"Happily N'Ever After" is an animated feature about a fairy-tale kingdomtaken over by a gang of villains, trolls and ogres headed byCinderella's evil stepmother (voiced by Sigourney Weaver). Bad stepmomFrieda is determined to keep dreamy, put-upon Ella (Sarah Michelle Gellar) from any happy endings -- and, while she's at it, to mess thingsup for Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood, too.
Unfortunately, as Ella scampers around the kingdom with her friends andallies, trying to elude Frieda and somehow find her addled PrinceCharming (Patrick Warburton), the action gets wild, but the laughs andthe magic never really kick in.
The idea here, twisting an old fairy-tale script around and standing iton its head, obviously comes from "Shrek," a cracked, funny fantasy thatdelighted crowds at the Cannes Film Festival and then went on to capturethe mass American audience as well. But this movie is no "Shrek." (It'sno "Hoodwinked," either.) Written without much humor and visualizedwithout much pizzazz, "Happily" mostly has to rely on its snazzybig-star voice cast -- including Gellar's hubby Freddie Prinze Jr. asher love interest Rick, along with George Carlin, Andy Dick and Wallace Shawn -- to generate interest.
Part of the problem lies with the "Happily N'Ever After" script, whichis by Rob Moreland, with the mysterious credit "additional writing"assigned to Doug Langdale. Their story dubiously suggests that theclassic fairy tales, unspooling simultaneously, are all under thequality control of a hip Wizard (Carlin) who unwisely takes off for agolfing vacation, leaving everything in the hands of his bumblingassistants Munk (Shawn) and Mambo (Dick). Since the Wiz departs on theday of Charming's great ball, that leaves an opening for Frieda, whosteals the Wizard's magic staff, commandeers his crystal ball andinvites the dregs of fairy-tale land to invade the castle and back hertakeover.
All this is narrated by Rick, who, as a dishwasher in the palacekitchen, is Ella's equivalent underdog and worthier of her affectionthan the official prince, Warburton's Humperdink, with his goldentresses, 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 thenswitched by producer John Williams (of "Shrek") and director Paul J.Bolger to 3-D during production. The style finally is an uncomfortableamalgam of both. I like the old 2-D format, which is great for comedyand would have been better for this movie. But "Happily N'Ever After,"with its pseudo-Shrekkeries, tries to be too many things -- and in toomany styles and dimensions -- at the same time. It doesn't end happilyever (or N'Ever) after, but not for want of trying.