If nothing else, "Shrek 2" is consistent. Like its Academy Award-winning 2001 predecessor, this sequel features flatulence jokes, showbiz parodies and jabs at the expense of DreamWorks Pictures' direct competitor in the animated-film arena, the Walt Disney Co.

It's a better movie than that makes it sound. "Shrek 2" is less crude, less smugly self-satisfied and has more heart, more story and more characterization. Also, in the years since the original, the PDI/DreamWorks folks have perfected their animation techniques, so this one looks better (the characters don't look as "rubbery," for example).

The film is one of the all-too-rare movie sequels that's better than the original. In fact, this comedy-fantasy is one of the more delightful features to come along in awhile.

"Shrek 2" finds the ogre-ish title character (voiced by Mike Myers) settling into married life with his true love, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), who's also trapped in ogre form.

That is, until these newlyweds are summoned to the Kingdom of Far Far Away, Fiona's homeland (which bears more than a passing resemblance to a medieval Hollywood). Joining them for the journey is their talkative sidekick, Donkey (Eddie Murphy).

As it turns out, Fiona's father (John Cleese) isn't thrilled to have an ogre for a son-in-law. He's entered into some sort of pact with the Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders, from the British sitcom "Absolutely Fabulous"), who promised the princess to her son, the smarmy Prince Charming (Rupert Everett).

Worse, it appears they have put a "hit" on Shrek, employing the adorable-but-deadly Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas). And even though Shrek survives, it leaves him wondering if he really is the right guy for Fiona.

The filmmakers have toned down the crassness. And there are plenty of funny bits, including parodies of such films as "Alien," "Mission: Impossible," "Spider-Man," "Flashdance" and even "Godzilla."

The voice cast seems equally inspired. Myers isn't trying so hard here, which is nice. He also takes a back seat to scene-stealing performers like Saunders and Banderas, whose character is the film's real highlight.

That said, Murphy's braying donkey character is still the film's biggest liability. A little bit of him goes a long way.

"Shrek 2" is rated PG for scenes of animated fantasy violence (slapstick, swordplay and the like), as well as vulgar humor (gags about and references to bodily functions). Running time: 93 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com