In recent years, Hollywood has not had the best success rate when it comes to creating enjoyable sequels to successful films. But one film that is sure not to disappoint fans is the new adventure of that lovable ogre, Shrek.
Perhaps the secret to their triumph is the filmmakers didn’t set out to make the same movie they did the first time, or even to better their work on the Academy Award-winning Shrek. Instead, they focused on telling a good story in Shrek 2 that took the characters to the next logical place on their emotional journey. During a recent interview, co-director Kelly Asbury described the thought process that went into the plotting of the movie. “In the first film, our villain was eaten by a dragon and our hero and our heroine rode off into the sunset to go live happily ever after. The story ended and the only jump-off point that felt logical was, well, one thing we didn’t see in the first film was how would Fiona’s parents react to her decision to marry this ogre. Her curse is not reversed and now she’s an ogress all the time, so what would they feel about that? And so that presented a whole new story and a whole new place to go.”
Where the characters go is far, far away literally! Shrek and Fiona (voiced by returning stars Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz) travel to the Kingdom of Far Far Away (accompanied by the loyal Donkey, of course) to visit Fiona’s parents. The Kingdom is the total opposite of Shrek’s cozy swamp, and just might remind people of a little street in Beverly Hills known as Rodeo Drive. The setting allows the animators to riff on our consumer culture with homages to Starbucks and Abercrombie & Fitch. But co-director Conrad Vernon points out the jokes have an important plot purpose as well. “The main story point here is Shrek going, ‘Where the heck am I?’ and just being really nervous. It was just about looking at this world through Shrek’s eyes.”
Of course, as the movie goes on, Shrek has a lot more problems than just rampant consumerism. He finds he has a rival for Fiona’s affections who is quite charming. In fact, he’s Prince Charming, voiced by Rupert Everett. Rupert, who believes animated films often have more heart and humanity than many of the live action movies he sees, had an unusual model for his character, the late British comic actor Terry Thomas. “He was kind of vocally my role model while doing it, that guy who’s very brash up until the moment someone frightens him, then he turns into a whiny, kind of bratty spoiled child.”
Another new addition to the Shrek universe is the feline swordsman, Puss In Boots, voiced by Antonio Banderas. Of course, Banderas has had his share of experience with real life swordplay, thanks to his role as the swashbuckling Zorro in The Mask of Zorro (Banderas is scheduled to put on that mask again in July, when he starts filming a “Zorro” sequel with Catherine Zeta-Jones.).
Banderas labels himself a Shrek fanatic, having seen the original six times. Therefore, he was delighted when he got the casting call for Shrek 2, if a little worried when he found out his character was modeled after the charismatic D’Artagnan of the Three Musketeers and was supposed to sport a French accent. Of course, as soon as Banderas stepped into the recording studio, Puss In Boots took on a more Zorro-like persona, thanks to the actor’s Spanish accent.
Banderas had heard from his wife, Melanie Griffith, who had provided the voice of a bird in Stuart Little 2, that working in animation was extremely hard, full of repetition and low on the creativity meter. But Banderas had the opposite experience. He reports working with his Shrek 2 directors was a delight. He discovered they were more than happy to let him improvise and change his lines if it made the movie better.
In all, it took just under three years to make Shrek 2. Of course, great strides were made in computer animation during that time, but producer David Lipman insists the Shrek 2 team didn’t break new ground just for the sake of breaking new ground. Once again, the story drove the technology. “The story’s more sophisticated, so the world’s becoming more sophisticated,” he explains. “We built things to make things more efficient for ourselves, like crowds. There are thousands of thousands of people in that courtyard scene. We’re exploiting environmental things in terms of making this world real. There’s rain and snow and things we haven’t done before.” Adds co- producer Aron Warner, “Clothing and hair are very difficult and we’ll improve as time goes by. Skin textures will improve. Animation control will improve. Software that we finished ‘Shrek 2’ with is already obsolete.”
Although DreamWorks has a lot riding on the success of Shrek 2, they’re confident enough to already start developing story ideas for the further adventures of the green ogre. Lipman predicts, “There are a lot more places for Shrek to go and to mature and have a good time doing so.”