The first "Shrek" was a bit of a masterpiece, an inventive send-up of fairy tales which was geared as much to an adult audience as it was to children. Whereas Pixar's CG animated works of art always leaned toward the kiddie side of the spectrum, "Shrek" was a refreshing reversal because it not only had the main story and flashy animation for the little uns, but the rest of us got movie references and sly adult humour with a wicked sensibility that was biting but never offensive. Sequences from Shrek & Donkey's entering of the rather familiar Castle complete with souvenir shops and 'It's a Small World' style chorus dolls to the now infamous morning chorus scene with Fiona and an all too ambitious blue sparrow still work even after multiple viewings.
So how does the sequel measure up? Very well. It may lack the surprise charm and heart of the original but as sequels go it's one of those rare ones which actually works superbly as it simply continues the formula rather than retreads it, and adds some new elements in the form of supporting characters. It also deliberately sets out to be more a comedy than the first, but whereas all the first film's jokes worked perfectly, the second's are a bit more hit and miss with a quiet one for every raucous knee-slapper and a lot of differing degrees of laughter in between.
There's way more 'movie reference' style visual gags this time but they're more inventive and range from the more obvious Flashdance, Mission: Impossible & Alien ones to subtler nods to the likes of "The Fabulous Baker Boys", "Spider-Man", etc. Also the recreation/spoof of Los Angeles in the early scenes is so perfect that residents and tourists alike will be pausing the DVD of this to check it all out. There's just so many little fun bits on screen in the arrival in town sequence that it will be fascinating to look at and study closer.
All the cast are uniformly excellent in their roles, but with such a bigger canvas some of the smaller roles get left by the wayside. Everett and Andrews in particular are fine but not given particularly much to do except react to others. Cleese has a fun part as Fiona's dad, and Saunders is excellent as the somewhat evil Fairy Godmother (the girl is a damn good singer too). However it's Banderas who steals the show here, Puss-in-Boots is a superb character and the Spainiard plays it up perfectly, managing to equal and outdo Murphy who's back as the always fun Donkey.
Animation is also improved with the film looking much richer and more colorful than the first. Likewise all the crammed in references to not just movies & Hollywood but other fairytales is so much it does leaves one's head spinning. Pacing however is oddly off. After the sweet opening credits montage, the first half hour is actually kind of quiet and the whole "Meet the Parents" style gags early on aren't as clever or funny as those in the second half.
Once Shrek, Donkey and Puss meet up in the woods though, from that point on the film only gets better and leads to one hell of a superb finale (done to a Bonnie Tyler number, sweet!). It's not as fresh and new as it could've been, and certainly not up there with the likes of the first film or "Finding Nemo", but it's damn funny at times, looks great, and will appeal to pretty much all ages.