Call me twisted, but it’s hard not to feel crazy love for an animated movie that pictures Cinderella’s stepsister as an aging gorgon who tends bar in a dump called the Poison Apple, offers tips on where to find a hit man and talks in a voice of pure Larry King gravel (King himself did the vocals). In Shrek 2, our hero — a newlywed ogre with a persistent flatulence problem — is in jeopardy from a king who wants him dead, a psycho fairy godmother and a wife who thinks he needs an extreme makeover. Shrek 2 brims with perverse pleasures that show no respect for the rules of kiddie-cartoon form, which is all to the good.
Since Pixar came up with Toy Story in 1995, film animation has regularly kicked the tired ass of live-action in terms of visual ingenuity and wit. Just watch Finding Nemo or Waking Life or The Triplets of Belleville or Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. These groundbreakers have so raised the bar on art and attitude that the Academy devised a new category in 2001 to honor the year’s Best Animated Feature. The first Oscar winner was Shrek, a swing-for-the-fences comedy from DreamWorks that managed to stick it to Disney characters dulled by too many years as theme-park attractions. Take the description of Snow White (“She lives with seven men, but she’s not easy”).
Shrek 2 is double the fun of the original: more magical and more technically assured. Co-director Andrew Adamson developed a story, based on the book by William Steig, that picks up the plot and flies off in new directions. Shrek, again voiced by Mike Myers using a Scottish brogue only slightly less thick than Fat Ba d’s, has married Princess Fiona, voiced by Cameron Diaz. Their honeymoon references great moments of movie love, such as the upside-down kiss from Spider-Man. Myers and Diaz earned $10 million each for repeating their roles in the sequel. So did Eddie Murphy, who does the voice of Donkey, an ass in every sense of the word. They’re all worth it, considering the laughs they generate.
Shrek and his bride are called to the kingdom of Far Far Away — a sendup of Beverly Hills, with stores such as Farbucks and Old Knavery — to meet Fiona’s royal parents, royally voiced by John Cleese and Julie Andrews. Both are shocked that their daughter has married Shrek and turned full-time ogre herself; she was once uglified only at night, when dad would lock her in a tower. Now he conspires with Fairy Godmother, voiced by Ab Fab‘s Jennifer Saunders, to kill Shrek and move in her son Charming (Rupert Everett), a prince whose true love is his mirror.
The most hilarious new character is Puss in Boots, the feline assassin hired to kill Shrek. As voiced by Antonio Banderas in a parody of his swashbuckling Zorro role, Puss steals the movie. With his Spanish accent and bedroom eyes for man, woman and beast, Puss charms everyone except Donkey, who huffs that “the position of annoying talking animal is already taken. The plot is loaded with surprises too juicy to reveal, including how Donkey and Puss end up duetting to “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” Shrek 2 may be computer-generated, but its innate heart and glorious sense of mischief make it one of the best and most humane movies of the summer.