Shrek 2 Review

Shrek 2 achieved the amazing feat of being even more funny, gorgeous, subversive and entertaining than the first film. Accordingly it whupped its predecessor (and pretty much everything else) out of the box-office ballpark, taking in over $400m. I refer to Tiffany Bradford’s fine theatrical review to which I have absolutely nothing to add, except to say that, seeing the movie again on DVD (I have to confess I saw it twice at the cinema), it’s not hard to see why it was so hugely successful. Shrek 2 really did improve on the first film in every way, making the gags faster, the animation even more breathtaking and the relationships between Shrek and his pals deeper. It also introduced us to several outstanding new characters, chief of which was the majestic Puss in Boots, brilliantly voiced by Antonio Banderas (while on the subject of voices, this R1 version of the film does feature the full original voice cast, including Larry King as The Ugly Sister and Joan Rivers as Joan Rivers, both of which work a lot better than their UK replacements, Jonathan Ross and Kate Thornton respectively).

So, what kind of treatment has the film received on DVD? Well, Shrek 2's menu screen is better than many movies I've seen this month. Nine boxes, each holding one of the movie's characters in a Brady Bunch-style format, gives one the choice of accessing the DVD's features. They’re all peering at each other, particularly at Donkey who launches into a monologue about why the title of the movie is so poor and suggesting alternatives (“… Shrek 2: Return of the Donkey!”), much to the consternation of his fellow characters. Both this screen, and the individual menu screens which come up for each of the DVD’s features, include new character animation and dialogue recorded by the original voice cast.

The big new thing on the DVD is Far Far Away Idol a 'Pop Idol' spoof created especially for the DVD in which 10 of the film's characters each sing a song for a judging panel made up of Shrek, Fiona and an animated Simon Cowell. Donkey does 'Disco Inferno' with his wife Dragon providing the inferno; three blind mice do 'I Can See Clearly Now' and Puss does 'These Boots are Made for Walking'. Watch all the songs then vote for your favourite. This is a brilliant, very funny extra feature that has been done properly i.e with the same voice cast and animation standards as the main feature; it’s even edited seamlessly to look like a continuation of the party scene at the end of the movie. It's required viewing. There's also Far Far Away Idol Printables if you stick the DVD into your PC.

The Help option brings up the motherly figure of the Queen who offers her assistance in navigating through the DVD's content. Brief explanations are provided for each option.

The Dreamworks Kids section provides fun things for kids to do and contains a link to the Far Far Away Idol feature from the main menu, plus Shrek's Music Room, Favorite Scenes, Gingy's House of Games, Shrek 2 Web Links and Printables. Shrek's Music Room allows you to jump to the different points in the movie where its 13 songs occur. Sing-Along with Fairy Godmother gives us the Fab One's first big number accompanied by karaoke subtitles. Music Video gives us the brill opening number ‘Accidentally in Love’ from Counting Crows, featuring a lot of scenes from the film plus footage of singer/songwriter Adam Duritz yelping away.

Favorite Scenes gives you the option of jumping directly to 15 different parts of the film, organised under thematic headings, namely 'Gross Out', 'Donkey', 'Shrek & Fiona', 'Puss in Boots' and 'Laugh out Loud!' Each heading contains three scenes, so selecting 'Puss in Boots' brings up the choice of watching 'Mystery Man For Hire' (the scene when the King first meets Puss in the Poisoned Apple); Forest Ambush (when Puss - "Fear me if you dare!" - attacks Shrek and Donkey); and 'Stealing the Potion' (when Puss turns cat burglar to confiscate some of the Fairy Godmother's precious vials).

Gingy's House of Games has an Interactive Map of Far Far Away, Find Puss in Boots and Save Fiona! The Interactive Map of Far Far Away lets you select ten of the outstanding locations from a map of the great kingdom and jump to the part of the movie that features them. Find Puss in Boots offers the doubtful pleasure of cursor clicking your way around a still from the forest sequence of the film trying to guess where Puss is hiding. For very young kids only. Save Fiona is a quiz game testing your knowledge of the film. Shrek 2 Web Links and Printables requires you to put your DVD into your PC to access online content and printable material respectively. Overall the kids' stuff is just that, relying too heavily on simple links to sections of the movie to provide any great depth of gameplay, but real weenies might enjoy it.

