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Published January 1st, 2005 | by Mike Barnard

Happily N’Ever After Review

Classification: U Director: Paul J. Bolger, Yvette Kaplan Rating: 1.5/5

After Shrek became a hit taking fairy tale characters out of their traditional story settings and mixing them all together, it was only a matter of time before others tried a similar formula. Hot on the heels of the middling Hoodwinked, comes Happily N’Ever After from one of the producers of the Shreks. Putting a spin on the age-old assumption that all fairy tales have a happy ending, it tips the scales and gives the evil stepmother the chance to lead all the bad characters to power over the heroes. Depressingly, the Oscar winning producer of Shrek and Shrek 2, John H Williams (who was executive producer on Shrek the Third), hasn’t weaved the same magic this time as Happily N’Ever After’s fun premise is rapidly eroded from a moment of real creativity down to a passable time filler for children.

The plot has the potential for being a playful journey through classic stories. In Fairy Tale Land, the Wizard (comedian Carlin) and his two bumbling animal assistants Mambo (Dick) and Munk (Shawn) maintain the balance of good verses evil so every time a fairy tale is played out, the right people get to live happily ever after. Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty both get a Prince Charming, Jack defeats the giant in the clouds and so on. However, when the Wizards set off on holiday and leaves his pair of helpers in charge, Ella’s (that’s short for the Gellar-voiced Cinderella) evil stepmother Frieda (Weaver) learns of the opportunity to tip the scales in the favour of all the bad fairy tale characters and assumes control of Fairy Tale Land. Only a spirited fightback from Ella, servant-boy Rick (Prinze Jr.) and Prince Charming, or rather Prince Humperdink (Warburton), can stop Frieda from giving the traditional heroes and damsels in distress unhappy endings.

Happily N’Ever After opens with a dramatic moment as Frieda and legions of villains, trolls and monsters assume control of Fairy Tale Land with the promise of making a lot of once-happy lives miserable. Then suddenly Rick interjects with a voiceover to rewind and fill in the backstory, a tactic which ruins the initial momentum and symptomatic of the entire film: it never really kicks loose to seek out its potential. All the fairy tale characters are present and correct with plenty of irony and neat one liners, but there is no strength to the narrative. The build up to Frieda’s takeover suggests there might be some of Hoodwink’s deadpan humour and Shrek’s sense of fun. Sleeping Beauty’s prince falls asleep as soon as he kisses her rather than waking her up, Ella loses out on her prince, Rapunzel is yanked out of her tower by her hair and Rumpelstiltskin gets the baby he always wanted. Yet all these alternative endings are wasted in a short montage, then the action quickly shifts to Ella leading an attempt to get the happy endings back. In doing so, the most interesting aspect of the film is forgotten in favour of a typical underdog fightback. By the time Ella is having her showdown with Frieda, you’ll be wishing evil had prevailed for good.

While this is bad news for adults watching, children will find the Mambo and Munk double act entertaining thanks to Dick and Shawn being voice actors who regularly turn up in animated movies to give them some spice. Weaver and Carlin (Rufus from the two Bill and Ted movies in case you were wondering where you recognise him from) also give the impression they are enjoying themselves, although leaving out any direct contact between them is an oversight. However, teaming up real-life husband and wife couple Gellar and Prinze Jr. surprisingly fails to bring any magic to the on-screen relationship, and the latter’s voiceover is cheesy and self-reflective to annoying effect; their dull performances overshadow the efforts of everyone else. There was an inventive, witty and original film in here somewhere, it just got lost on the way to the screen.

Plenty to keep children occupied after the movie chosen from an interactive menu allowing a choice between a good and evil path. A selection of games from the Department of Fairytale Security, an alternative ending, deleted scenes, making of features, cast and crew interviews.

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