Ogre couple Shrek and Fiona hold hands in 'Shrek 2'.
(DreamWorks Pictures)

One of the Best Sequels Ever Just Turned 20 Years Old

It’s the 20th anniversary of Shrek 2, and out of all the installments in the Shrek franchise, this might just be the one with the most cultural staying power.

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Yeah, the first movie kicked off the long-lasting trend of animated movies subverting fairytale tropes (to the point where even some of the subversions have become clichés themselves), but this one was arguably the peak of that whole subgenre. But whether or not Shrek 2 is your personal favorite Shrek movie, it’s certainly a textbook example of how to craft a successful sequel.

Shrek 2 avoids a major trap many sequels fall into: repeating too much from the original. This is especially a problem with many animated sequels, as they are often targeted at children and those in charge may worry that if they don’t bring back every single thing those kids loved from the original, the film won’t be as successful.

For the most part, the first Shrek is kind of like a road trip movie, but without a lot of the memorable stopping points that tend to be a hallmark of that genre. The trio of Shrek, Donkey, and later Fiona, are mostly walking through forests and fields, scenery which is fitting for the fairytale setting but gets a little tiresome after a while. Shrek 2 also features a road trip, but this one is presented to the audience via a short montage, which helps the film avoid being too much like its predecessor. Rather than being about the journey, Shrek 2 is all about the destination, and that destination is the ultimate fairytale parody paradise: Far Far Away.

The kingdom of Far Far Away is a blend of Beverly Hills and the setting of every major fairytale. A semi-modern setting obviously based on a real place like this could have made Shrek 2 dated by its 20-year anniversary, but like with the first movie, a lot of the jokes work on multiple levels, so they’re more than just a simple reference to something that was popular at the time. The film also takes the smart route of mostly making fun of celebrity and upper-class culture instead of specific people, so most of that humor still holds up as well. And thanks to the fairytale setting, the absence of things like social media—a staple of pop culture in the 2010s—works because while the Shrek universe has always included a good amount of contemporary technology, its characters do a lot of things the old-fashioned way, as well. So while the movie is slightly dated, it doesn’t take away from the story.

If the first Shrek was about reaching “happily ever after” in an unconventional way, Shrek 2 is about how happily ever after may not exist at all, which is a great topic for a fractured fairytale. The film shows that happiness is possible, but it’s never going to be absolutely smooth sailing, and that’s okay. It does retread the notion of “it’s what’s inside that counts” that was the big lesson of the first movie, but the first Shrek was mostly about accepting oneself while the second is continuing to do so even when those you love might not. Fiona is adamant about staying married to Shrek, even if she has to face disapproval from her parents (well, really, her father).

And of course, I’d be remiss to wax poetic about Shrek 2 without discussing just how iconic the whole thing is. Everything I mentioned before applies here, of course, but there’s also the opening honeymoon montage to “Accidentally in Love”! The “Poison Apple” bar where all the villains hang out! The adorable-yet-dangerous “pleading eyes” from Puss-in-Boots, who debuted in this movie and went on to not only become one of the most popular Shrek characters, but to have his own spinoff film series with an iconic, better-than-the original sequel of his own! Even the DVD extras of this movie are iconic, especially Far Far Away Idol, featuring Simon Cowell himself. (American Idol was much bigger back in 2004 than it is in 2024, but Simon Cowell is still judging reality competitions on multiple continents!)

And I haven’t even gotten around to talking about the Fairy Godmother, who is not only one of the best animated villains of all time but yet another example of how great this movie is at playing with fairytale subversion. The woman who is supposed to make everyone’s dreams come true being the one to destroy them? Amazing. Her “I Need a Hero” performance at the end of the movie is the best part of a climax that was already pretty exciting, and is the music for edits across many fandoms to this day. I also love how she’s Prince Charming’s mother, though that brings up a bunch of questions looking back at the film. (Is he an actual prince, or is “Prince Charming” just a strategically-chosen first name for him by the Fairy Godmother?)

Shrek 2 is just a roaring delight all around. It takes what was good about the first movie and brings it to a whole new level, providing the franchise with some excellent world building without just serving as a lore dump and further developing the characters audiences grew to love in the first movie. All of that plus so many iconic moments that are still memorable 20 years later make Shrek 2 an absolute triumph of a film that remains one of the greatest sequels of all time.


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Author
Julia Delbel
Julia Delbel (she/her) is a contributing writer at The Mary Sue and has been doing freelance entertainment coverage for five years. She loves diving into film, television, and theater, especially Marvel, DC Disney, and animated content, particularly taking a hard look at their character development, storyline weaving, and place in the pop culture pantheon.