"Happily N'Ever After" is a sorry retread of better recent animated features. As ingenious, witty and inspired as 2001's "Shrek
," 2004's "Shrek 2
," and 2005's "Hoodwinked
" were, this latest and inferior skewed fairy tale is dull, unimaginative and thoroughly uninteresting. The computer animation is pleasing and appropriately colorful, but the film is free of anything resembling zest or charm. If my screening audience was any indication, kids will sit in stone silence and adults will be bored out of their mind amidst the lame jokes and airheaded characters.
In a place known as Fairy Tale Land, all of the well-known fairy tales are lorded over by The Wizard (voiced by George Carlin), who makes sure that the scales stay balanced so that each one will have a happy ending. For Ella (voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar), a mistreated slave to her nasty stepmother Frieda (Sigourney Weaver) and two stepsisters, she is forced to stay behind when they are all invited to a ball being held at the castle of studly dimwit Prince Humperdink (Patrick Warburton). Coming to Ella's aid is her Fairy Godmother (Lisa Kaplan), who makes up the put-upon gal and sends her on her way to the ball. Although Ella is meant to fall in love with the prince, their fates are knocked out of alignment when Frieda stumbles upon the vacationing wizard's lair at the top of the castle and takes control of all the fairy tales. With the bad guyswolves, giants, witches, et. al.suddenly getting free reign over the land, it is up to Ella, Prince Humperdink's sincere servant Rick (Freddie Prinze Jr.), and the wizard's wisecracking helpers Munk (Wallace Shawn) and Mambo (Andy Dick) to set things right.
Directed by first-timer Paul J. Bolger, "Happily N'Ever After" starts with the okay idea of fairy tales going haywire and turning out for the worse, but then doesn't do anything with it. While the "Shrek
" movies and the lovely, undervalued "Hoodwinked
" put off-kilter spins on a similar premise, they did so with affectionate nods to their source material. "Happy N'Ever After" is more snide and critical of the classic stories it is based upon, not being at all faithful to somethe run-in with the dwarfs from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" is so vaguely drawn that their only giveaway characteristic is that they are short bearded men numbering sevenwhile turning heroine Ella into an unlikable, narrow-minded heroine who can't think for herself. Like a stereotypical female from decades ago who was supposed to be quiet and let her man do the talking, Ella is unprogressive to the point of offensiveness. When your leading animated character isn't even enjoyable to be around, you know you're in trouble.
The rest of the characters aren't any more memorable or bewitching, each of them fulfilling a stock role with a minimum of personality. The voice work from some relatively big namesSarah Michelle Gellar (2006's "The Return
") as Ella; Freddie Prinze Jr. (2004's "Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed
") as good guy Rick; Sigourney Weaver (2006's "Infamous
") as evil stepmother Frieda; Wallace Shawn (2004's "Melinda and Melinda
") and Andy Dick (2003's "Old School
") as would-be comic sidekicks Munk and Mamboare at a loss to make anything of their parts because screenwriter Robert Moreland gives them zilch to work with. All of the women, most glaringly Frieda, are notable only for their distastefully animated and inappropriately displayed cleavage. As for why one of the seven dwarfs has the voice of Billy Bob Thornton's character in "Sling Blade" is anyone's guess.
Dangerously close to scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to theatrically released animated movies, "Happily N'Ever After" is clunky junk primed and ready for the cinematic dumping ground that is the first weekend of January. With a score that sounds like generic elevator muzak, a pace that crawls, and only one funny linethe senile fairy godmother mispronounces Cinderella's name as Salmonella"Happily N'Ever After" is one miserable fairy tale that should have stayed closed and locked up. "This is like a dream I can't wake up from," Frieda exclaims at one point. She's got that right.