When we last left Shrek, the green ogre with the fluted ears and the warm heart, he'd met his true love, Fiona, a sweet princess who'd been cursed to look something like a female ogre. Now happily married, the pair is summoned to Fiona's homeland, Far Far Away, for a family get-together. Her parents aren't expecting their new son-in-law to be an ogre -- they'd arranged a marriage with a certain vacuous Prince Charming -- and predictable complications ensue.
Shrek 2 reprises its affectionate, digitally animated spoof of fairy tales juiced with familiar movie moments (some, like Matrix-style fighting, are becoming all too familiar). Director Andrew Adamson is back, assisted by co-directors Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon, and he also wrote the story (2001's Shrek was based on a book by William Steig). Also returning are the voice talents of Mike Myers as the inexplicably Scottish ogre, Cameron Diaz as Fiona, and Eddie Murphy as Donkey, Shrek's braying sidekick. Joining the festivities are John Cleese and Julie Andrews as Fiona's parents, Rupert Everett as Prince Charming, and Jennifer Saunders as the devious Fairy Godmother. The whole candy-colored show is stolen by Puss in Boots, a hired assassin of a marmalade cat who becomes Shrek's swashbuckling ally, and is voiced by Antonio Banderas with a sublime feline mix of hiss and purr.
Like the first film, Shrek 2 flirts with embracing the desired norm -- to be beautiful and live in a well-appointed manner -- before reinforcing its simplistic be-true-to-oneself message. The story moves along briskly with new-and-improved animation (that cat really looks wet!), little gags, fart jokes for the kiddies and the occasional subtle visual riff: When Shrek sits down to dinner with his disapproving in-laws, he's beneath the outstretched talons of a gigantic mounted eagle (Hitchcock used a similar bit of mise-en-scÃ¨ne when Janet Leigh dropped in for a bite with Anthony Perkins in Psycho).
But the film loses at least a half star for several unnecessary sequences of product placement. Far Far Away is modeled on Beverly Hills, and its main drag, "Romeo Drive," is cluttered with your favorite logos "medievalized": Pewtery Barn, Abercrombie & Witch, the U.S. Postal eagle (you may have noticed your mail has been sporting tie-in Shrek franks lately) and God save us, Farbucks. (When I think of Starbucks I put the "f" somewhere else.) Much like certain religions that want to go back in time and baptize your ancestors, so too does Starbucks brook no temporal bounds to their ubiquity: Why not ancient -- and animated -- times? Is not even fantasy safe from their green-and-white logo?