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SHREK 2 – Harry Gregson-Williams

shrek2Original Review by Peter Simons

Considering the enormous success of the original Shrek in 2001, there was never any doubt that a sequel would follow. Shrek was always going to be a tough act to follow, but somehow but the filmmakers succeeded – in fact, the results even outdo the first film. Shrek 2 has better animation, is a lot funnier, has Puss in Boots, and made a lot more money at the box office.  Most of the cast returned for this sequel, with Mike Myers doing the voice of the ogre Shrek, Eddie Murphy voicing Donkey and Cameron Diaz providing the voice for the Princess Fiona. New to the sequel are Antonio Banderas as the hilarious feline Puss in Boots, Jennifer Saunders as the Fairy Godmother and John Cleese and Julie Andrews as the King and Queen of Far Far Away.

Having just celebrated their honeymoon, Shrek and Fiona are invited by Fiona’s parents to come home to Far Far Away – after all, mom and dad haven’t seen the new hubby yet. Upon arrival, the entire kingdom is shocked to see that the Princess has not only married an ogre, but is one herself. Worse still, it transpired that the bumbling King and the scheming Fairy Godmother had made a deal together that would allow her rather narcissistic son Prince Charming to marry Fiona. To correct the mistakes that have been made, and to get Shrek out of the way, the King hires the services of Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), a feline sword-for-hire with delusions of grandeur, to get rid of the ogre, thereby leaving the way clear for the Prince to work his charms. However, when Puss and Shrek unexpectedly become friends (much to the jealous dismay of Donkey), they come up with a whole new plan of their own…

Returning to score the film is Harry Gregson-Williams – without John Powell. The two composers created a handful of wonderful themes for the first film and, luckily, Gregson-Williams doesn’t deviate too far from them on Shrek 2. He actually takes them through several new variations for full orchestra which brings the score up to a whole new level, ultimately making it a more enjoyable album that the first one.

The score album opens beautifully with Shrek’s magical main theme for woodwinds, strings and soft choir before the full orchestra comes in for an exciting rendition of the theme. “Far Far Away” starts off with a wonderfully baroque fanfare for brass and choir signalling the arrival of Fiona at her parents’ home, but turns a little dark and sinister in its latter half. “Family Dinner” is a Viennese waltz as lush and lovely as any ever written. It begins slowly and very distinguished, with an emphasis on strings and woodwinds, but as the family dinner turns sour, the music speeds up and becomes a little more aggressive with basses and brass taking a more prominent role.

In “Fiona’s Room” the composer reprises the Princess’s theme for strings and solo vocal, and expands on it with a wonderfully melancholy passage for strings and harp; while “The Poison Apple” is a particularly sinister cue for high pitched strings, dark male vocals and a menacing passage – sounding much like Horner’s danger motif – for bass clarinet.
As short as the score cues are, most of them tend to change style dramatically half way into them. “By The Ol’ Oak” starts off with the quirky underscore that usually accompanies Shrek and Donkey on their travels, but turns into a pacy action cue with Spanish guitar taking the lead as Puss in Boots makes his first appearance. “Annoying Talking Animal” is a melancholy cue combining a beautiful little theme for piano and strings with a reprise of Fiona’s theme and the usual travelling music. “The Potion Room” is the score’s second longest cue and goes through a whole series of styles as the movie’s heroes sneak into the Fairy Godmother’s factory to steal a magic potion. Slow brass chords and low woodwinds provide the sneaky sounds, while the choir accentuates the magic of the potions. As Shrek, Donkey and Puss make their escape from the factory, fast paced string arpeggios and brass blasts take centre stage.

“Not Meant To Be” is nothing less than a sublime cue that sees the main theme performed by piano and cello first, before orchestra and choir slowly come in and take the melody to a whole new level. The performance is so gentle, the orchestrations are so cleverly done and the theme itself is just so gorgeous that this track is quite simply heartbreaking in its beauty. On an album of highlights, this is the absolute showstopper.

Like parts of “Far Far Away” and “Family Dinner” earlier on the album, “The Ball” and “Tonight on “Knights” are two more cues composed by Gregson-Williams that sound like they are source music. The former is jazzy brass fanfare that sounds exactly like the type of music that accompanies big Hollywood events on Oscar night, while the latter is a funky cue for organ, saxophone and percussion serving as the main title to a reality police show which plays on television within the Shrek universe.

As the finale of the film draws near and all the characters spring into action to save the day, the music becomes more bombastic with the slow string chords and gentle woodwinds making way for fast pace strings and heroic brass fanfares; especially in the three excellent fully orchestral action cues “The Mission”, “Muffin Man” and “Get The Wand”.
“All Is Revealed” is a heartwarming finale reassuring that all is well and that everybody will live happily ever after – especially the listener. To those of you who were patient enough to sit through the end credits the quirky “Dragon” cue will not come as a surprise.

The orchestrations deserve additional praise as the score effectively swings from one style to another and successfully goes through a whole series of different moods while the orchestrations remain transparent. Though there are plenty of brass fanfares and choral passages, the strings and woodwinds are the driving force behind it all with flutes and oboe during the lighter moments and bassoon or bass clarinet during the darker ones.

It doesn’t really come as surprise that Harry Gregson-Williams is able to produce a stunning score for Shrek without the aid of the original co-composer John Powell, as Gregson-Williams has already proven to be an excellent composer on his own – and I actually feel a little guilty that I’m even making a point of this. While there was little actually wrong with the original Shrek score, it somehow didn’t quite satisfy me – perhaps the cues were a bit too short and too varied to make for a coherent album. This sequel seems a little more focused and also relies on the orchestra a bit more than its predecessor, making it a more rewarding album to listen to overall.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Prince Charming (2:05)
  • Leaving Home (1:12)
  • Far Far Away (1:44)
  • Family Dinner (2:10)
  • Fiona’s Room (1:01)
  • We Need To Talk (1:32)
  • The Poison Apple (1:20)
  • The Factory (1:40)
  • By The Ole’ Oak (2:02)
  • Annoying Talking Animal (2:56)
  • The Potion Room (3:09)
  • Deep Fried (2:02)
  • Not Meant To Be (2:49)
  • The Ball (1:09)
  • The Prince Of Her Dreams (2:16)
  • Tonight On ‘Knights’ (0:48)
  • Magic Tea (1:50)
  • The Mission (1:29)
  • Muffin Man (1:10)
  • Get The Wand (2:08)
  • All Is Revealed (3:17)
  • Dragon! (0:38)

Running Time: 40 minutes 27 seconds

Varèse Sarabande VSD-6629 (2004)

Music composed and conducted by Harry Gregson-Williams. Featured musical soloist Robert King. Special vocal performances by Lisbeth Scott. Recorded and mixed by Nick Wollage. Edited by Mark Jan Wlordarkiewicz. Album produced by Harry Gregson-Williams.

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