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Staff Pick

Shrek 2 Is Definitive Proof Sequels Can Be Better Than the Original

By Allison Picurro

Higher stakes, topical humor and new characters set this animated adventure apart from its predecessor.

The Godfather Part II. Spider-Man 2. Magic Mike XXL. What do these movies have in common? Beyond sex appeal, these are sequels widely acknowledged to be better than their predecessors. But there’s an important (and arguably, less sexy) film missing from the conversation: Shrek 2.

The first Shrek, a delightful romp about an ogre who learns to love, remains sweet and timeless. But that’s what makes Shrek 2 so good: It manages to improve upon something no one knew needed improving.

With more sophisticated animation, tighter pacing, and star-studded additions to the cast, including Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews and John Cleese, the movie was all but set up for success. It went on to compete for the top prize at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, earn two Academy Award nominations, and remains DreamWorks’ most profitable movie to date. Considering this is the same studio that produced the How to Train Your Dragon and Kung-Fu Panda series, it’s clear that Shrek 2 has a special lasting power.

Inspired by the 1967 classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the film begins with a relatively simple story: Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are married. Shrek travels to meet her parents, who just so happen to be royalty. They have no idea that their daughter not only married an ogre, but chose to remain one herself. Tension ensues.

It’s certainly a strong premise, but the film doubles down on wackiness when it introduces Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders), who will stop at nothing to guarantee that her son, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), marries Fiona instead — in her human form.

What follows is a tale of pure joy as Shrek enlists the help of his motley crew to fight for his marriage. He steals a potion that turns him into the handsome prince he thinks Fiona wants, and by extension, turns her (his true love) back into the beautiful princess she was when they met. They must kiss by midnight in order to maintain those forms, but there’s a catch: Prince Charming is masquerading as the newly human Shrek, attempting to fool Fiona into believing he’s her husband.

Fueled by an excellent soundtrack (including songs from David Bowie, Tom Waits and Counting Crows, among others) and padded with plenty of astute cultural observations (a crowd of people runs from a burning Starbucks into another Starbucks across the street), the film’s climax is what really solidifies its place among the great sequels of all time. To the tune of “I Need a Hero” hero and villain race against time: Fairy Godmother needs to make sure Charming kisses Fiona before midnight; Shrek needs to make sure he gets to Fiona before that happens. The editing is tight, the stakes are high, and gingerbread and warm milk are required. The sequence is as high octane as anything in a Mission: Impossible film.

With Shrek 2, directors Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon achieved something special by expanding on the intricate fairy tale universe of the first film, topping it all off with a sweet romantic resolution and an uplifting message: You don’t need to change to achieve happily ever after.

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