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Fur From the Madding Crowd: Shrek shoulders a troublesome Puss-in-Boots in the animated sequel.

Monster's Ball

'Shrek 2' is heavy on the inside jokes but still a treat

By Richard von Busack

WHILE DISNEY ROTS, the gross and green Shrek thrives. More than anything else, Shrek 2 offers wild animation--the Termite Terrace style, heavy on the slapstick, the sarcasm and the inside jokes. It works beautifully. However, the sequel has that peculiar neurotic energy of all sequels. Anxiety lurks under the energy, as if the filmmakers are asking whether the audience will buy the same story again, told with new angles and jokes. As a result, Shrek 2 doesn't have any resting places: nothing as soulful as the solitary dinner Shrek took as Rufus Wainwright sang Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

But Shrek 2 represents some of the most sumptuous animation around. Computer graphics usually mean less color, not more. The bejeweled color palette in Shrek 2 is like an electric version of the Duc de Berry's Book of Hours. The new setting, the Kingdom of Far, Far, Away, is actually a medieval Beverly Hills. The Frenchified architecture that actually exists in L.A.'s richest suburb is merely blown up a little into gargantuan castles and pavilions.

In the biggest castle are Shrek's (Mike Myers) in-laws: a peaceable queen (Julie Andrews) and king (John Cleese), a "real drama king" who never wanted a monster son-in-law, far less a monster with an undisciplined donkey (Eddie Murphy) for a pet. The real power behind the throne is a wealthy fairy godmother (Jennifer Saunders), who has a frightening dedication to the art of the makeover. She promises to help Fiona's story end as she believes it ought: that fey Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) should kiss the king's daughter and turn her from a sweet-faced chartreuse ogress into just another bland princess. To carry out this plan, the king hires a hit kitty--the blade for hire Puss-in-Boots (Antonio Banderas).

Animators claim that cats are one of the hardest animals to turn into cartoons. Their flat, impassive faces are hard to caricature. So if Puss-in-Boots steals this show, it's as a technical feat as well as a character. He turns from graceful courtier to saucer-eyed marmalade kitten to blinding ball of claws, and yet he's always like a living cat. Gustave Doré's engraving of the venturesome Puss seems to be the model, with his musketeer hat, plume and fencing foil. (The story of Puss-in-Boots is one of the lightest fairy tales; you never hear claims that it bears Freudian undertones. Maybe it's Jungian?) Banderas' elegance, his career-long mockery of machismo, really shines forth from the cat. Shrek 2 is his show.

The soundtrack presents a bushel bucket of mixed emotions; what a delight to hear "Ever Fallen in Love?" by the Buzzcocks; what a drag to hear such a dull cover version. Still, there are a million jokes in this, and most of them hit home. Particularly delightful is an awe-inspiring parody of a popular but horrible Fox TV show that pops up so fast you're laughing before you can register it.

Shrek 2 (PG; 105 min.), directed by Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon, written by William Steig, J. David Stem, Joe Stillman and David N. Weiss and with the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and Antonio Banderas, plays valleywide.

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Web extra to the May 19-25, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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