#9: “Shrek 2” and the Status of Animated Sequels


Can you think of the last time you saw a sequel that was really really good? Like better than the original? (Try and exclude adapted literary works because that’s cheating.) Now try to think of the last good animated sequel you saw. If you’re like me, this just keeps getting harder. With the mind-blowing exception that is the Toy Story franchise, I’m hard-pressed to think of a good animated sequel. Most of the older animated sequels ended up going straight to VHS/DVD/Blu-Ray, particularly the Disney Princess sequels. Suffice to say, straight to DVD essentially means that they are dead on arrival for me.


However, now that a greater number of movies are coming out each year, we the animation-loving audience gets to sit through half-ass money grabs like Cars 2 and Ice Age 17: Extinct Animal Stuff and Things. And we’ve got more coming with Pixar finally buckling under the pressure that they’ve effectively run out of ideas with Finding Dory, The Incredibles 2 and Cars 3 in some stage of production as we speak.

But there is one animated sequel that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Shrek 2 manages to tell a new and believable standalone story that makes the characters feel fresh again, as well as introducing new blood into the franchise. Now don’t get me wrong, Shrek 3 and Shrek 4 were awful. But at least Dreamworks Animation got the first sequel right.

The first Shrek is groundbreaking in its excellent and prolific use of pop culture references. DreamWorks Animation can be credited with this new take on animation-style storytelling. “While the early 2D movies often aimed to be more grown-up and serious than Disney’s, the studio eventually established its identity with fast-paced irreverent CG comedy films packed with hip, fast-talking characters, rock music, and pop culture references, aiming to appeal to adults as well as children,” (Cavalier, pg. 313).

All of the main character’s significant story arcs naturally get played out in the first film in case you never get a sequel. But the “Meet the Parents” type situation proved to be comic fodder as Shrek is thrust into a situation he doesn’t want to be near in this fish-out-of-water tale… again. While it may seem like a similar story, it is executed well enough to where you can’t even tell.

In need of new conflict and new merchandising opportunities, we are introduced to new and unforgettable characters.

Puss in Boots was a gamble who paid off handsomely. Enemy quickly turned friend, he was an excellent counter to Donkey and along with Shrek made quite the trio. But we were also introduced to the real enemy, the Fairy God Mother and her son, Prince Charming.

Shrek 2 is the exception that proves the rule in terms of animated sequels. While animated films have such potential for expansive worlds to play around with, they ultimately revert to comfort zones with their storytelling to make sure the money keeps flowing. Boldly saying that animated movies aren’t as worried about critics may have some greater impact on the film industry, but money doesn’t lie. Studio movies are all about playing it safe to make money, especially when it comes to animated sequels. Luckily for us, Shrek 2 somehow turned out to be one hell of a sequel. Hopefully there’s more where that came from. But for now, I’ll just leave you with the most striking image from the film below.

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8 Comments

  1. Shrek 2 actually worked. I agree with you when you say that Shrek 3 and Shrek 4 were terrible. They just weren’t that funny. It felt like all of the flat jokes they thought would be funny could be squeezed into two more sequels with silly plots. One of the weirdest Disney sequels I have ever heard of is “Cinderella 3: Some Time Travel Garbage.” I’m serious, the evil stepmother travels back in time to prevent Cinderella from marrying the prince and living happily ever after. Doesn’t that seem like such an insane plot for something like Cinderella? Imagine if that was the plot for Pocahontas 3 or something. Yeah, the Governor would travel back in time and attempt to re-write the past. It’s kind of insulting that such great disney films stoop so low.

  2. Yeah, I gotta agree. Shrek 2 was pretty amazing, and I don’t really have much to add about the value of having unique, non-crummy sequels.

    But I think you’re overlooking a quality Disney sequel in there: “The Rescuers Down Under”. Frankly, the first “Rescuers” movie was weird, with a meandering plot, and the things that happened to Penny were genuinely terrifying to a lot of the kids I know. (And to me. Being trapped in a well/mine gives me the willies.) Its chief redeeming quality was the setting, because anything that happens in Louisiana is automatically awesome. (WARNING: NATIVE BIAS.)

    By comparison, “The Rescuers Down Under” was pretty sweet. They upgraded at villain, giving us McLeach (voiced by George C. Fucking Scott!), upgraded at sidekick with Wilbur (voiced by John Candy!), and kept Newhart and Eva Gabor. They moved the setting to STRAYA, which is nearly as cool as Louisiana. The animals were better (golden eagle! goanna!) and there was drama with a semi-fake love triangle. The plot more or less worked, too.

    “The Rescuers Down Under” unfortunately got shafted by being released the same weekend as “Home Alone”, which owned the box office in 1990. Poor “Rescuers” never had a chance against the Culkin juggernaut.

  3. Disney has a tradition of making direct to video sequels, which is regrettable. Given a budget and a timeframe to produce a worthy successor, alot of sequels would shine. The wrath of Jafar is actually quite good, though it suffers from inferior artwork. Again I would assume this would be because of budget and time restraints.

  4. I agree with what you are saying because a lot of animations that try and do sequels always fail with very very few exceptions. One other sequel I enjoyed was Kronks New Groove. Its a hard battle to say it was better or not but I enjoyed it just as much as the first movie. But a lot of movies that attempt sequels fail but that’s them pursuing money over quality.

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  7. This example is perfect, and it proves that not all sequels suffer the same second-rate fate that plagues many franchises in the animation industry. Shrek 2 succeeds because the plot is not drawn out, it evolves off of the original tale and brings a completely new side of Shrek’s world to viewers, even if the story is a bit cliched. The humor that made the first film a hit is still working its magic, and I know the dynamic of the villains really made the film for me. A sequel is never as successful if the story lacks a good villain, and Shrek 2 did not disappoint with Fairy Godmother and Prince Charming. Hopefully others will take a page out of DreamWorks’ book on this one and produce quality sequels worthy of the profits they are so desperate to gain.

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