If fall movies were this consistently clever, there would never be reason to hesitate before plunking down hard-earned bucks at the multiplex. The jokes and pop cultural references, both verbal and visual, whiz by at dizzying speed in a sequel that comes close to matching the 2001 cartoon hit. In its first few scenes alone, which show the big green lug (voiced by Myers) honeymooning with his bride, Princess Fiona (Diaz), there are amusing nods to The Lord of the Rings, Spider-Man, Peter Pan and even From Here to Eternity. And later on, an insult-spewing Joan Rivers pops up doing fashion commentary on the Medieval Entertainment network. All this with-it-ness, which may appeal more to adults than children, occasionally verges on overload, but why complain about too much of a good thing?
Shrek's challenge this time out is to win over Fiona's parents (John Cleese and Julie Andrews), the King and Queen of Far Far Away, and outwit an evil Fairy Godmother (Absolutely Fabulous's Jennifer Saunders) who's bent on breaking up the newlyweds. The movie's message—don't go changin' on yourself or the one you love—is recycled from the first film, but that doesn't diminish its worthiness. And Shrek 2 introduces the single best new animated character in years, Puss In Boots (Banderas), a swashbuckling kitty blissfully unaware that he boasts more meow than muscle. He deserves his own movie. Note: Sit through the end credits for a fun bonus bit. (PG)