Shrek Forever After Review

Shrek Forever After

When Shrek Forever After was released in 2010, it had two goals in mind: The first was to redeem the series after it lost its groove with Shrek the Third. The second was to bring the series to a close. The good news is that it partially succeeded in these goals. The bad news is that, in the end, it’s still in the shadows of the first two entries in the Shrek series.

Shrek Forever After sees Shrek in the midst of a mid-life crisis. Family life is stressful for the once-curmudgeonly ogre, and (in perhaps a bit of a commentary on the nature of the third film) his new celebrity status has made him feel less like the ogre he once was.

Shrek Forever AfterAfter a spat with his wife Fiona, Shrek stumbles upon one Rumplestiltskin, who makes a deal with Shrek to give him one day to feel like an ogre again, in exchange for one day from Shrek’s past. Rumplestiltskin, having evil motivation, takes away the day Shrek was born, which sends Shrek into a parallel universe where he never rescued Fiona, Donkey is a vagabond, Puss in Boots is overweight and Rumplestiltskin has taken over the kingdom of Far Far Away. Think of it as Shrek’s take on It’s a Wonderful Life.

The story may not stack up to those of the first two Shrek’s, but it is far more focused and better structured than the clunky, disjointed plots of Shrek the Third. And it has some honest goes at some emotion, which were also lacking from the third film.

It’s the writing and humor that aren’t up to par with Shrek or Shrek 2. The jokes here are less witty, sometimes relying on callbacks to the first two entries instead of springing the originality that made those films such a joy. There are still some fun jokes to be had, but they’re lightly spread out in between more bland and uninspired gags. Even Shrek himself seems a little worn out with all the fairy tale parodies and pop culture references.

Another downside is that Rumplestiltskin is the weakest villain of the series. He lacks the conniving charm of Lord Farquaad, and is never as entertaining as Fairy Godmother or Prince Charming. Audiences may even find they dislike him more for being annoying than for being a villain.

Shrek Forever AfterHowever, Shrek Forever After does benefit for keeping the story focused on Shrek and his journey to end Rumple’s curse and set things right. Some new characters – like a parade of ogre freedom fighters- are introduced, but the movie wisely keeps them in minor roles. Rumplestiltskin is the only major new player, otherwise it’s only the core Shrek characters who have major parts in the story. After Shrek the Third sidetracked with characters like Artie and Merlin (who, not surprisingly, don’t return here), this is all the more refreshing.

The voice work remains consistent, with Mike Meyers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas still giving the movie some energy, but the animation looks like it’s still running on Shrek 2’s character models, which is more than a little noticeable given the six-year gap between the two movies.

In some ways, Shrek Forever After has a lot going for it: It, unlike its predecessor, knows a thing or two about storytelling. It has good intentions and even a little bit of heart. But it’s also a movie that looks more dated than it should, and one that lacks the smarts and creativity in writing that its forebears exuded.

Shrek Forever After may not be the satisfying ending the series deserved, but it does get an A for effort. And effort is more than you could say about Shrek the Third.

 

5

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Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return Review

Legends of Oz

The Wizard of Oz is one of the most beloved films of all time, and has captured the imaginations of audiences for generations. Set in a world of talking scarecrows, flying monkeys and wicked witches, an animated offshoot of The Wizard of Oz doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. That is unless said animated offshoot seems constructed out of bad ideas. Enter Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return.

The movie is as uninspired as its title. An evil Jester – who happens to be the younger brother of the late Wicked Witch – has taken control of the Emerald City, leaving the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Formerly-Cowardly Lion to summon Dorothy back to Oz to save the day. That’s about the size of it.

Should you actually wanted to see more of the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion, Return to Oz  is sure to give them a backseat in the story. They spend the majority of the movie trapped in Emerald City. Instead, Dorothy and Toto are joined by a quartet of forgettable characters: A rotund owl named Wiser, a marshmallow man named Marshal Mallow, a porcelain doll princess, and a talking tree who allows Dorothy and friends to make him into a boat. To call them Oz’s B-team would be more than generous.

The bland story and forgettable cast are ‘complimented’ by a number of musical numbers that range from insipid to irritating. All of them ooze a ‘written-on-a-napkin’ quality. At the very least, their sheer forgettability will likely prevent them from getting stuck in your head.

Just in case the movie wasn’t cardboard enough, the animation looks more along the lines of a 2001 direct-to-video release than a 2014 theatrical animated feature. The character designs also showcase a lack of inspiration. The entire visual look of Legends of Oz is aged and boring.

