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Along time ago in a DreamWorks Animation studios far, far away… Steven Spielberg and his co-owners rub their hands together as gleefully twisted expressions fill their pointed faces. Probably no surprise either, Shrek 2 grossed nearly nine-hundred-million dollars worldwide and became the biggest animation and comedy film ever released. Ever! After just one year into release, Finding Nemo has been knocked off the top spot that it so deservedly occupied, but the big question is whether the angry green ogre was worthy. For that, you are just going to have to read on to find out.

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Movie
Living in today’s busy society isn’t always easy. Year after year, decade after decade, the general public sways in and out of fashion trends so fast that it is often hard remember exactly what is going on. Cinema can often be a good way to observe this change, as every decade seems to spawn a new trend. Back in the olden days, families used to venture off to catch the latest musical or romantic stories and even a good animated adventure from time to time. How things have changed. These days, people would seemingly rather watch the latest gory horror or action flick than check out something a little more, sedate. Animation, however, is still going pretty darn strong thanks to digital pioneers Pixar and DreamWorks PDI.

Recently, Disney has fizzled into a meagrely dim puff of smoke that is barely recognisable by today’s standards. Likewise, many other traditional animation studios have all but disappeared into the realm of the unknown and uncertain. As we all know, Pixar was of course the company responsible for igniting the fire within the animation stakes that promises to never burn out. Consequentially, computer animation is the hot property in Hollywood right now. It has already consumed tens of billions in worldwide receipts (probably more than Disney’s revenue in the last twenty years) and has given the family-orientated public (and even the wider demographics) a hardcore reason to make at least one trip to the theatre every year.

One thing you can’t really protest with regards to traditional animation was the stigma that entailed it for years. It was always commonly seen as a ‘kids’ format, something only children could appreciate and understand. A totally linear-minded thought, but it is one that has dominated the trend of film-going in the last ten-plus years. Computer animation, for some bizarre reason, crushed that stigma completely. Perhaps it is no great surprise really, when you think on it. Their unique blend of action and story and memorable characters seem to hit all the right notes and somehow give us exactly what we want to see. Animation for the next generation? I couldn’t agree more.

In fact, nearly every year since the release of Toy Story all the way back in 1995 has seen a new digitally created animation event sweep the world. Pixar has recently released their sixth and with plenty more on the way things are looking mightily good. DreamWorks and several other companies are also investing hundreds of millions and years of hard work to create a flood more. We just can’t get enough of them and right now it seems hard to think of this sort of entertainment ever dying out. On the contrary, the computer animation reign has only just begun…

Shrek 2 had free sovereignty this summer. Absolutely nothing stood in its way or even promised to snatch away any of its core audience. Looking at the box office stats carefully, it quickly becomes clear that Shrek 2 was the only mainstream ‘family-orientated’ movie of the entire summer. Van Helsing, the first major release way back in May wasn’t catered for a family audience. Neither was Spiderman 2 or Troy or I, Robot for that matter. Strangely enough, neither was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which was a far darker, more grownup chapter of the franchise.

Maybe it is no great surprise then that Shrek 2 consumed as much box office as it did. If you think about it, it was the only movie a family with younger children or a family who were censorship-concerned could embark forth to catch multiply showings. Then again, Shrek 2 was the sequel to one of the most lucrative animation films ever and it also had the fortune of having a mass of critical acclaim prior to its release.

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The film opens right were the first left us; Shrek and Fiona riding off in their onion carriage towards their amorous honeymoon destination. The opening is also one of the best parts of the movie in my opinion. Counting Crows provide the opening song ‘Accidentally in Love’ which is a sweet and very catchy way to get things rolling. In true Shrek tradition, we see the couple in various locations having some ogre-ish fun! Upon arriving back at the swamp however, the couple discover they are to visit Far Far Away; Fiona’s childhood home where her parents happen to be King and Queen. It’s all very ‘Meet the Parents’ with extremely funny parodies and some genuinely touching drama thrown in to the mix for best results.

