Happily N’Ever After (2007)
Director: Paul J. Bolger
Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr., Sigourney Weaver
When a film is just blandly dull, just unremarkably sucky, it’s no fun writing the review. (Thus, no review of “The Good Shepherd.”) Yet here we are, considering “Happily N’Ever After,” which was unremarkably a waste of time. Best thing I can say about having sat through “Happily Never After” is that I woke up refreshed.
The film starts its low-grade computer animation story en media res: The Wicked Stepmother of “Cinderella” fame has seized control not merely of the bucolic world in which all fairy tales are set, but of the stories themselves, tilting them in the favor of eeeeevil. Then the film lurches to a stop, marked by the sound of a record needle ripped across a vinyl record. This is the universal sound effect for sudden interruptions, but how many of the little kids this movie is aimed at (or even their youngish parents) have actually heard the needle ripped off a record? But I digress.
As does the film. The grinding interruption allows the narrator, our official “unlikely hero,” to explain, in what feels like ten agonizing minutes, the nature of this fairy tale land (a wizard keeps good and evil in balance as all the stories play out over and over; he has two troublemaking little sidekicks) and all the characters in it, chief among them (Cinder)Ella, the Wicked Stepmom, the preening and useless Prince Charming, and a bunch of other characters I can’t remember now because they don’t actually matter. So that 30-second attempt to jumpstart the momentum is utterly lost in the many, many minutes of lifeless exposition given by our hero, the page/flunky of Prince C.
So when the wizard (voiced by George Carlin, earning a paycheck) goes on vacation, his two bumbling idiot helpers (Andy Dick, Wallace Shawn) screw up the perfect balance of good and evil, and then the Wicked one (Sigourney Weaver) seizes power, and it’s up to Ella (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and page-guy-whose-name-I’m-not-looking-up (Freddie Prinze Jr.) to save the day, so he can win Ella’s heart away from its crush on barrel-chested, empty-headed Charming.
Some plot points: Why is it that when evil wins, it’s because the balance is tilted all the way to “evil,” but when the balance is between good and evil, good wins every time, as in the tales we know? That’s not balanced at all. Also, I’m spoiling nothing for anyone with half a brain (not the target audience) when I observe that, if the happy ending is the flunky getting the girl, finally, and the happily ever after that awaits them, isn’t that a crap ending since the rules of the world, explicitly stated, say that as soon as this chapter closes, it all resets to the Usual Storylines?
Some design points: Why so much emphasis on cleavage in this kids’ movie, even when the character isn’t supposed to be attractive? This is empitomized by the Wicked Stepmother, who is like Jessica Rabbit’s evil, uber-slutty older sister, all suggestive hip rolls and high-chested flotation devices. Why the mÃ©lange of uncreative, recycled elements (Prince Charming as a vacant, preening boob? Really?) and random modernizations (witches on broomsticks that look like motorcycles)? Oh, actually, I can answer both of those: Lame writing and direction.
The animation is cheap and lifeless, but it would be more than acceptable to carry a story that had any life, any surprises, any logic, and any hope of entertaining even the kids in the theater. Seems a shame to harsh the New Year mellow with such a downer, but January is famously the worst month for movie releases. From that perspective, at least, “Happily N’Ever After” succeeds.