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Shrek 2

About half of the first one

It was only a matter of time before they made the second installment of Shrek. In an age where it's commonplace for the sequel to be announced before they've finished counting the ticket stubs from the opening weekend, there wasn't a studio executive around who needed a second minute to give the green light to Shrek 2. And it is precisely that sort of thinking that accounts for why the quality of sequels suffers. Little thought is given to what is required to make the follow-up as good (or even better- imagine that) as the original. Instead, the studio blindly plunges into the second effort as soon as it can piece together a legible script, minimally reworking the tried-and-true formula under the pretense of preserving the original's magic.

The second installment picks up right where the first one finishes. Princess Fiona and Shrek return from their honeymoon to their home in the swamp, where they find an invitation from Fiona's parents to return for a post-wedding celebration. Due to images of being run out of the city by blood-thirsty, pitchfork-wielding citizens, Shrek initially dismisses the offer. However, like all husbands- who know that you can either be the boss or be happy, but not both- he eventually concedes to the princess and agrees to give her parents a chance. And so Fiona, Shrek and Donkey once again join forces on an adventure, this time back to the royal city- fully equipped with matching Starbucks and a Gap. Predictably, another suitor, aptly named Prince Charming, awaits the princess, eager to steal Fiona away from Shrek's wart-covered hand.

Predictable is the operative word, because everything in the story is more or less just that. Watching the gingerbread man get tortured in the first installment of Shrek was clever and original, but the gimmick cannot be as effective in the sequel because we've seen it before. Shrek already pulled gags on every children book character from Peter Pan to Robin Hood, so this time we know what to expect and are waiting for it.

Fortunately, the writers recognized the need to inject new life into the original trio. The infusion comes in the form of the adorable yet deadly feline assassin, Puss-in-Boots. Voiced by Antonio Banderas, he provides exactly what is needed in his scenes, enlivening the less captivating banter between Donkey and Shrek. However, the fact that Banderas provides more laughs than Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy combined, is something less than auspicious. The fact that it's well short of 90 minutes is as well.

There is no doubt that Shrek 2 suffers from the hangover that commonly afflicts sequels. While some of the quips are still clever, they have the aura of a joke you can't recite but realize someone has told you before. It's the difference between making you smile and laugh. Fortunately, it revives itself in time to make the final twenty minutes reminiscent of the joyous filmmaking that permeates the first one (though I didn't find its mockery of the Stay-Puffed Marshmallow Man all that comical).

Nothing is more infuriating to an audience than a sequel that doesn't return some of its cast, but the producers of Shrek 2 have made a more subtle, yet perhaps more damaging change. They elected to not re-hire screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (of Pirates of the Caribbean fame). While the replacements don't completely botch the difficult task they were presented with, their effort is considerably shopworn.

Stars: 3 out of 5