New from Dreamworks Animation gives us Ben Stiller introducing clips from next year's Dreamworks animated feature 'Madagascar', about a bunch of animals from New York's Central Park zoo who end up on the titular island. It looks promising, although having Chris Rock energetically voicing a Zebra seems a bit too obvious in the light of Eddie Murphy's work with Donkey.

Special Features provides the meat of the disk's extras, offering The Tech of Shrek 2, Meet the Cast, Meet Puss in Boots, The Music of Shrek 2, Technical Goofs, Previews, Far Far Away Times, Cast, Filmmakers, Production Notes and the Filmmakers' Commentaries. The Tech of Shrek 2 features writer/director Andrew Adamson, directors Asbury and Vernon and many other key crew members discussing how the extraordinary visuals in the film were created. Lighting techniques such as subsurface scattering and bounce shading, clay model-making and costume design are some of the subjects briefly covered in this six and a half minute feature. Meet the Cast gives us a ten-minute look at the voice actors behind the animated characters. Meet Puss in Boots is a four minute glimpse at everyone's favourite new character. The Music of Shrek 2 features Chris Douridas, music supervisor introducing a selection of the musicians who were asked to contribute to the soundtrack of the film, including Adam Duritz, singer/songwriter from Counting Crows, David Bowie, E from The Eels and Pete Yorn who covers The Buzzcocks' 'Ever Fallen in Love with Someone'. At just under five minutes this was a feature that could have been much, much longer. Technical Goofs is a selection of technical mishaps that occurred during the animation process, including 'Fuzzy Donkey', 'Long Arm Shrek', and 'Loose Mouth Donkey'. For some reason I found these deeply disturbing, like seeing the mutant, deformed clone 'failures' in 'Alien: Resurrection'. The Far Far Away Times is a navigable edition of that esteemed periodical, complete with Fairy Godmother ads. Click through it carefully, as buried within its pages are a lot of the incidental artwork from the film that you may have missed. There's the usual Cast and Filmmakers text-only biogs plus Production Notes. There's also Previews of a selection of kid's films.

Finally, there's two different Commentary Tracks available here. Directors Conrad Vernon and Kelly Asbury provide a commentary that, like their movie, is funny, irreverent and fast-paced, and provides a wealth of background information about how the sequel was put together. There's a lot of detail given here about specific scenes, the animation techniques used throughout and how the voice actors got into their roles. There's also a lot of good natured banter and mockery between the two. Highlights of the movie (according to the feedback given to these two) are the massive pupils of Puss in Boots and the Justin Timberlake poster (they both swear they had no idea that the singer was dating Cameron Diaz at the time and list a number of alternative 'medieval' bands that were going to feature on the poster including 'InnSync' and 'Britney Spears – Chastity Belt'). Meanwhile, the second commentary track features Producer Aron Warner and editor Mike Andrews, who provide a more thoughtful, low-key commentary that is nevertheless extremely informative. Commentary tracks should ideally be intriguing, bringing to one's attention details of the movie while still being entertaining in their own right, and these are two of the best I've heard in a long time.

Shrek 2 gets a widescreen anamorphic transfer and looks superb, its bright but beautifully modulated colour palette reaching the small screen with no loss of resolution or texture.

The movie gets the 5.1 treatment and sounds terrific, the effects powerful and punchy but not drowning out the dialogue, the songs bright and clear. It also does justice to the fine orchestral sections of the soundtrack, which I noticed more this time around.

If you’re a fan of the movie or a parent (or both), you’re going to buy Shrek 2 on DVD, the only question is, which one? It all depends on what you’re after. Purists will want the R1 for the complete original voice cast. Parents may prefer to check out the 2-disk R2 which has more fun and games on the bonus disk. Neither release, to my knowledge, has a DTS track, the only serious technical omission I can think of. Well... OK, 'Far Far Away Idol' aside, too many of the 'special features' here are just different ways to link to clips of the movie and given that it's arguably the most advanced CG-animated film ever made, a more in-depth look at the animation process would have been nice, but really that's being very picky. This R1 single disk has TWO excellent commentary tracks, plus French and Spanish soundtracks so if you plump for it you're getting a very good DVD of a superb film.

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