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HAPPILY N'EVER AFTER (article first published : 2007-04-28)

Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Snow White's seven dwarves, Red Riding Hood, Jack and the giant on his beanstalk - not to forget an assortment of wolves, witches, wizards and sorcerer's apprentices. All find place in Happily N'Ever After, a new animated frolic from the producer of Shrek and Shrek 2, a film which gets off to a clever and cracking start, but which sputters midway and slows down considerably to limp towards a predictable and ho-hum finale.

The movie is clearly inspired by the fairy-tales-in-a-flap premise of Shrek, but don't expect anything as witty, amusing or memorable. Happily N'Ever After, while not the write-off some reviewers have labelled it, is more in the inferior vein of the recent Hoodwinked than the two film greats with the green ogre.

It revolves around Frieda (a camp and hammy Sigourney Weaver), who is Cinderella's evil step-mum, a sinister sexpot with Jessica-Rabbit-like bosom and curves.

Frieda stumbles upon the fact that the balance between good and bad in all fairy-tales is controlled by an old wizard (George Carlin) and his mini helpers, two elfish and troll-like creatures called Mambo (Andy Dick) and Munk (Wallace Shawn), who live in a towering castle.

With the wizard holidaying in Scotland, Frieda decides to overpower his mini apprentices. She seizes control of the magical, orb-tipped staff and balancing scales that ensure fairy-tales end happily ever after. Then, summoning all the baddies of the storybook kingdom, she and her new army of nasties set out to make some radical changes to familiar tales.

The possibilities are endless - let Sleeping Beauty's prince nod off as well; give Rapunzel a scalping; allow the wicked Rumpelstiltskin's name to remain unknown to let him snatch the baby he craves; allow the giant at the top of the beanstalk to stomp on and flatten Jack . . .

Our heroine is Cinderella, here referred to simply as Ella (Sarah Michelle-Gellar), who plays by the rules of her story and sets out to woo and win the handsome Prince Humperdink (Patrick Warburton). The royal is not quite the catch one might think, however - he's a pampered, preening dimwit who goes through life by the book. Literally: he gets ideas for all his actions from a how-to-be-a-prince manual.

Ella pursues the prince, but her heart secretly pounds for the handsome Rick (the gormless Freddie Prinze jun), the prince's dishwasher and laundryman, and also the movie's narrator. It's left to Ella, Rick and Prince Humperdink to save the day - and it proves no mean task.

There are some amusing quick asides, a favourite being a throwaway reference to Cinderella's forgetful Fairy Godmother as a woman who is "two Hansels short of a Gretel".

All in all, however, the film, directed by first-timer Paul J Bolger, is low on wit and invention, sometimes laboured and the animation and voice talent is not up to the standards we've come to expect. It's unlikely to be remembered for long. Rating: 5/10. - Billy Suter




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