Ooh, I've been looking forward to this film for weeks now - 156 weeks, actually, which is how long it's been since the original came out. The story of a green ogre's search for love, Shrek was a multimillion-dollar success, a perfectly judged animation comedy that wiped the floor with both live and cartoon competition. It took $42.3m in the US on its opening weekend alone. Why? Well, it's the kind of film that Hollywood makes really, really well: a slick, funny, fairy tale for all the family. Its message is politically correct, its visuals are sophisticated, its characters are likeable and strong, and, most importantly, it's laugh-out-loud hilarious. If you can sit through Shrek without smiling, you really need to check your Seroxat levels. The film's humour tickles everyone, from tots to totterers, ranging from fart jokes, through in-the-know film references and clever wordplay, to dark wit and top-of-the-range comedy performances, notably Mike Myers as Shrek and scene-stealer Eddie Murphy as his sidekick Donkey.
The British love to say that the Yanks can't do humour or irony (whereas we display one, at least, in calling Jim Davidson a comic) when in fact they do both, brilliantly. Their humorous, ironic ani-mation is the best in the world. Look at The Simpsons. Look at Dumbo, for Walt's sake. However, the animation of the Shrek films is more Grand Theft Auto than Fantasia, which adults may find creepy, especially the blank faces of the humans. Still, there's no denying the appeal of Shrek himself: a lumbering, goofy-grinned green grump, with charm and wavering Scottish accent provided by Myers. Donkey, his motor-mouthed friend, is even better - Eddie Murphy giving the performance we've missed for years from his on-screen acting. Princess Fiona, played by Cameron Diaz, is less appealing: Diaz doesn't have the comic range of Myers and Murphy, though she's spirited enough.
Perhaps to placate us (yes, you Brits are funny), Shrek 2 employs several UK actors to play its new characters: John Cleese, Julie Andrews, Rupert Everett and Jennifer Saunders - who, as the Fairy Godmother, displays perfect pitch in both her acting and singing. The other fresh character, Puss In Boots, is voiced by Antonio Banderas. As far as I'm concerned, Banderas is a talisman actor: any film with him is guaranteed to be terrible. Shrek 2 is one of only two exceptions, the other being Spy Kids. Perhaps Antonio should stick to child's play.
Whatever: watching Shrek 2, I was far too involved to try and place voices to actors (though it was surprising to hear Captain Hook sing in Tom Waits's gravel tones). This is a huge part of the film's appeal. In interviews, its actors have been banging on about how liberating it is to do a movie without having to dress up, learn lines and so on. What isn't mentioned is the freedom for audiences to enjoy a film without the actors getting in the way. When I see Cameron Diaz or Eddie Murphy on screen, I think, there's Cameron Diaz, or hello Eddie Murphy - no matter how fat the fat-suit or how curly the fright-wig. Modern celebrity has spoilt the suspension of disbelief essential to movies. With the Shrek films, Shrek is Shrek, as real as can be, and you believe in him and everyone around him.
There is a plot to Shrek 2, but you shouldn't reveal the story in a review, and anyway, it's not really important. We all know things will turn out right in the end. Far more vital are the jokes, which come thick and fast; the characterisation, endearing and immaculate; and the animation, which seems to be even more . . . lifelike is the wrong word. More Shrek-like. Hair wafts, bubbles sparkle, faces in crowds have individual expressions. Personally, I enjoy rubbish cartoons, the kind that move in their own, particular, non-realistic way. But the Shrek films trumpet their near-life experience, so I suppose we should applaud the animators for getting closer to their ambitions.
Go and see Shrek 2. You'll enjoy yourself thoroughly. Only the churlish could find any faults. Speaking as someone who is full of churl, I spotted only one: the blatant story-crashing by Starbucks, as obvious as the product placement in a James Bond movie. This left a small - very small - bad taste in the mouth, a tiny crack across the rosy lenses of my specs. I know that Shrek is made by DreamWorks, that it's voiced by superstars, that it's made of money to make more money. But I want to love Shrek. I don't want to see the corporation behind the fantasy, the man pulling the Wizard of Oz levers. We all know he's there; but for an hour and a half, in a fairy-tale world, it's nice to pretend that he's not.