If there’s anything of merit to be found here, it’s probably in the movie’s opening moments, which shows the devastation caused to Dorothy’s hometown in Kansas from the iconic twister that sent her to Oz in the first place. It’s nothing emotional (and even it gets ruined by one of the aforementioned songs), but it’s somewhat interesting to see the ‘Oz tornado’ treated as a disaster and not just a transport to another world.

But that’s really searching hard for a redeeming quality, isn’t it? The long and the short of it is that Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is a bad movie. It feels entirely thrown together, rushed, and creatively empty. Within minutes you may find yourself wishing you had a pair of ruby slippers so you could click them together and whisk you away from this movie.

 

2

Super Mario 3D World Review

Super Mario 3D World

At first glance, Super Mario 3D World may simply look like Super Mario 3D Land got a Wii U makeover and added multiplayer to the equation. The game’s first world is largely that, an expansion of the concepts Nintendo’s Tokyo studios came up with for their 3DS Mario effort. It uses similar mechanics and level structure to 3D Land, but brought up to a larger scale to fit its home console and allow three additional players to join in the fun. This time, in addition to Mario, players can also select Luigi, Princess Peach and Toad, who regain their abilities from Super Mario Bros. 2 back on the NES (Luigi jumps high, Peach floats, Toad runs fastest).

But it doesn’t take long for the guise of familiarity to melt away. What starts as a continuation of 3D Land’s design quickly begins reconstructing itself with idea after idea that are all their own.

Super Mario 3D WorldThe initial changes are the most obvious. The Cat Suit – which is so prominently featured on the box art and advertisements – gives Mario and company the ability to scamper up walls and strike enemies with a scratch attack. The Cat Suit joins the ranks of the greatest Mario power-ups for its sheer versatility. The variety of uses for the Cat Suit is a testament to the creativity at work at Nintendo’s Tokyo Studios.

Joining the Cat Suit is the “Double Cherry,” a power-up that creates clones of the character who grabs it. The Double Cherry is notable for being a power-up that not only stacks up with itself (the more cherries you grab, the more your clones multiply), but also stacks with other power-ups as well (small armies of fire Marios or cat Luigis come into play soon after the Cherrie’s introduction). It can get a little tricky to control multiple clones, but if anything, its a delightful chaos that ensues.

The new power-ups are joined by returning favorites (Fire Flower, Boomerang Suit, Mega Mario, etc.), but the new power-ups aren’t all that 3D World has going for it. It’s the level design that deserves the most praise. Although some will cry foul at the more linear structure carried over from 3D Land as opposed to the wide open worlds of Super Mario 64 and Sunshine, the majority of 3D World’s stages boast the same creative spark as the very best Mario games.

Super Mario 3D World3D World’s levels are comprised of one-off ideas and rapid-fire concepts. Rarely will you be doing the same thing twice, and even when a concept does repeat itself, it finds a way to rearrange itself to make it feel fresh all over again. One moment you’ll be riding across a river on the back of a dinosaur, the next you’ll be jumping across platforms that materialize in accordance to the stage’s music, and then Mario will be wearing a canon on his head, fighting his way through an armada of Koopas and Bob-ombs. And this isn’t even taking into account the Captain Toad stages, in which you guide a Toad through a single-screen obstacle course without the ability to jump, or the Mystery Houses, which see Mario and friends face a barrage of quick, singular challenges.

The ideas just keep coming. Even when 3D World is playing up the nostalgia with nods to Mario’s past (and boy does this game enjoy doing just that), it finds ways to make these retro concepts feel like its own creations. It’s this kind of inventiveness that has helped the Mario series remain relevant since its inception, and it shines all over 3D World’s level design.

A notable exception comes in the form of the game’s boss fights. 3D World’s bosses are fun (the final battle with Bowser in particular is so full of energy it feels like something out of a Platinum title), but each of the game’s eight standard worlds contains only one or two boss fights – with many of the bosses being repeat encounters – and only a select few provide any real challenge. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so noticeable, if 3D World weren’t following-up Galaxy 2 on the home console front. After Galaxy 2’s insistence on introducing a new and engaging boss fight at just about every other turn, 3D World seems restrained by comparison.

The gameplay is as fun as ever, and now that we have a 3D Mario that’s up to four players, you can either play a more relaxed-yet-challenging single player campaign, or experience the sheer insanity of a multiplayer adventure.

