Movie Review: Happily N'Ever After
By Colin MacLean Jan 3, 2007, 8:26 GMT
Inspired by the most beloved of fables, "Happily N\'Ever After" is an animated satirical retelling of the classic story of Cinderella. Once upon a time in Fairy Tale Land, the age-old balance between good and evil has been thrown out of whack. Frieda, Cinderella\'s power-mad stepmother, has formed an unholy alliance of evil to take on the good guys. With her own fairy tale spinning wildly out of control, Cinderella (a/k/a ...more
Back in 1986, in his Broadway show “Into the Woods,” Steven Sondheim cast a cynical eye on a number of the Grimm Brother’s most famous fairy tales and demanded we re-examine our concept of living happily ever after.
I guess nowadays everlasting happiness is up there with believing in fairies, trolls and world peace.
Cinderella seems to be immune to all this.
After all, she has been played straight with much success by such luminaries as Anne Hathaway (‘The Princess Dairies’) and Drew Barrymore (‘Ever After’).
The new Lionsgate German/USA animated film ‘Happily N’Ever After’ takes yet another run at the 16th century tale but filters it through the knowing cynicism of our times.
We may be a long way here from Disney’s enduring 1950 classic version but, as in so many of today’s animated films, the master’s hardy template is very obvious. We have comical sidekicks, an addled fairy godmother and a handsome prince named Humperdink (Patrick Warburton), although in this case, the muscle-bound fellow is a dork.
After a year of dancing penguins, zoo creatures on the loose and a dapper mouse caught in London’s underworld,’ Happily N’Ever After’ is a return to the fairytale format but the film has pounded the original into shapes original collector Charles Perrault never imagined.
The results are spotty in a film that is not half as funny as it thinks it is.
‘Happy N’Ever After’ asks us to imagine a revisionist fairy tale world where the traditional tropes are all held together by a beneficent wizard (George Carlin). When he goes on a golfing vacation in Scotland, his two bumbling assistants, Munk (Wallace Shawn) and Mambo (Andy Dick), take over and, in true Sorcerer’s Apprentice style, screw things up.
The result is that Cindy’s (Sarah Michelle Gellar) evil stepmother Frieda (Sigourney Weaver) takes over the wizard’s wand and the kingdom and works her evil ways. The Prince kisses Snow White and he falls asleep. Rapunzel is pulled from her tower by her hair.
To back her up, Frieda opens the borders to a rogue’s gallery of evil creatures.
Cindy, tricked out in a fetching pixie cut, with the help of the two sidekicks, must figure out how to wrest control from mean ol’ mom.
In the meantime she tries her best to follow the traditional path laid out for her in countless tales by giving her heart to the prince when she has really fallen for reg’lar feller Rick (Freddie Prinze Jr.).
An uncomfortable amalgam of old-fashioned storytelling and an effort to be smart-mouthed and hip, the film is neither.
The storytelling is perfunctory while the dialogue seems to be stitched together from other, better films. Lost in the witch’s brew of lame gags and bad puns, the story has about as much hope connecting with an audience as an ugly stepsister.
On the happier side of the tale, the enveloping soundscape and voice characterizations are terrific. Geller, Prinze and Weaver provide star power and, in a year where a number of major stars have been less then compelling on the sound track, are quite at home without their corporeal bodies.
Geller and Prinze (who are married in real life) capture the youth and vulnerability of their regular joe characters and Weaver is the scariest animated witch since Eleanor Audley’s Maleficent awakened the fearsome dragon at the end of Disney’s 1959 Sleeping Beauty.
Shawn, Carlin and Dick are practiced pros at voice over.
Although the main characters are well realized, the rest of the animation, from Vanguard Animation (‘Valiant’), shows the film’s small budget. Lacking both the crude blocky visual humour of the recent Nickelodeon animated films for kids or the sumptuous pictures of the new CGI techniques, ‘Happily N’Ever After’ falls into a neverland somewhere in the middle.
Younger kids might enjoy the bright colours, familiar characters and constant movement but the pickin’s are slim for anyone over 10.
MPAA Rated: PG for some mild action and rude humor.