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All-Star Cast, Advances in Computer Animation Make <i>Shrek 2</i> as Good as Original - 2004-05-26

The rotund green ogre and his fairy tale character sidekicks are back for another comical computer-animated adventure: a sequel to the Oscar-winning 2001 box office champion. Alan Silverman has a look at Shek 2.

When we last left Shrek and Fiona, their love had overcome all the obstacles and they were on their way to living happily ever after as ogres in Shrek's swamp. However, Shrek knows the honeymoon is over when they travel to the kingdom of Far, Far Away to meet her mom and dad: the in-laws.

Once again, the path to happily ever after is strewn with misadventures and reinterpreted fairy tale favorites.

In the English-language version, Spanish-born Antonio Banderas does the voice of the swashbuckling Puss in Boots as a comic riff on his live-action Zorro.

"Most of the characters that appear in the movie are international characters. In Spain, Puss in Boots is called 'El Gato con Botas;'" explains Banderas, "but many of the fairy tale characters are characters that I grew up with.

The word that defines Shrek for me is a very beautiful word in English that doesn't actually exist in Spanish: it is wit," he continues. "I think that is what the movie is all about; but after the humor, I think there are a couple of messages that I think are very important. One is the message of friendship with two characters that are opposite in personalities. Donkey is kind of annoying sometimes, but they relate to each other and love each other, respecting each other's faults and defects. There is a beautiful story about friendship."

For the English version, English-born actors John Cleese and Julie Andrews voice Fiona's parents, the king and queen of Far, Far Away (which is actually a juicy send-up of Beverly Hills and its Hollywood elite). No stranger to children's entertainment, Andrews says she nevertheless found the voice acting for Shrek 2 surprisingly challenging.

"You have no idea in animation whether you are on the right track, really: am I reacting too strongly? am I over the top? am I real enough or should I be more animated . . . more cartoon-like in my delivery? You just don't know and so they ask for a lot of things because I think, sometimes, they are not sure until it's all put together which take they will use. It's a whole new experience and I was very interested in it and I liked it," she says.

Shrek 2 features a new song by the rock band Counting Crows, written for the film by lead singer Adam Duritz.

"My first thought was 'who gave you my number? Why would you possibly call me for this particular job?' But I was kind of excited about doing it," admits Duritz. "I have nephews and god-children and I thought it would be great for them; so I just went home and tried to write a song. It was pretty difficult at first because I just don't write that way. I don't usually write on demand or on command; I don't sit down to write for our records. The songs come and that's when we make a record. But it just came. I just tried to write a song about how I was feeling and tried to make sure I was feeling exactly the way Shrek was feeling."

Shrek 2 is co-directed by Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon, who says the challenge with any sequel is to avoid disappointing fans of the original.

"We are trying to tell a good story with appealing characters. We did not want to do a retread of the first movie," he says. "We wanted to take the characters further and advance the story, so it's really about storytelling for us. We couldn't focus on 'I hope we're better than the first one . . .' because if we did that it wouldn't be better and our jobs would be doubly stressful."

Advances in computer animation give Shrek 2 more detail and realism, but with the same whimsy that made the original such an international favorite. For the English language version, Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy return as the voices of the main characters: Shrek, Fiona and Donkey.