Super Mario 3D WorldOn the visual front, Mario has never looked better. Sure, New Super Mario Bros. U gave Mario the jump to HD over a year beforehand, but its aesthetics and style kept very close to what we’ve seen in the past. For all intents and purposes, 3D World is Mario’s proper introduction to HD. From the sheen of a Bullet Bill to the rain striking against the camera in the game’s later stages, Super Mario 3D World oozes a fine attention to detail in its visuals. Sure, the world of 3D World may stick to simpler shapes in its platforms than the whimsical oddities of the Galaxy series (no worm bridges across space apples this time), but while the environments are simpler the style remains just as intricate. It’s gorgeous.

A stellar soundtrack adds to 3D World’s personality. Much like the Galaxy series, 3D World’s score is comprised of live band instruments and orchestras. If compared to the music of Galaxy, one could say 3D World’s score is more fun, but less beautiful. Equally catchy all the same.

3D World also finds some fun (albeit small) uses of the Wii U’s Gamepad. Certain levels will require touch screen actions in order to help Mario and friends out, while blowing into the Gamepad’s mic will reveal hidden objects and levitate certain platforms (in addition to making the player look like the best kind of idiot). It’s not exactly extensive usage of the Wii U’s capabilities, but they still bring some fun ideas to the table.

Super Mario 3D World brings out pretty much everything we’ve come to love about the Mario series through the years, all while weaving together its own style. It’s the most literal translation of Mario’s 2D roots into a 3D environment yet, and it contains bits and pieces of Mario’s history brought together and made anew. And for those seeking an extra challenge, 3D World contains three hidden Green Stars in every stage, as well as a hidden stamp that can later be used on Miiverse. Finding everything will ensure that the fun continues long after Bowser has been defeated. A large amount of post-game content also helps give the game lasting appeal.

Admittedly, for all its fun and creativity, 3D World never quite reaches the same heights as the Galaxy series, though it is the best entry in the Mario series since the galactic duo. But not being as good as Mario Galaxy is certainly no unforgivable sin, and despite just a few small hiccups in boss fights, Super Mario 3D World does an excellent job for itself. It’s some of the most fun to be had in gaming in years, and one of the best games on the Wii U.

Just be warned, if your friends start throwing you in harm’s way and cost you your cat suit, you may never want to speak to them again.

9

Super Mario 3D Land Review

Super Mario 3D Land

Super Mario 3D Land was the first standout original title on the Nintendo 3DS. Before its release in 2011, the 3DS’ library mainly consisted of quality remakes (Star Fox 64 3D) or uneventful original titles. But then 3D Land brought the handheld up to speed, and it hasn’t looked back.

Super Mario 3D Land looks and plays closely to the 3D Mario platformers, though its level structure and pacing make it more resemble the plumber’s 2D iterations. Your control over Mario feels similar to Super Mario Galaxy, though the spin attack is absent, and many of Mario’s acrobatics altered (no more triple jumps, long jumps are performed after rolling, and somersaults now need a brief charge-up). Mario’s moves are back to basics.

An inclusion of a run button makes things feel more in line with the 2D sidescrolling Mario games, meaning that Mario will leisurely stroll through a stage unless the button is held at all times. It may pay homage to Mario’s roots, but the run button feels slightly awkward when controlling Mario in a 3D space.

The stages, while having the appearance of those found in Marios 64 and Galaxy, are more closely associated with Super Mario Bros. 3 or New Super Mario Bros. The levels are timed, like in the 2D games (though you can find clocks to add to your time), and the goal is not to collect stars, but to reach the end of the stage (in the form of a flag pole, naturally).

In terms of structure, 3D Land enjoys paying tribute to a number of Mario’s most beloved games, but it doesn’t stop there. One of the big draws of the game is the return of the Tanooki Suit, which returned here for the first time since its debut in Super Mario Bros. 3 over two decades earlier. Some changes have been made to how Tanooki Mario works. He can no longer fly, instead being restricted to fluttery jumps (making trickier platforming levels a bit easier) and the ability to turn into a statue is reserved for post-game content. Tanooki Mario does retain his tail whip attack, which basically functions like the aforementioned Galaxy spin attack. Tanooki Mario may work differently, but you can’t deny the pure joy of seeing Mario in that ridiculously fluffy outfit once again.

The other power-ups include the Super Mushroom (which makes small Mario return to his normal stature after being hit by an enemy), the ever-present Fire Flower, the Propeller Box from New Super Mario Bros. Wii returns, and the game introduces one new power-up to Mario’s arsenal: the Boomerang Suit.

