Happily ever... Follow-up is Shrektacular

There's nothing like your first time. One reason for the Shrektacular success of the original Shrek was that it came out of left field and surprised everyone with its hilarious twisting of fairy tales.

There's also something to be said for familiarity. It's what makes tens of millions tune in to the final episode of a sitcom they've been watching for years, then watch old episodes in syndication.

Shrek 2 has some new ideas and is no less funny than its forerunner, but there's only one first time, so it mainly milks the familiarity factor.

When we last saw Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers), the melancholy green ogre had won the hand and heart of Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), who ended up bigger and greener than she had appeared to be.

Now it's what would be "happily ever after" time in a regular fairy tale, but as Fiona's Fairy Godmother ("AbFab's" Jennifer Saunders) says, "Ogres don't live happily ever after." She's in cahoots with Fiona's father, the King (John Cleese), with whom she'd plotted for her own son, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), to marry Fiona.

Well, it's Meet the Parents time, and they've scheduled a royal ball in honor of the newlyweds. So it's off to the kingdom of Far Far Away, which bears a marked resemblance to Southern California, from the sign on the hill to the palm tree-lined streets to such shops as Versarchery, Farbucks, and Tower of London Records (as before there are enough background details to reward repeat viewings) to Joan Rivers on the red carpet (her animated form is more– animated– than the real thing, not having been botoxed within an inch of its digital life).

Shrek isn't quite what the King and Queen (Julie Andrews) expected. King Harold, like many a father from time immemorial, exclaims, "Our daughter has married a monster!" Queen Lillian tries to calm him: "Don't be such a drama king." When informed that her grandchildren will be ogres, the Queen is PC about it: "Not that there's anything wrong with that."

The King hires a hit-cat, Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas), to eliminate Shrek, who winds up joining forces with him over the protest of self-appointed sidekick Donkey (Eddie Murphy): "The position of annoying talking animal has already been taken."

People, animals, and other creatures go through changes, many of them potion-induced, before another happy ending– and yet another one after the first batch of credits.

Shrek himself is pretty much a straight man– er, ogre– in the sequel. So is Fiona, despite a brief martial arts exhibition, as the supporting characters take over. Andrews is underused, Saunders overused, Cleese and Everett used just right.

Banderas is a riot as Puss In Boots, a preemptive strike against the Garfield movie; but it's sad that after losing the lead in The Phantom of the Opera, he has to settle for a duet with Eddie Murphy on "Livin' la Vida Loca."

Technically Shrek 2 is probably on a par with its predecessor. While there have been some technological advancements, Fiona's body doesn't move independently of its covering. Even when she sighs, her dress heaves with her bosom, and no part of her necklace ever leaves her neck.

Geez, critics really have to stretch to find fault, don't they? You'll probably be laughing too hard to criticize a movie you'll remember happily... ever after.