Happily N'ever After

2007, Movie, PG, 85 mins

Review

HAPPILY N'EVER AFTER
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A SHREK-inspired revisionist spin on the story of Cinderella, this indifferently executed, computer-animated trifle wonders what chaos would ensue if the wicked stepmother to end all wicked stepmothers were to disrupt the order of the fairy-tale world. And the answer is, not much — the pointlessly punctuated title notwithstanding, the baddies still get theirs in the end.

For no particular reason, the story begins in the middle, as spiteful Frieda (voice of Sigourney Weaver) greets a motley mob of trolls, ogres, wolves, witches and giants from a castle balcony, cackling that villains are about to have their day. But wait — before the malfeasance can commence, the film's smugly self-deprecating narrator must explain how things came to this promising, if sorry, pass. It seems that a wizard (George Carlin) is in charge of making sure classic fables play "by the book," and when he takes his annual golfing vacation in Scotland, assistants Munk (Wallace Shawn) and Mambo (Andy Dick), respectively a puttering pig and a conniving cat, are placed in charge. As charming Prince Humperdink (Patrick Warburton), a vacuous narcissist, is preparing for the ball where he hopes to meet his dream girl, stepmonster Frieda makes sure that sweet, plucky Ella (Sarah Michelle Gellar) can't attend, the better to parade her own coarse, ugly daughters before the kingdom's most eligible bachelor. And Ella, for all her spirited resolve, is too busy mooning over the hunky prince to see that his equally handsome servant, Rick (Freddie Prinze Jr.) — our narrator — loves her madly. Once Frieda gets her grasping hands on the wizard's magical staff and scales, everything goes awry: The giant squashes Jack, Rapunzel falls from her tower, the wolf triumphs over Little Red Riding Hood, Rumplestiltskin (Michael McShane) gets the baby, and Ella is transformed back into a serving girl before the prince can propose marriage. With some dubious help from Mambo and Munk, it falls to Rick and Ella to make things right.

Screenwriter Robert Moreland keeps the one-liners and visual riffs coming — the seven dwarves are redneck survivalists, the wolves are styled on mafiosi, the witches are superannuated biker mamas on chopper brooms — but the story is thin, and Rick and Ella are vapid. In addition, the film's pop score is ill-considered: Must monsters dance to "The Monster Mash"? Its female character designs are lubriciously freakish: It's one thing for Frieda to resemble a whip-cracking dungeon mistress, but sweet Ella? In all, it's a peculiar mishmash, simultaneously bland and suggestive. — Maitland McDonagh leave a comment

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