Super Mario 3D LandSimilar to Hammer Mario from Super Mario Bros. 3 (which saw Mario turn the tables on the Hammer Bros.) Boomerang Mario follows suit and gives Mario the same boomerang throwing capabilities of the Boomerang Bros. This new suit serves as a good compliment to Mario’s repertoire of zany power-ups, though it can feel like little more than a slightly altered Fire Mario. Jumping over your boomerang repeatedly and watching it take out enemies from both sides of you is entertaining, though the power-up is neither as inventive and strategic as Cloud Mario nor as destructively fun as Rock Mario of Galaxy 2.

The game was the first to make extensive uses of the 3DS’ namesake 3D effects. I dare say that playing the game without the 3D turned on may even take something away from the experience.

Super Mario 3D Land boasts a number of 3D visuals at just about every instance: blocks will float into your immediate view, piranha plants spit ink more at the player than at Mario, the difference between foreground and background have never been more evident, and in some top-down sections (such as a level dedicated to The Legend of Zelda series), Mario will leap up at the player with every jump.

The visuals are joined by a fun musical score. The new tunes are catchy and charming, and compliment some returning favorites. It may not be one of the best soundtracks in the series, but it suits the game.

3D Land is definitely a solid Mario title, though it does suffer from a few drawbacks. If you’re a Mario veteran, the game will be a breeze for the first five of the game’s eight initial worlds, and when the difficulty picks up, there are still few instances in which a couple retries won’t suffice. The difficulty does, however, take a strong spike after you beat the game and the new challenges begin.

Another downside is that, for a Mario game, 3D Land is strongly by-the-book. While certainly fun and engaging, the level design of 3D Land lacks the constant sense of creativity of a Mario World or Galaxy.

Super Mario 3D LandThat’s not to say the game doesn’t have its own sense of inventiveness. Nintendo once again shows that they can conjure fun gameplay and level structure like no other. But the game’s very best moments feel like condensed iterations of Galaxy’s machinations. Even the boss fights are variants of the same three enemies: Boom-Boom from Super Mario Bros. 3 returns alongside his new boomerang-wielding female counterpart, Pun-Pun, who join the perennial Bowser. They’re fun, but the boss fights are too few in number and too lacking in variety.

Super Mario 3D Land may be by-the-book by Mario’s standards, but perhaps that’s only because Mario’s standards have been set to such heights. It may not be a Mario World, 64, or Galaxy, but Super Mario 3D Land is a great platformer nonetheless, and it’s helped pave the way for just about every great 3DS title since.

 

7

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker Review

Captain Toad

Super Mario 3D World is one of the best games on the Wii U, with some of the best platforming gameplay in the history of the Mario series. But among the highlights of 3D World were the Captain Toad segments, in which Captain Toad would navigate small stages without the ability to jump. But these stages were in short supply, leaving many players hungry for more.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is here to answer that call. It takes the same basic concept of those 3D World bonus stages – navigate small levels and solve puzzles, no jumping – and not only gives players more of it, but expands the concept in many thrilling and creative ways.

Captain ToadTreasure Tracker tweaks the rules ever so slightly. Instead of exhausting a stage of its green stars as he did in 3D World, Captain Toad now only needs to reach a single (gold) star to complete a level. But each stage also houses three diamonds – which you’ll need to unlock more levels – as well as a bonus objective (finding a hidden item, collect a set number of coins, use a minimum of a stage’s trinkets, etc.). The bonus objective isn’t revealed until after you’ve played through a stage once, so you’ll usually find a good reason to go back to replay levels to mark off every objective.

Most of the stages are small, diorama-like entities, with their entirety being visible on-screen from the get-go (only a select few stages are large enough for the action to scroll elsewhere), and they’re all puzzles based around a single mechanic.

In some stages, 3D World’s Double Cherry returns, leaving players to navigate stages while controlling multiple Toads at once. Some levels have Toad flipping the stage over, piece by piece. Some of the best stages see Captain Toad (or Toadette) riding mine carts, which may not have the hectic action of Tropical Freeze’s mine cart stages, but they do bring a unique take on puzzle-solving.

Every stage is a showcase of a fun idea and gameplay hook, and the attention to detail is surprisingly deep. It’s amazing how many creative directions Nintendo takes the Captain Toad concept. Only a handful of stages are truly head-scratching, but they are consistently fresh.

