Shrek 2 (PG) ★★★

Review Date: May 19th, 2004

Certainly a laudable follow-up to its smash 2001 predecessor, Shrek 2 has all the hilarious, spoof-filled fairy tales we've come to expect; unfortunately, the novelty has worn a bit thin.

Story

What exactly does the ''after'' in ''happily ever after'' mean? For Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) and Princess Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz), it means settling down after marriage in the swamp to live in all their glorious ogreness. But as soon as they return from a peaceful honeymoon, the couple are immediately harassed by Donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy), who won't take the hint to get his ass out of the house, and get surprised by an invitation from Fiona's parents, the King (voiced by John Cleese) and Queen (voiced by Julie Andrews) of the Kingdom of Far, Far Away, to come for a visit. Gasp! The in-laws? Shrek thinks it's a terrible idea, but Fiona wants her parents to meet her beloved, and so, with Donkey in tow, off they go. Once in Far, Far Away, however, the King and Queen are ill prepared for the sight of their new son-in-law and more than aghast at how much their once-human little girl has changed. To top it off, Shrek has foiled all of the King's plans for his daughter's future. Seems the King made an alliance with the powerful Fairy Godmother (voiced by Jennifer Saunders), so that Fiona would marry her son, the handsome--and vain--Prince Charming (voiced by Rupert Everett). The King hires famed ogre killer Puss in Boots (voiced by Antonio Banderas) to take care of the ''problem''--but can the old man make his own version of happily ever after come true? Not in this fairy tale.

Acting

Murphy's irritating Donkey might as well have been lifted right out of the first movie, only difference being here he's jealous when Shrek pays more attention to Puss in Boots than to him. The rest of the returning cast, however, do a fine job giving their characters the depth they should have in a sequel, especially Myers and Diaz as newlyweds trying to adjust. Adding to the festivities are the new characters, including Banderas's hysterical Puss, with a thick Spanish accent and Zorro bravado; Cleese as the beleaguered King, who has a secret of his own,; Andrews' ever-patient Queen; and Saunders as the conniving Fairy Godmother, who runs a Willy Wonka-esque potions factory complete with little men and mysterious rooms. Other colorful supporting players, including the Gingerbread Man, the Three Little Pigs and especially a randy Pinocchio who has a penchant for wearing women's underwear round out the shenanigans nicely.

Direction

Sequels are tough. Rarely do they measure up, and only a handful have been able to best their originals (Toy Story 2 comes to mind). Generally speaking, sequels--especially comedies--rely on the same themes and jokes as their predecessors. True to form, Shrek 2 never rises above Shrek in characters and story, but that isn't to say Shrek 2 doesn't have a fun slate of new parodies, including a very Spider-Man-like kiss between Shrek and Fiona, a rescue mission รก la Mission: Impossible and a musical number with the Fairy Godmother that could rival Beauty and the Beast's ''Be Our Guest.'' And just as Lord Farquaad's domain spoofed a certain Mouse House theme park, the kingdom of Far, Far Away pokes fun at posh Beverly Hills. The Poison Apple pub, where the fairy-tale villains hang out, is priceless (pay attention to Capt. Hook playing the piano and singing the blues). Of course, the film looks amazing under the guidance of DreamWorks' CGI animators, who just keep getting better and better. It's just a shame Shrek 2's story couldn't have been a bit more inventive.

Bottom Line

Shrek 2 may not be as fresh and new as the original, but you still can't stop yourself from lovin' the big green ogre anyway.