If you've opened this review link you're either a curious adult wanting to see if this is a film you can take your family to, or a desperate man wanting very badly to take your lady to a "See, I'm in touch with my inner Disney-child!" film you can pretend to watch as you master the art of seduction. If you're the former, avoid this film unless you want your children to be the shunned kids on the playground: "Timmy's mom took him to see Happily N'Ever After instead of Happy Feet because she's dyslexic and has no artistic integrity." And if you're the latter, the awkward dialogue and bizarre plot devices leave way too much silence in the theater for the subtle smacking of lips. No, there really is no audience for this film except the relatives of the people who made this movie, and the countless movie reviewers like yours truly who sit in dark rooms and pass judgment so you don't have to.
Still not convinced? Let me explain the plot to you. In Fairy Tale Land (where all the fairy tales live) there's a Wizard, voiced by George Carlin (Dogma), who holds the balance of good and evil on homemade weighing scales. He's got two assistants named Mambo and Munk (clearly the decision to name these characters was assisted by one too many tequila shots): one's the lovechild of a rhino and a warthog (Wallace Shawn from The Princess Bride), and the other's some sort of a demon ferret voiced by Andy Dick (TV's Newsradio). They help the Wizard make sure no one tips the scales towards evil. It's a hard job, considering they're the only three "people" in this remote tower watching over the scales. Maybe that's why the Wizard suddenly disappears through a portal to Scotland to play a few rounds of golf. I'm not joking, that actually happens. The two assistants are now in charge of the scales and that's when everything goes wrong for all the characters in Fairy Tale Land, especially Cinderella (voiced by Buffy's Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Rick, the Prince's dishwasher (Freddie Prinze, Jr. from Scooby-Doo). Rick narrates the story with as much personality as, well, Freddie Prinze, Jr. The rest of the plot is muddy and explaining it would take charts and graphs and a total disregard for logic and clarity.
This attempt at reproducing a Shrek-size blockbuster fails miserably for many reasons. First of all, the movie lacks consistent humor and entertainment for its target audience: the kids. I saw this film in a theater full of children of all ages and the only laughs came from the moments when the characters severely injured themselves. Besides the implications of what the desensitization of violence has done to today's youth, this shows how little the audience was connecting to the characters, and/or caring about their situations. If you had a camera focused on the audience, the children's expressions would tell it all: a mixture of boredom, bewilderment and preoccupation with the sticky substance on the back of the chair in front of them. Even the animation was lackluster-only marginally better than a video game movie sequence (the fact that many of the crew, including the voiceover talent, worked on video games together probably dictated the style of the animation).
Along with the absence of quality entertainment for the little ones, this movie boasts some of the weakest "adult humor" in recent animated films. Lines like, "Now is the winter of our content" and "This is like a good dream you can't wake up from", are obviously meant for the older crowd, but they're neither funny nor terribly clever. When did it become hilarious to take old sayings and switch their meanings? I must have missed that display at the Comedy Expo. The dramatic scenes were also ripe with juicy banter:
CINDERELLA: I really don't like this.
RICK: Oh, what? I do?
When the screenwriter couldn't think of anything else to say he dipped into his endless supply of nicknames for Cinderella. Some of them were meant for guffaws, as when the Fairy Godmother calls her "Salmonella" on her way to the ball. Other nicknames were meant to sting, like when her Wicked Step-Mother calls her "Miss Goodie Two Slippers". Oh, no she didn't! Although it wasn't a line of dialogue, there is a musical montage where Cinderella is trying to choose between Prince Charming and Rick that contains the lyric: "Do I choose Fairy Tale or synergy?" Can you imagine when that line zinged off the typewriter and went flying to the presses?
It would have been enough if it were just the dialogue and the plot that had problems, but the filmmakers had to make one more bad decision that hangs over this movie like Tyra over Oprah. (By the way, if you're reading this Tyra - when I typed your name, the computer highlighted it as a foreign word but when I typed "Oprah" no highlighting was necessary. That's when you know you've made it.) Here's my last complaint: all the characters in Happily N'Ever After have regional accents and dialogue that are arbitrary and completely unnecessary. For example, the seven dwarves seem to hail from the Appalachian Mountain range, with names like Duke and Cletus and speech patterns similar to Sling Blade. Why? Is this supposed to be a commentary on the dangers of inbreeding and NASCAR? The evil trolls who guard the palace after it's been taken over by the Wicked Stepmother seem to speak in broken English. But why does Rick slyly enter past these trolls by saying "Hey, I'm just trying to put money in your pocket, playa?" and "I'm down, I'm down with the DL. You know, the '˜Down Low'?" Are trolls meant to be only interested in money and easily duped by the white boy, Rick? And why do the wolves, which are responsible for the consumption of Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs, sound like they just got back from a Yankees game? Are the wolves meant to be representations of the hardened New York streets in a wolf-eat-wolf kind of world? Perhaps I'm reading too much into this, but why assign certain characters dialects if not for a purpose? I'm still scratchin' my head over that one.
The bottom line is that this movie sucks. It's unexciting, unfunny and underhandedly offensive. I expected much more from the producers of Shrek, and was deeply disappointed. It's such a shame as well because in a market where kids movies make bucket-loads of cash based on their MPAA rating, this movie will end up making millions of dollars and that will encourage the financiers to hire these filmmakers again and they will continue to regurgitate plots from better films and feed them to the public as if it were their own creation. And I'll be there to say, "I told you so".
"Happily N'Ever After" opens January 5, 2007 and is rated . . Written by Robert Moreland.