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Magical moggie who's feline fine

Jul 2 2004

Rob Driscoll, The Western Mail


MILLIONS of women would agree that Antonio Banderas is the sexiest man in movies today. But the funniest?

OK, there's a bit of tongue-in-cheekery going on in The Mask of Zorro, but generally this smouldering Spanish Lothario is known for his brooding dramatic work, be it playing Che Guevara in Evita or the renegade Western hero in Desperado.

So it's somewhat ironic that, at the age of 43, Banderas is finally getting the unanimous rave reviews he's always dreamed of, and the biggest laughs - for providing the voice for a cartoon cat.

However, this is not your average animated moggy.

For if there is one character in Shrek 2 that fans are talking about most, it's the newly-introduced Puss in Boots, the hilarious, attitude-heavy tabby who spends half the time strutting around in riding boots and showing off his lightning-quick swordmanship...and the other half coughing up fur balls.

"This is the first time in my life that I am totally secure that they didn't call me because of my looks," quips Banderas.

"And Puss in Boots is a character I have known since I was maybe three but I never dreamed I would have the chance to play him.

"It was also great fun to have a little laugh at the expense of my Zorro character."

Indeed, there's no getting away from the fact that Puss in Boots is a hilarious feline spoof of the swashbuckling, black leather-clad hero that Banderas is due to revisit later this year, once again with Catherine Zeta Jones, when he starts shooting the long-awaited remake Zorro 2.

Despite the humour, Banderas still manages to transform Puss in Boots into the sexiest thing in animation since Jessica Rabbit , all the while stealing the show right from under Shrek's bulbous nose.

"I couldn't believe it when I heard women had started saying that they found Puss sexy!" says the Malaga-born heartthrob.

"Now I'm imagining that ladies will stop me at the traffic lights, wind down their windows and say, 'Meee-aow!'"

However, let's not forget there's a lot more to this box office-conquering sequel than a cat with a multiple-personality disorder.

At the centre of events, it's still about Hollywood's hottest, if most hideous couple, our ugly-mugged, green-bodied ogre hero Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) and his new bride Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz).

After battling a fire-breathing dragon and the evil Lord Farquaad to win the hand of Princess Fiona, Shrek now faces his greatest challenge: the in-laws.

Shrek and Princess Fiona return from their honeymoon to an invitation to visit Fiona's parents, the king and queen of the Kingdom of Far, Far Away (John Cleese and Julie Andrews).

But no one could have prepared the imposing royals for the sight of their new son-in-law, not to mention how much their little girl had changed.

Likewise, little did Shrek and Fiona know that their marriage had foiled all of her father's plans for her future - and his own.

Now the king must enlist the help of a powerful Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders), the handsome Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) and that famed ogre killer Puss In Boots (Banderas) to put right his version of "happily ever after."

New fairy tales opened the door to new characters, but Shrek 2 could only have come about with the return of the central characters Shrek, Donkey and Princess Fiona, and, more importantly, original cast members Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz to voice them. Executive producer Jeffrey Katzenberg asserts, "It would have been unthinkable to have Shrek without Mike Myers, Donkey without Eddie Murphy, or Princess Fiona without Cameron Diaz.

"They were a huge part of the first film's success and making the sequel without them was simply not an option."

Proving that you can take the ogre out of the swamp, but you can't take the swamp out of the ogre, Shrek 2 sends Shrek, Donkey and Princess Fiona on a journey to Far, Far Away, which is about as far removed from the swamp as they could imagine. Shrek 2's director Andrew Adamson explains, "We knew from the very beginning that we wanted to make Far, Far Away the antithesis of everything Shrek. So we asked, 'Okay, what is Shrek?'

"He is totally not image-conscious. He likes to live his own way and do his own thing. And what is the opposite of all that? The answer was easy: Beverly Hills, the epitome of image-conscious, status-conscious, and wealth-conscious, everything that Shrek isn't.

"We thought it would be fun to put Shrek in an environment that was the complete opposite of his world."

The Kingdom of Far, Far Away is the Beverly Hills, Hollywood, glamour capital of the fairy-tale world. It's where the very richest and the most illustrious fairy-tale celebrities live, like Cinderella, Snow White and Rapunzel; all of their palaces are here.

