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.

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Shrek Review

Shrek

When it was released in 2001, Shrek was a revelation. An animated fairytale that was irreverent, sarcastic, and made just as much for the adult crowd as it was for kids (if not more so). It inspired countless other animated movies over the next decade that tried to replicate its style, none of which even began to approach the charm and wit of the originator. While these cheap imitators are (mercifully) falling out of favor, the original Shrek still holds up.

 

Shrek tells the story of its titular ogre Shrek (Mike Myers). Shrek prefers a life of solitude in his swamp, away from all the people who wish him ill for just being who he is. But Shrek’s world gets turned upside down when his swamp becomes overrun with fairy tale characters. It turns out, the fairy tale lot have been dumped in Shrek’s swamp by one Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). After Shrek ventures to meet Farquaad accompanied by a talking Donkey – aptly named Donkey (Eddie Murphy) – Farquaad agrees to give Shrek his swamp back, provided Shrek can rescue the fair Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from the clutches of a fire-breathing dragon.

So Shrek and Donkey set out to rescue the princess and get Shrek his swamp back. But along the way, Shrek realizes his swamp may not be the thing he needs most in his life.

What set Shrek apart from the crowd back in the day was its attitude. The 90s animated scene had been dominated by Disney musicals that largely followed the same formula. Audiences in the early 2000s wanted something different, and Shrek gave it to them.

ShrekIt’s still a fairy tale, like so many animated films, but Shrek is no Prince Charming. Shrek is large, cranky, and down-to-earth. He burps and scratches his rear whenever he feels the need to. And he’s immensely likable. Donkey may be an annoying sidekick, but he perfectly compliments (and irritates) the curmudgeonly hero. Princess Fiona similarly goes against many princess stereotypes. Lord Farquaad – while maybe deserving of a little more screen time – also proves to be a memorable and hilarious villain.

The main characters all went against the conventions Disney established into animated films, and they all became memorable, adult personalities. The overall flavor of the movie reflects this, with characters like Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs and the Gingerbread Man (referred to here as ‘Gingy’) all being turned into hilarious parodies of themselves. There are plenty of innuendos, sight gags, and winks to the adult crowd that made Shrek feel far more grownup than the movies of Disney and their contemporaries at the time. Yet, Shrek was, and is, still very much a movie kids can enjoy.

ShrekThe film remains bright and colorful, though the character models are looking dated by today’s standards. It’s forgivable when one considers the animation was groundbreaking in its day, but perhaps the attempt at making more ‘realistic’ looking humans is what has aged. Comparing it to the more exaggerated character designs of some other early CG animations (including Toy Story, released six years prior to Shrek), you may find that the human characters in Shrek no longer look nearly as believable as they once did.

But again, that’s forgivable. The one aspect of Shrek that simply doesn’t hold up is the soundtrack. Shrek makes extensive use of licensed songs, and while some of them are appropriate for their respective scenes, I’m afraid nothing screams “this movie was made in 2001” quite like Smash Mouth. While the story and humor of Shrek hold up brightly, the soundtrack is the aspect of the film that feels dated.

It’s a small price to pay, however. While the movies it inspired may have lacked its heart, Shrek is still a great film. It’s smart, hilarious, and appeals to all ages. The years may have proven that Dreamworks couldn’t consistently replicate this winning formula (Shrek’s own sequels fall short, though Shrek 2 comes close), but Shrek still represents Dreamworks at their best.

 

8

How to Train Your Dragon 2 Review

How to Train Your Dragon 2

How to Train Your Dragon 2 the sequel to Dreamworks’ acclaimed 2010 animated feature of a similar name (minus the 2). Dreamworks hasn’t had the most consistent track record when it comes to sequels – for every great Kung Fu Panda 2 there’s been a not-so-great Shrek the Third – but given the status of ‘Dragons’ among Dreamworks’ features, it seems the studio has made an honest effort to live up to the original with How to Train Your Dragon 2. But just how effective is that effort?

I have a bit of a confession to make. I found the original How to Train Your Dragon to be great when I first saw it. But I’m afraid it doesn’t hold up so well in repeated viewings. It’s a good film that tells a solid story (no tired pop-culture references), and it had some nice emotional touches, but it also lacked any real sense of inventiveness. There were no surprises, and the story could largely be figured out by the trailers alone. You could say that How to Train Your Dragon was good and pretty much everything it did, but everything it did was pretty much everything you expected it to do.

I think it’s safe to say Dragon 2 continues this trend. It’s solid, but nothing groundbreaking. Though that may be less forgivable the second time around.

The story takes place five years after the original film. Young viking Hiccup has done a lot of growing up (bringing peace between vikings and dragons will do that). His father, Stoic the Vast thinks it’s time Hiccup begins preparing for the day when he succeeds his old man as chief viking of Berk.

But all is not well in the world. An old enemy of Stoic’s, Drago Bludvist is training  dragons of his own, with the intent on creating a dragon army to take over the world! Hiccup, his dragon Toothless, his girlfriend Astrid, Stoic and the rest of the vikings are then dragged on an adventure that, among other things, leads to the discovery of Hiccup’s long-lost mother Valka.How to Train Your Dragon 2

The story is tight enough, with some clever writing and good character development with Hiccup (his relationships with his parents being a highlight), and a good sense of humor to boot (one notable scene involves Astrid poking fun of Hiccup’s mannerisms, which seems like a sly joke by the filmmakers at the way they animated the main character). The downside is, with all the good, How to Train Your Dragon 2 still suffers the same shortcomings of its predecessor.

My primary gripe with the first Dragons was that the supporting cast was largely comprised of one-note characters, and that rings doubly true here. Stoic’s right-hand man Gobber is the essential goofball, while Hiccups friends fill a similar role, but even more condensed: Dragon 2Snotlout  and Fishlegs spend the entire movie swooning over Ruffnut , who in turn spends the entire movie swooning over someone else. Ruffnut’s twin brother Tuffnut gives a few obligatory one-liners during the film as to not be completely left out. Even Astrid feels like  forced ‘strong girl’ character, following the trend that a girl needs to act like a boy in order to prove she’s strong. It’s not that any of these characters are unlikable, but the fact that they feel defined by a singular joke or trait does make it feel like the Dragons series has a bit of an excess in supporting characters.

This goes double, however, for Drago Bludvist, who amounts to little more than the archetypal “the world shall soon be mine” kind of villain. And given that Bludvist has a considerably bigger role than the aforementioned characters, it only magnifies his one-note villainy.

Another problem is that much of what happens in the movie’s first half happens all to quickly. Perhaps Dragon 2 is trying to tell a story that’s too big for its own running time, but some of the earlier parts of the film feel like they’re cramming elements together to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Thankfully, the second half of the film smooths things out and finds a more consistent flow and steady pace.

If you loved How to Train Your Dragon, then you should love How to Train Your Dragon 2. It has all the pieces that made the original one of Dreamworks’ better animated films, but it also doesn’t exactly improve on its predecessor either. It’s a fun, beautifully animated ride, just like the original, but it’s also full of more elements than it knows what to do with, and aside from one big emotional moment, lacks any real surprises. Maybe it’s not the bigger and better sequel it wants to be, but if you’re a fan, you probably won’t care.

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