Not to sound like an ogre, but “Shrek 2” is not everything you’d hope for.

It is wonderful to have the main characters back, minus John Lithgow’s lord and plus several new ones. Whereas most sequels are about money, this one is welcome because you really do want to spend more time with Mike Myers’ not-as-crabby-as-he’d-like-you-to-think Shrek, Cameron Diaz’s practical Fiona and Eddie Murphy’s annoyingly sweet Donkey. Heck, I didn’t even remember the music from “Shrek,” but the instant I heard a snippet of it in “Shrek 2,” I was in the mood for these lovable characters to show me a good time again.

The trouble is that word: “again.” Unlike “Toy Story 2,” which was every bit as inventive and lovable as its predecessor, “Shrek 2” is a lesser copy of the original. Having happily-ever-aftered in “Shrek,” things are looking grimm again for Shrek and Fiona in “Shrek 2,” when they face a “Meet the Parents” scenario.

It’s the same story, really: Shrek and Fiona need to decide they’re comfortable with who they are. And, despite the new characters (Julie Andrews and John Cleese are the voices of Fiona’s folks, Rupert Everett is a Prince Charming who’s more like Prince Stuck-on-Himself, Jennifer Saunders is a Fairy Godmother in a snit, Antonio Banderas as the amusing Wuss-in-Boots or, rather, Puss-in-Boots), you know where that ship is sailing.

Most of the best stuff from “Shrek” is revisited. The animation is still distinctive – I particularly love how the godmother floats over everyone like a plumply inflated Macy’s balloon. Whereas the first film featured a “Dating Game” parody, this one has a “Cops” takeoff, and it’s improbably funny. Instead of a setting that lampoons Disneyland, this one satirizes Beverly Hills. And esoteric jokes are sprinkled everywhere, starting with a Shirley Bassey bit (honest) and building to an awards ceremony covered by a computer-animated Joan Rivers, who is more lifelike than the one who rises from the crypt on Oscar night.

If the format of “Shrek 2” feels somewhat pinched and familiar, the writing does not. Even the jokes you’d expect to be past their freshness date – besides “Cops,” “Shrek 2” also takes swipes at “Flashdance” and “Pinocchio” – are clever, and the sharp script connects all the way through a funny mid-credits scene.

Still, the funny mid-credits scene does almost exactly the same thing the funny mid-credits scene did in the first “Shrek.” And it contributes to an overall feeling that this tale is being told twice upon a time.


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