"When Shrek, Fiona and Donkey enter this world, they are like tourists coming to Hollywood for the first time," says Adamson.

"Fiona is just glad to be home, and Donkey is excited; you almost expect him to have a Hawaiian shirt on and a camera around his neck.

"And then there's Shrek, who is not feeling too good about all this.

"An ogre belongs in a swamp, not in the land of swimming pools and movie stars. He's an ogre out of mud is one way to say it."

Shrek, voiced by Mike Myers
A big ugly ogre with foul breath and poor hygiene, but a heart of pure gold.
"I've had a great experience being the voice of Shrek," says Myers.
"It's funny and well-written, which is great for me as an actor. But it's also very gratifying to me personally. "Families come up to me and tell me how grateful they are that Shrek exists in the world because of the message of self-acceptance.
"The message of Shrek 2 is that you can make your own happily-ever-after."

Princess Fiona, voiced by Cameron Diaz
More than just your cutesy heroine, Fiona believes if you love someone for the right reasons, and you accept yourself for who you are, you can live in a swamp and you'll be happy. Her "voice" says, "Of course Fiona is worried about how her parents are going to accept her as an ogre, but I think that marrying Shrek gave her a great sense of herself. She spent her whole life thinking that she was going to be a princess with a fairy-tale Prince Charming, but then she made the decision to be with Shrek, who is the antithesis of that."

Donkey, voiced by Eddie Murphy
Never one to take a hint, this ass with attitude invites himself along the long trip to Far, Far Away, and is soon driving Shrek and Fiona to distraction with his incessant asking of that age-old question, "Are we there yet?" Says Murphy, "Unbeknown to Donkey, he's become the third wheel, but he hasn't figured that out because he's a jackass. Shrek and Fiona love him, but you've got to pick your moments, you know - comes the time when ogres need some alone time. But Donkey is such an optimist; he's always looking at the bright side of everything. He is a happy-go-lucky Donkey. I wouldn't have it any other way."

The Fairy Godmother, voiced by Jennifer Saunders
"The whole thing about Shrek is that it's a parody of other fairy tales, so she couldn't be the nice, happy, sweet Fairy Godmother," says Saunders, best known as Eddie in Absolutely Fabulous.
"She's a bit of a showbiz celebrity Fairy Godmother. She is simply determined that her son should marry Princess Fiona, but Shrek has got in the way of her devious plans. She's quite an arch character, which I like. It feels familiar!"

Prince Charming, voiced by Rupert Everett
Charming is every bit the dashing prince of every princess's dreams - even if he does say so himself.
"He believes the dream of Prince Charming," says Everett. "He thinks he's handsome, sexy, athletic, brave, a person who could be refused by no one really. He is all about image and hair products and living in a world where beauty and success are truly only skin deep. He wants to marry Princess Fiona, who is married already, but no matter."

Puss in Boots, voiced by Antonio Banderas
Puss is ostensibly a fearless ogre killer, officially hired by Princess Fiona's parents, the King and Queen of Far, Far Away, to wipe out Shrek. But very soon, fate turns the table on Puss and he decides to join forces with Shrek, and a very reluctant Donkey.
"Puss has a tremendous sense of honour and a very strong personality, but his body doesn't exactly correspond to how he presents himself to the world," explains Banderas.
"He's really an adorable, little kitty cat - you just want to cuddle him - and that contrast makes him very appealing to anybody... except Donkey!"

The King and Queen of Far, Far Away, voiced by John Cleese and Julie Andrews
Rarely in animation do actors work together, usually recording their lines individually with a director feeding them their cues. So it was a particular thrill for Julie Andrews and John Cleese to be on the recording stage at the same time for some of their scenes.
"It's much better than working singly," says the iconic Andrews.
"When you work alone, you have no idea what the other actor is doing, so it was just heavenly to work with John." Cleese says, "The lovely thing about doing animation is that it's like radio, which is where I started all those years ago. It's my favourite medium because you don't have to memorise lines and you don't really have to shave unless you want to."


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