Captain ToadAnother highlight is how well Captain Toad integrates the Wii U Gamepad. As mentioned, most of the stages are bite-sized, and this allows for the camera to search every nook and cranny of the environment. Players can rotate the camera 360 degrees around most stages, and even go for a bird’s eye view to find every last piece of treasure. Players can control the camera with either an analogue stick or through motion control. The former is ideal for newcomers, as the motion controls can be a bit too sensitive, but their implementation in the aforementioned mine cart stages (in which players get a first-person perspective of the action on the Gamepad’s screen) is some of the best on the system.

Touch screen controls and yes, even blowing into the Gamepad’s microphone are used at points to alter the environment and aid the Toads from point A to point B. It may not provide any radically new uses of the Gamepad, but Captain Toad uses the it’s features in various meaningful ways, and they never feel forced.

Aesthetically, the game is beautiful. Yes, it’s using the same visual scheme as 3D World – and even borrows some of that game’s music – but it’s a testament to just how gorgeous that game was that it still looks and sounds so pleasing a second time around. And Captain Toad uses these materials in enough of its own ways to not just feel like a rehash (though a little more original music would always be welcome).

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker also boasts a surprising amount of content. The adventure is divided into three ‘episodes’ (one in which Captain Toad is the star, one where Toadette takes center stage, and one where they both share the spotlight), with each episode housing a good chunk of levels. An additional “Bonus Mode” has a good number of special stages, including some from Super Mario 3D World (retooled to accommodate for Captain Toad’s lack of jumping), provided you have Super Mario 3D World saved data on your Wii U.

Captain ToadOn the downside, the game isn’t quite so creative when it comes to its boss fights. You’ll only encounter a handful of boss monsters throughout the adventure, and all of them are variations of the same two bosses. They provide some fun, but with how creative the game is in most of its other aspects, the lack of variety in bosses is a bit of a disappointment.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker may not be the biggest or best game on the Wii U, but it is one of the best showcases of the Wii U’s features, and another great addition to the system’s increasingly impressive library. And it’s charming like nobody’s business.

 

7

 

Shrek the Third Review

Shrek the Third

If Shrek the Third proved anything when it arrived in 2007, it’s that sometimes you really can have too much of a good thing. Even a franchise as entertaining as Shrek could go wrong. And boy, did it go wrong.

 

The first Shrek is still one of Dreamworks’ best movies, and Shrek 2 isn’t too far behind, being one of the better sequels out there. But Shrek the Third is not only a disappointment in relation to its predecessors. It is, quite simply, a bad movie.

The first two Shrek’s were smart, well-written, and were built around the clever motif of turning the world of fairy tales on its head. That motif is still present in Shrek the Third. But the smarts, the writing, and the cleverness didn’t come with it.

Shrek the ThirdThe story – or more accurately, stories – lack any real focus, and the results feel more like a series of unconnected events loosely roped together than a proper story. The movie begins with Fiona’s father, the king of Far Far Away, dying. Shrek would then be the proper heir to the throne, but being an ogre is the furthest thing from royalty in Shrek’s eyes, and so he – along with Donkey and Puss in Boots – sets off to find Fiona’s cousin “Artie” who is next in line.

That setup alone is already pretty weak, which might explain why Dreamworks saw fit to toss in two other major plots: One of which, as it turns out, is that Fiona is pregnant, which gives Shrek something to think about while on his journey. Meanwhile, Prince Charming, still angry about the events that occurred in Shrek 2, seeks revenge on Far Far Away by recruiting a small army of fairy tale villains to siege an attack on the kingdom.

 

Admittedly, the plot with Prince Charming actually provides some fun. I’ve always enjoyed when a secondary villain gets promoted to big bad, and this particular instance gives us a few funny moments with the fairy tale villains, and it has an amusing resolution. But it never really meshes with the other plots, nor are those other plots particularly good on their own merits. It’s almost as though the three stories were all thrown around Dreamworks as pitches for a third Shrek film, and then the movie began production before any one of them were really decided on. But Dreamworks picked up the pieces anyway, slapped them together, and hoped for the best. It didn’t work.

The first Shrek was genius for making an ogre the hero in a fairy tale world, and for turning those fairy tales into a series of jokes for all ages. Shrek 2 was almost equally genius for showing us that even fairy tale couples can have marital issues after their happily ever afters. But Shrek the Third lacks anything near the levels of creativity of its predecessors. It really is little more than a cash-grab.

The animation remains more or less the same as Shrek 2. It doesn’t have the same leap as the second film had from the first, but there’s nothing particularly bad about it, either.