Along the way we get to meet some hilarious new characters such as the unforgettable Puss In Boots (voiced by Antonio Banderas). Fiona’s parents, King (John Cleese) and Queen (Julie Andrews) are also joined by one of the funnier characters, The Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders). The characters, both new and old really bring this whole film to life and in many ways, it even manages to oust the original film for sheer variation.

Drama is also upped over its predecessor, as more morals and change come into play within Shrek and Fiona’s unique situation. It questions such things as acceptance and self-being in a way that we can all connect with and all relate to. A great deal of these themes courses through the very vein of the script, a script that is beautifully written and fully intelligent throughout. The animation is also first-rate. DreamWorks have really topped themselves here with some truly jaw-dropping realism and quality. But it is ultimately the passion and charm and even the love the animators have clearly pumped into every frame, every character.

Trees with thousands of leaves can be seen swaying with the wind or dripping with rain; water ripples and casts reflections and the various lighting and shadow techniques are mind-blowing. Every texture, every surface, every character is beautifully realised in what is easily one of the most impressive visualisations ever! Literally everything within this film is breathing with life and seamlessly crafted. Animation wise, Finding Nemo is still my favourite, but Shrek 2 comes a close second.

From what I have learnt in the past few months, Shrek 2 has spilt viewers three ways. You will either think that it was better than its predecessor, think that it was as good as or think that it just didn’t quite hit the mark. Of course, there will be those who give it the thumbs down, but to be frank, I think the chances of fishing for negativity with this movie will be a hard endeavour indeed. Personally speaking, I am one who happens to think that it is as good as the first. Just like its predecessor, Shrek 2 really is a new family classic you can really feel good about watching. I love it and look forward to the third and rumoured fourth part with an overzealous anticipation!

Pixar and DreamWorks continually prove that audiences still love a good family film. I think we all do, it’s like a genetic trait we cannot escape; at some point we all crave something fluffy and warm to comfort us. But moreover, Shrek 2 is a film that affirms the next generation of animation is here, and here to stay!

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Video
Presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic frame, Shrek 2 looks awesome. It should do too. It is a digitally created film now present on the all-digital format. If ever there was a perfect DVD transfer, this is it! The colours, the textures and the fine detail are all spot on. There are no present errors or enhancement issues, nothing of the sort. DreamWorks PDI did an amazing job animating this movie and the DVD team have done an equally amazing job in preserving this greatness. Perfection! Utter and sheer perfection! What more can I say?

Audio
On the audio front, we get a lovely Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that does fullest justice to the movie. Shrek 2 has a huge array of interesting sounds and Dolby has done wonders in upholding the standards. Everything from the light musical opening, to fully blown musical numbers are great and perfectly balanced. Dialogue, directional effects and the lower frequencies all blend together very nicely to create a rich and seamless audio experience. In all honesty, I cannot think of anything I would change about this audio mix. Superb!

Extras
The double disc version of this DVD has two notable differences over the single disc edition. The first is obviously the inclusion of a second disc and the other is the packaging. The double disc packaging is one of the best slipover covers I have ever seen. Firstly, the cover opens up to reveal a pop-up picture with most of the Shrek 2 cast set against a forest location. You will also notice the gingerbread man holding a wooden sign that says ‘press me’ on the front (embossed) cover art. Press it and Donkey says “Shrek and Donkey on another whirlwind adventure”. His teeth also glow a bright white. Impressive! The DVD casing itself is also a bright green colour, which fits hand in hand with the movie.

I must first mention a disgraceful little ploy that populates the first disc. Two adverts begin to play as soon as the disc goes into the player (both DreamWorks films) and there is no option to skip them! You have to fast forward, which really gets annoying after a while.

On disc one, the menu system is presented as many squares with each character sitting in their own window. If you leave the menu running, Donkey will start to irritate all of the other occupants of the menu by droning on about how Shrek 2 sound have another name such as; Shrek 2: 2 fast, 2 Donkey or Shrek 2: The Fellowship of the Donkey etc. Very amusing, and it gave us all a hearty laugh for a few minutes.

