so they freak me out. But the movie cops to them being freaky! And that’s what I truly enjoy about it. The movie is aware of everything it’s doing and it’s doing it all with a wink, which is precisely the way a movie like this should be done.

March 16, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Shrek 2

March 16, 2011

Shrek 2

As always when going to view a sequel I was skeptical of this movie when Amanda and I went to see it in the theater. Imagine my delight, therefore, when I discovered that it was one of those rare sequels that is at least as good, if not better than, its predecessor.

We re-join Shrek and Fiona as they return from their honeymoon (which is shown in the opening credits to a Counting Crows song.) They receive an invitation from Fiona’s parents, the king and queen of Far Far Away, to attend a celebratory wedding ball in her home kingdom. Of course Fiona’s parents are somewhat shocked when they find that their daughter is now a full-time ogre and that their son-in-law is an ogre as well. The movie could have been just about this domestic conflict and Fiona’s fight to be accepted for who she is (and her right to marry the man she loves even if he isn’t, technically, a man.) There’s a much ore sinister plot at hand, however, and it’s all because Fiona’s meddling fairy godmother wants to have her son Prince Charming wed Fiona instead.

What’s fun about this movie is that it has all the best characters from the first movie, even the little background characters who were the most enjoyable, and adds a few new characters (and some fantastic voice talent as well.) All without ever feeling like it isn’t part of the same world. Gingy the Gingerbread Man, Pinocchio and the three blind mice, wolf, and three little pigs all get moments to shine and help Shrek out when he’s in a bind. For new characters we have the Fairy Godmother, her son Prince Charming, Puss in Boots and Fiona’s parents.

The Fairy Godmother is a business maven. She has taken the cottage industry of answering dreams and built it into a booming colossal machine. She also has some mysterious history with Fiona’s father – some kind of leverage (which mystery is very well built into the movie so that if you’re paying attention you can pretty easily guess what that leverage is.) And she’s performed by the absolutely fabulous Jennifer Saunders. Her every line is a taut whip-crack driving the entire plot of the movie and she is so wonderfully sinister as an apparently well-meaning busybody. Prince Charming is a brainless pretty mamma’s boy, brilliantly voiced by Rupert Everett. Then there’s Puss in Boots – that feline swashbuckler brought to life by Antonio Banderas. Not only is his voice (and accent) fantastic but his character has some of the funniest lines in the entire movie. In particular the scene where he coughs up a furrball in the midst of an action scene still leaves both Amanda and me in stitches. (Anybody who has cats will recognise that strained/humiliated look and horrifying gacking noise.) To top it all off we have acting royalty in the roles of Fiona’s parents. I mean! John Cleese and Julie Andrews! You hardly need to say anything more.

The jokes and references in this movie are a little more pop-culture and less riffs on classic fairy tales. Oh, you have plenty of fairy tale jokes from Swan Lake to the Headless Horseman but a lot of the humor comes from references to modern day Hollywood. Like Burger Prince and Farbucks and the stretch limo carriage. It makes the Shrek universe a more obvious parody of our world. Which is actually a lot of fun. I love, for example, the joke where Mongo the giant Gingerbread Man destroys one Farbucks and the patrons flee across the street to another one. (It’s an old joke but it’s funny because it’s true. Of course if it were done in Boston they’d both be Dunken Donuts.)

I think it’s so impressive that Dreamworks were able to expand on the Shrek universe while keeping it both familiar and funny. You almost never find a sequel that lives up to its source material, but this movie is the exception that proves the rule. Tomorrow we’ll see if that momentum can be maintained.

March 16, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment