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Shrek 2

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, The Matrix: Reloaded and X Men 2 are three blockbuster-season sequels that have gone down the bigger-more-faster-louder road in recent times, assuming that if you take what audiences liked about the original and drown them in it, the sequel will be exponentially better.

It worked to varying degrees of success, but Shrek 2 stands far ahead of the pack. Not since The Empire Strikes Back (okay, it's not technically a sequel, as any Star Wars purist will tell you) has the second movie of a series done what they're all supposed to; show us something new but with characters we already know and love, and actually advance the story rather than regurgitate the first one with more explosions.

What makes Shrek 2 so special is the skills in so many areas the producers have brought to it. Do you only go to the moves for the story? Shrek 2's satirical, fractured fairy tale plot would be as exciting and funny in a live action film. Are you an observer of good dialogue? More snappily written than plenty of other movies (even non-cartoons), it'll keep you in stitches because the jokes are actually funny, not cheap slapstick you spend half the movie expecting.

Or maybe you're a student of the craft of computer animation? The level of detail is astounding - not just in the landscapes, perspectives and angles (extremely tricky to do when you're trying to make it seem like there's really a camera following real people), but the characters themselves.

When one successive computer-generated 'final' frontier after another is conquered (realistic water, realistic hair, etc), it's easy to become complacent, but watch the faces of the characters - particularly the non-human ones. Even when seen from far away, the animators have captured uncannily human nuances and expressions in levels of detail Walt Disney didn't know existed, let alone dreamed about.

Then of course, there's the reason Shrek 2 will be as entertaining on second viewing, third viewing, and beyond. The pop culture references touched on in the original come thick and fast - some essential parts of the story, some you'll miss if you blink.

Frankenstein, Justin Timberlake, Starbucks, the Disney Corporation, COPS and even OJ Simpson cop it in turns that range from simply funny to bordering on libelous.

Keep your eyes everywhere at once; watch for the shop names in the city of Far Far Away, the movie theatre playing Lethal Arrow 4, the crowd that run in terror out of a Farbucks coffee outlet to the one right across the street. And despite the overstuffing of inside jokes about Hollywood, TV and movies, they don't overshadow the story. As Dreamworks have said, where the original dealt with Shrek finding love, Shrek 2 deals with him learning how to do it.

Returning from their honeymoon (in Hansel's Honeymoon cottage - made of candy), Fiona (Diaz) and Shrek (Myers) are summoned to her home, the magical kingdom of Far Far Away (a gleefully cutting parody of Los Angeles) so her parents can meet her new husband - who's supposed to be the dashing but camp Prince Charming (Rupert Everett). Trouble is, Charming turned up at Fiona's tower late, and with his intended marriage to Fiona thwarted, he and his mother - the wicked fairy godmother (Saunders) - set their evil plans in motion to do away with Shrek and have Prince Charming take Fiona's hand.

With Donkey (Murphy) tagging along, they meet master assassin Puss in Boots (Banderas), who dares them to fear him in between coughing up a hairball. Sent by Fiona's father the King (Cleese) to kill Shrek, Puss in Boots instead sees the error of his ways and joins the unlikely band. As the Fairy Godmother stirs up trouble, Shrek is increasingly consumed by doubt about how Fiona could love him the way he is, and the kingdom is rocked by their adventures as the heroes fight off evil and Shrek struggles to realise that he and Fiona belong together just the way they are.

If you liked the original, you'll love Shrek 2. And even if you didn't, you'll have so much fun playing spot-the-movie-reference it won't matter.

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