‘Far Far Away Idol’ is a hugely hilarious feature that will have even the toughest person rolling about with laughter. Set in the auditorium when the film ends, Shrek and Fiona are joined at the judges table by the digital Simon Cowell who proceeds to judge several acts. At the end, you can choose who will be the next Far Far Away Idol. After doing so, you will be presented with a different ending depending on who you select. Everything within this feature has been given some seriously creative though, right down to the last detail. For example; the spin on the Pop Idol theme and the end credits scrolling and music.

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Up next are two feature length commentaries. The first is with co-directors Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon. The second is with producer Aron Warner and editor Mike Andrews. To be honest, both of these commentaries make for excellent listening as practically all aspects of the film are thoroughly discussed.

‘The Tech of Shrek 2’ highlights how far the animation has come since the first film and details many of the new visual effect techniques utilised in the making of this sequel. I actually quite liked this feature, as short as it was.

‘Meet the Cast’ was another enjoyable ten minute feature showing us all the cast members of Shrek 2. We get to see the various actors recording their lines and included are some mini interviews too.

‘Meet Puss In Boots’ is criminally short at just four minutes long. As the name suggests, we’re given some pretty cool behinds the scenes footage of Antonio Banderas becoming the character known as Puss In Boots.

‘The Music of Shrek 2’ walks us through many of the chosen songs for the film and also sheds light on the many decisions the production team made.

‘Technical Goofs’ wasn’t really all that amusing as we are shown clips of rendering problems and such.

‘Previews’ and ‘Far Far Away Times’ are two filler features that serve no real purpose. The previews are basically trailers for Shark Tale and the forthcoming DreamWorks animated adventure, Madagascar. The Far Far Away Times is the newspaper article as seen in the film.

‘Shrek’s Music Room’ opens a menu with three features available to select from. ‘Fiona’s Duke Box’ is pretty fun as you can revisit many of the songs used in the film. There are 13 in total and each selection will take you to the appropriate part of the film. ‘Sing Along with The Fairy Godmother’ will allow you to sing along with her debut song (as seen in the movie). ‘Music Video’ previews the ‘Accidentally in Love’ video from Counting Crows.

‘Favourite Scenes’ has four different scenes from the movie which will play upon your request.

‘Gingy’s House of Games’ has three different games inside, ‘Interactive Map of Far Far Away’, ‘Find Puss In Boots’ and ‘Save Fiona!’.

Just to finish off disc one; there are some printables and web links.  

Onto disc two. ‘Puss In Boots Music Video’ is the video to his song ‘These Boots’ as seen in Far Far Away Idol. I love this song, and it is great to see Banderas record the lyrics as part of the video.

‘Learn How to Burp with Shrek and Fiona’ will either offend you or have you laughing yourself to death. Personally, I laughed quite a lot during this feature. There are several words you can chose from and then you chose which language you wish to hear the selected burp.

‘Learn to Draw’ is one for the kids. If you wish to learn how to draw one of your favourite Shrek 2 characters in a simple step-by-step guide, just watch this feature!

‘The Making of Far Far Away Idol’ is another self explanatory feature which walks you though the making of the hilarious DVD exclusive feature.

‘Shrek 2 Around the World’ is the follow up to the same feature on the first movie’s DVD. It is rather interesting seeing the epic effort to dub the movie in over thirty languages!

‘Storyboard to Screen’ shows how a few scenes were originally drawn (all in their very early stages).

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Overall
Shrek 2 is a wonderful film that is truly deserving of all of its many, many successes. Everybody that was involved had a great part to play in making this film a reality. And every one of them can smile in the knowledge that they hit gold for the second time. If the first one was a classic (and it was), then I have no doubt that this highly regarded sequel stands just as tall.

The DVD itself could not be better from a technical stance. The transfer is as good as a DVD image could ever be and the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is something to really enjoy too. As for the features, well, aside from the two commentaries, they may lack any depth, but at least they are a whole load of fun!

Shrek 2 was the biggest film of 2004 (as of writing) and you owe it to yourself to pick up this superb DVD package. If you go for one of the two, get the double disc edition. For what it’s worth, it really does look nifty on the shelf.


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