"Happily N'Ever After" is an animated feature about a fairy-tale kingdom taken over by a gang of villains, trolls and ogres headed by Cinderella's evil stepmother (voiced by Sigourney Weaver). Bad stepmom Frieda is determined to keep dreamy, put-upon Ella (Sarah Michelle Gellar) from any happy endings--and, while she's at it, to mess things up for Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood too.
The idea here, twisting an old fairy-tale script around and standing it on its head, obviously comes from "Shrek," a cracked, funny fantasy that delighted crowds at the Cannes Film Festival and then went on to capture the mass American audience as well. But this movie is no "Shrek." (It's no "Hoodwinked," either.) Written without much humor and visualized without much pizzazz, "Happily" mostly has to rely on its snazzy big-star voice cast--including Gellar's hubby Freddie Prinze Jr. as her love interest Rick, along with George Carlin, Andy Dick and Wallace Shawn--to generate interest.
Part of the problem lies with "Happily N'Ever After's" script, which is by Rob Moreland, with the mysterious credit "additional writing" assigned to Doug Langdale. Their story dubiously suggests that the classic fairy tales, unspooling simultaneously, are all under the quality control of a hip Wizard (Carlin) who unwisely takes off for a golfing vacation, leaving everything in the hands of his wise-acre, bumbling assistants Munk (Shawn) and Mambo (Dick). Since the Wiz departs on the day of Charming's great ball, that leaves an opening for Frieda, who steals the Wizard's magic staff, commandeers his crystal ball and invites the dregs of fairy-tale land to invade the castle and back her take over.
All this is narrated by Rick, who, as a dishwasher in the palace kitchen, is Ella's equivalent underdog and worthier of her affection than the official prince, Warburton's Humperdink, with his golden tresses, empty head and granite jaw. (Rick is drawn like a prince too, but of the Tom Cruise variety.)
"Happily" was begun as an old-fashioned 2-D "flat" cartoon and then switched by producer John Williams (of "Shrek") and director Paul J. Bolger to 3-D during production. The style finally is an uncomfortable amalgam of both. I like the old 2-D format, which is great for comedy and would have been better for this movie. But "Happily N'Ever After," with its pseudo-Shrekkeries, tries to be too many things--and in too many styles and dimensions--at the same time. It doesn't end happily ever (or N'Ever) after, but not for want of trying.
'Happily N'Ever After'
Directed by Paul J. Bolger; additional directing by Yvette Kaplan; written by Rob Moreland; additional writing by Doug Langdale; photographed by David Dulac; edited by Ringo Hess; production designed by Deane Taylor; music by Paul Buckley; produced by John H. Williams. A Lionsgate release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:25. MPAA rating: PG (for some mild action and rude humor).
Ella - Sarah Michelle Gellar
Rick - Freddie Prinze Jr.
Frieda - Sigourney Weaver
Mambo - Andy Dick
Munk - Wallace Shawn
Prince Humperdink - Patrick Warburton
The Wizard - George Carlin