Optimal Precocity

The decidedly grown-up pleasures of Shrek 2

In a world where little girls are modeling themselves after Britney Spears, who would quarrel with a story that throws its weight behind the plump and homely? Still—and it feels almost churlish to say this about a movie that gives such a rollicking good time—Shrek 2 ups the hip-allusive quotient to such a pitch, one has to wonder what's in it for the little kids to whom the movie has already been pre-sold in the usual hurricane of television ads, toy-store tie-ins and schoolyard word of mouth. There isn't a child in my daughter's kindergarten class who isn't chafing for a date with Shrek 2. Yet it was mainly adults I heard shrieking with laughter in the movie theater. The two little girls accompanying me—bewildered by most everything but the uplifting message and a frankly pandering coda—glommed onto a favorite character, and clung to it with desperate tenacity. To the degree that Shrek 2attends to little kids at all, it traffics in cuteness: The script, canny as it may be, has about as much to do with Steig's understanding of the dark side of children's imaginative lives as a Hallmark card. Given the pointlessly violent crap today's kids soak up on a daily basis, I suppose we should be thankful for small mercies. But I'd almost rather go with Steig's gleeful malevolence than encourage kids to get hip to the postmodern before their time. In asking small children to go along with the ridicule, however affectionate, of their favorite fairy-tale characters, we may be crafting a depressingly premature generation of ironic kindergartners.

Shrek 2 was directed by Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon; written by Joe Stillman, J. David Stern and David N. Weiss, based on the book by William Steig; produced by Jeffrey Katzenberg, Aron Warner, David Lipman and John H. Williams; and stars the voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, John Cleese, Julie Andrews, Rupert Everett, Jennifer Saunders and Antonio Banderas. Now playing countywide.

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