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Heroes of the Zeroes: Shrek / Shrek 2

by on September 29, 2010
 

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009. Today’s entry counts as two films.

“Shrek / Shrek 2″
Rated PG
2001 / 2003

Watching 2001’s “Shrek” now, it’s clear DreamWorks had to do something to get children and parents in the door for its sedate, sweet third-act comedown. Why else would the titular, lovable slug-eating lug have knocked out knights with chairs to the sounds of Joan Jett, outrun balls of flame and battled dragons?

The message of “Shrek” — be happy with who you are, who you love and who loves you — seemed better suited to constant emotion than constant motion. And the movie also was a tad naughty — the “It’s a Small World” jab remains one of the harshest, on-point digs at Disney, and say the villain’s name out loud: Lord Farquaad.

Again, Far-quaad. There you go.

Though imperfect, “Shrek” offered enough diversions from animation’s go-go-go that it’s been sad — after lackluster third and fourth installments — to see it turn the way of impersonal franchise cash-grabbing. That said, “Shrek” and 2003’s “Shrek 2” remain among the top tier of children’s films from the Zeroes.

“Shrek 2” clearly is flashier than its predecessor, although it’s again balanced with a keen understanding of its characters. If you can believe it, Mike Myers is the vocal straight man in the sequel — newly wedded to Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), whom we learned was an ogre in “Shrek.”

Shrek already dreads having to meet his in-laws, but plans are further complicated when he learns Fiona was promised to pretty-boy Prince Charming (Rupert Everett).

Giving up more of the goods would ruin some of “Shrek 2’s” more pleasurable surprises and story twists en route to an extension of its body-image message and the idea of sacrificing of yourself for love. But the film introduced Puss in Boots into the story and, thus, gave Antonio Banderas a reason to keep his hand in acting.

Banderas loaned this sassy cat voice for one of the most gleefully self-deprecating works any actor has ever done, taking potshots at both his meager Zorro role and his own overcooked hot-Latino shtick.

“Shrek 2” also offers huge retribution for the Gingerbread Man — abused in “Shrek,” but vengeful here as well as part of a priceless dig at the Zeroes’ proliferation of Starbucks locations.

Now that the Shrek films have been Christmas-specialed and sequelized to death (with last summer’s “Shrek Goes Fourth” — purportedly the last until new parent company Paramount needs the cash), it’s unlikely that the non-sequitur voice talent will continue. (Larry King and Tom Waits in the same film?) And the shine has come off the sassy modern-day parallels to Hollywood.

Looking back, signs of sequel overkill were there in “Shrek 2” — with some spoofs that went poof and more new characters than the film could reasonably handle. But for a couple of movies — in which Eels and Self somehow made their way onto the soundtrack and sensible references to both “Godzilla” and “Ghostbusters” snuck their way in — DreamWorks got it right with its flagship family films.