Shrek the ThirdEverything else, however, is either relying on recycled ideas that have run their course (Donkey and Puss’ comedic tandem feels like its out of steam), or are new additions that are poorly thought out and sloppily executed. Even the new characters introduced here aren’t memorable. Artie (or Arthur, as in “King Arthur”) is an annoying high school kid with very little to offer outside of that description, and only seems to serve as a means of getting Justin Timberlake into the franchise. Meanwhile, Merlin the wizard shows up (mainly for plot convenience), but his ‘crazy old man’ persona feels like a forced (and ineffective) source of humor.

The returning characters haven’t changed much, and their voice work is all good (Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas and Cameron Diaz all return), but even they seem like they’re just going through the motions. Shrek himself seems Shreked out.

 

Shrek the Third may promote itself as a comedy. But seeing Shrek fall this far from greatness, after he once boasted so much promise and exuded such entertainment, is nothing short of tragic.

 

3

Shrek 2 Review

Shrek 2

Back in 2004, Shrek was all the rage. The first Shrek became one of the most beloved animated films of the time, so it was not too surprising when Dreamworks decided to make a sequel. Like the first Shrek, Shrek 2 proved to be an influential animated movie, with animated sequels now being common place due to the massive success of Shrek 2. And just like its predecessor, most of what was inspired in its wake may make Shrek 2’s influence a dubious honor, but Shrek 2 itself is still a very enjoyable film.

 

Most animated fairy tales end with a kiss, a marriage, and the promise of a happily ever after. Shrek 2 puts itself into a fun place where the happily ever after is the starting point. The fairy tale ending is replaced with the ups and downs of married life.

The movie begins with a montage of Shrek and Fiona’s honeymoon. It serves as a mostly-successful means to reintroduce us to the characters, though it also strangely feels as though Shrek himself became aware of his reputation in 2004. The opening moments of the film prove funny, but the heavier usage of parodies is a little foreshadowing to their stronger overall presence this time around.

The real story begins shortly after the honeymoon, and Princess Fiona’s parents invite her and her new husband – unaware that he’s an ogre – over to their castle for a visit and to receive the king’s royal blessing. So Shrek, Fiona and Donkey set off for the kingdom of Far, Far Away, unaware that a conniving Fairy Godmother and her son Prince Charming plan a takeover of the kingdom.

What’s interesting is that Dreamworks, rather than taking the “bigger” sequel route, actually went with a relatively smaller plot for this follow-up. Sure, the locations are bigger this time around and there are more characters, but the action set pieces are smaller, and the story less extravagant. Shrek went from rescuing a princess from a dragon to meeting his new in-laws.

Shrek 2But that’s exactly why Shrek 2 works. It isn’t just a sequel that relies on being a bigger spectacle than the original. Instead it shows us another side to the curmudgeonly ogre and his friends. The story allows for some added character moments, and the dialogue and writing are on par with the first film as Dreamworks’ most hilarious.

The animation also holds up better than the first film. Understandable, given the success of the original, Dreamworks’ now had more to work with, and could fine-tune their animation. It may not be the most eye-popping animated film around, but its colorful, full of energy, and the human characters look more believable than in its predecessor.

There are some drawbacks to Shrek 2, however, that prevent it from reaching the same heights as the first film in the series. The most notable being the overabundance of pop-culture gags and references. It’s not that they aren’t ever funny (some of them are hilarious), but too often they feel center-staged. The writing is still great, but sometimes it seems to take a backseat to the sight gags, which largely consist of modern references and parodies refitted for the fairy tale theme of the movie (the home video release regrettably features a post-credits American Idol tribute). They’re fun ideas a lot of the time, but it’s a bit much.

Shrek 2Another aspect working against Shrek 2 is that, although the story is smaller than the first film, it has a lot more characters to work with. Shrek, Fiona and Donkey return, and along with new characters in Fiona’s parents, the Fairy Godmother and Prince Charming, there’s also Puss in Boots. Puss works great in small doses as his own character, but pairing him up with Donkey as a comic duo can feel more like extra baggage (weren’t Shrek and Donkey already the comic duo?). Then consider that minor characters from the first movie like Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs, and the Gingerbread Man all get promoted to bigger roles, and it becomes clear that Shrek 2 is trying to please too many people, and it ends up with more pieces than its smaller plot knows what to do with.

Shrek 2 doesn’t quite match it’s predecessor then, but it’s a much closer call than anyone would have predicted in 2004. After all these years it’s still one of Dreamworks’ most hilarious and heartwarming films.

8