We Have A Hero | Shrek 2 Retrospective 20 Years On

Shrek 2 turns twenty years old this year, and what’s interesting is that it doesn’t feel like it. On re-watching clips and elements from this beloved animated film, I found that it still held up surprisingly well. There’s a charm that continues to captivate audiences with its witty dialogue and lovable characters. As we look back at this piece of animation history, it’s clear that its impact, or at least that of its protagonist namesake, transcends mere entertainment, into a piece of pop culture.

Released in 2004 as the sequel to the equally successful Shrek, this film picks up where its predecessor left off, following the adventures of a grumpy ogre and his annoying donkey sidekick, as they journey to meet Princess Fiona’s parents in the Kingdom of Far Far Away. In many cases sequels get a hard time, and so does this one in some ways. But honestly, as a sequel, as an extension of the Shrek mythos, I can’t fault it.

It does everything that a sequel should do. It manages, firstly, to introduce something new to the audience, allowing an expansion of the world from the first: introducing new characters, higher stakes, better comedy moments and development of the existing characters. I believe this is where the charm of Shrek 2 lies, it manages to give us the incredible Puss in Boots, a welcome and easily integrated addition to the cast, voiced perfectly by Antonio Banderas.

It also manages to flesh out the existing relationships of it’s already established cast, showing us that ogres really do have layers. The villain, the Fairy Godmother is a menacing step up in evil from her predecessor and Prince Charming adds just the right amount of sickliness to the magic potion, that makes it just right. 

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At it’s heart, this is a film about Shrek and Fiona. A progression of their love story and a development of their arc together, in that it delivers the perfect happy ending, but it does it in such a way that it makes sure that we know that this isn’t an average fairy tale. From the pop culture references to the incredible early 2000s soundtrack, it manages to enthral and capture us in these relationships.

The songs have weight and meaning, not just added as background noise or filler. I point you no further than Jennifer Saunders’ powerful rendition of Bonny Tyler’s ‘I need a Hero’, a sequence that sees our team of unlikely heroes storm the castle to save the Princess. I challenge you to find a more edge of your seat moment in Western CG animation, that captures the hero’s journey and makes us cheer for them. It’s in this scene, towards the end of the film, that proves the three-dimensional nature that these characters have grown.

Moving onto the animation, there is a noticeable jump in quality here too, we see better simulations of liquid, better hair and fur, and although human Shrek is arguably more ugly than his ogre form, it’s interesting to see the sheer fluidity of movement in him and the rest of the cast, as they explore the magical land. This coupled with the stellar voice acting mentioned earlier, only serves to push this film to a higher tier of animated storytelling.

Fiona, Donkey and Shrek

Like most Hollywood successes, the Shrek universe has become bogged down and overwhelmed by less than solid sequels that we’ll not give the light of day to. But this second outing is just right. Shrek 2 has aged well, it may look older, and some of the jokes may be somewhat questionable in our modern society, but the thematic relevance is still clearly there, and audiences twenty years later, can still resonate with it.

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