Abandoning your inner child

By R.H. Joseph

National Public Radio recently reported the average age of video game players is now in the upper twenties. Perhaps that explains the apparent target audience for "Shrek 2."

Sure, it's marketed for kids and, judging by the audience that surrounded me, young'uns respond well to the warm pastels and moments of emotional fuzziness. But they were quiet a lot more than they were exuberant.

Might I suggest this is because few aspects of the feature length animated film are intended for children. Fundamentally "Shrek 2" offers a hackneyed adult plot coupled with a preponderance of sophisticated adult humor.

The fact that it is animated is irrelevant. Animation, in and of itself, is not synonymous with films for children.

Moreover, unlike the visually marvelous "Finding Nemo" and its rainbow of fantastical sea creatures, "Shrek 2" does its very best to render its characters as lifelike as possible. In so doing, the director forces the film's visual component to mirror the unimaginative realism of its plot.

Sure, those responsible make clear they have mastered the technology – You'll notice how lifelike the character's hair appears. – but it's hard to say how impressed pre-schoolers will be.

The plot has been filmed a thousand times. The only difference between "Shrek 2" and the rest of the soap operas is the animation and a splash of urban hipness.

My guess is, cognizant of the tendency of "Son of?" films to garner considerably less cash than their successful forebears the producers of "Shrek 2" elected to save money on the writing and music.

Regarding the film's urban hipness, though I have no children of my own I surmise few youngsters will appreciate the urbane facetiousness underlying the film's cross-dressing bar tender and gender-confused fox (four-legged).

I can only guess how many seven-year-olds will giggle with recognition at the Starbucks allusion or the musical reference to thighs beset by cellulite.

And speaking of the songs, the one referred to above is all but unintelligible to this attentive audience member. What snippets I could appreciate suggest that on paper sophisticates would find the lyrics quite amusing, but as the essence of the work flies by at light speed, I'll never know for sure. Certainly, aside from the up-tempo rhythm, the whole thing is lost on tots.

Most of the film's sound track is composed of pop hits rather than original music. What conceptual appeal David Bowie's "Changes" or the song "Livin' la vida roca" will have for the under 10 crowd is a matter of conjecture.

As to the unimaginative plot, Shrek (Mike Meyers) and his bride Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) leave the swamp to go visit her parents, Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews) and King Harold (John Cleese).

The father and son-in-law fight, the mother tries to ease the tension, the daughter is torn between her love for her husband and that she has for her parents. Everybody lives happily ever after. Same old, same old.

Though they look like ogres, the behavior of Shrek and Fiona is predictably (and regrettably) human. Cartoons (excuse me, animated films) for kids should encourage an immersion in imaginative wonder, the unusual and the amazing. "Shrek 2" provides little more than the burdens of the quotidian. Virtually devoid of magic, it is "daytime drama" lite.

Yes, there is a fairy godmother (Jennifer Saunders) and she does flit about on hummingbird wings but her manner of expression and motives are all too depressingly human. Need kids be so encumbered?

Eddie Murphy is the voice of Donkey, a welcome bit of whimsy, and he does his patented Eddie Murphy shtick. As one would expect, the gifted comic tosses in some ultra hip cultural references – "I'm comin' Elizabeth!" – but again, one wonders how many seven-year-olds remember Redd Foxx as Fred Sanford.

Similarly, Antonio Bandaras' turn as the maximally debonair Puss in Boots is a small gem amidst the dross. Even the animators and director have a bit of fun with the character, at times rendering his eyes hopelessly pitiful in an evocation of those paintings of forlorn waifs forever available at low-budget gift shops.

Still, despite the majority of the film being intended for astute adults the child in me wanted to have some fun. "Shrek 2" is not fun, it is an example of too-hip urban sophisticates showing off with no thought to the needs of their intended audience. I watched but for the most part was not entertained.

Celluloid memories: If you want to have some real family fun with animated films invest in the following: "Cartoon Madness: The Fantastic Max Fleischer" (1993), a VHS format compilation of Fleischer's great Popeye and Betty Boop cartoons from the pre-World War II period. They're as good as it gets. Then spring for the four disc DVD set entitled "Looney Tunes – The Golden Collection" (2000) which offers 56 classics and a pantheon of animated stars: Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester and Tweety Bird, Speedy Gonzalez and Foghorn Leghorn, to name but a few. Plus there's an interview with another legendary animator, Chuck Jones, and documentary footage of the studio and lost cartoons as well.