Happily N'Ever After Review
The wizard of Fairy Tale Land is going on holiday. The golf in Scotland is just too good to turn down and so he magics up a portal and, before stepping through it, hands his staff to his assistants Munk (Wallace Shawn) and Mambo (Andy Dick) and asks that they take care over the balance of good and evil in the world. Clicking his fingers to transform his dress robes into tartan, he vanishes. Munk and Mungo look at the scales that balance the world...and begin to fret. Each story in Fairy Tale Land either ends happily or not - Rumpelstiltskin either snatches the baby or not, Jack slays the giant at the top of the beanstalk or he gets trampled up - and it is these scales that tip the balance. And that night, Cinderella is going to the ball!
Unfortunately, that night Ella's wicked stepmother, Frieda (Sigourney Weaver), walks up the stairs to the wizard's rooms in the castle to discover what it is that goes on there. Munk and Mambo try and frighten her away but their plan backfires. She takes hold of the magic staff, shoos Munk and Mambo away on a magic carpet and strikes the floor beneath the scales, sending out a signal to all of the fairy tales villains across Fairy Tale Land to gather at the wizard's castle. Rumpelstiltskin, three witches, wolves and a giant are amongst those who arrive. Meanwhile, Ella, from dancing with the Prince at the ball, turns back into rags earlier than expected. She's not around to her wicked stepmother announce the end of happy endings but she suspects something is wrong. With Rick, the castle dishwasher, she sets off to put an end to the crisis in Fairy Tale Land. But she arrives too late to stop Frieda, who, before the assembled monsters, says that she has had enough of happy ever after. From now on it will be happily never after!
Although Shrek was very far from being perfect, its first twenty minutes was s swift sprint through traditional fairy tales. Granted, many of these references, to those with a little behind-the-scenes knowledge, might not have been anything more than Jeffrey Katzenberg cocking a snook at his previous employers but they passed quickly by assisted in quickly establishing what audiences could expect from Shrek. One of the reasons why Shrek worked so well is that this was merely an introduction to the story of Shrek and Donkey that was to follow. Unfortunately, Happily N'Ever After doesn't have very much more than this, offering the audience the sight of, as the wickedness takes hold, Rapunzel being pulled out of her tower by the hair, a very dim Prince Charming going missing and seven southern-fried dwarves (Cletus, Billy Bob, Bubba and the like) defending their home by shooting their sacks of diamonds, rubies and emeralds at the witches that fly overhead.
Little of this would be particularly objectionable if it was funny. It might be very original but very few films are. The problem with Happily N'Ever After is also the one that affected Shark Tale, leaving a children's film coming with a set of gags that no child could ever cope to comprehend. And a storyline that no adult, due to its dreadful simplicity, would ever be entertained by. As Shark Tale baffled children with gangster sharks, disco numbers, reggae jellyfish and Martin Scorcese as a puffer fish, Happily N'Ever After offers us three New Jersey gang wolves who come complete with a pastiche of The Sopranos' Woke Up This Morning and three motorbikin' witches. Is there any good reason for this? Not as far as this viewer can tell, leaving us with the feeling that, even if it has such a thing, Happily N'Ever After's cupboard of new ideas is rather threadbare.
All that is good about Happily N'Ever After comes from elsewhere. Patrick Warburton is very good as the dim Prince Charming but this is Emperor's New Groove's Kronk by another name. Although, even with a virtual reprise of an earlier role, his stupidity is not half as charming nor as funny as it was with Disney. Wallace Shawn is effectively replaying his part from The Princess Bride while Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr. are a pairing that challenges the viewer to think of one with less romantic spark between them. There was more of a romantic frisson between Tom Hanks and Wilson in Castaway than there is between Prinze Jr. and Gellar, with the only surprise in Happily N'Ever After being that they are a married couple. If there is one positive memory to take from Happily N'Ever After, it is Sigourney Weaver's playing of Frieda. With no small amount of class, she steals the film away entirely from Gellar, Prinze Jr, Shawn and Carlin and it's something of a shame that she doesn't wreak sufficient havoc across Fairy Tale Land to live for another day.
In some respects, the animation is quite respectable, particularly Frieda, Ella, Munk and Mambo and the seven dwarves. On the other hand, Rick is as dreary as is Freddie Prinze Jr, the wolves are a disappointment after Pixar's rendering of fur, they being much too plasticky, and the various monsters, by being so poorly animated, were clearly never intended to be anything more than background characters. There is, though, a nice Fisher Price chunkiness to things that will appeal to children. However, no matter how much those children will like the animation, the script is the problem, with far too many gags and characters aimed at a more knowing adult audience. It is the same here with too little of the script intended for children, who will not understand the not-very-funny jokes, not much like the so-so pop songs that pepper the film and find themselves bored by the long-winded telling of a very simple story. So it was the same with Shark Tale and is so again here. If indeed there is a wizard of Fairy Tale Land, he weighted the scales in favour of this being a failure.
Happily N'Ever After has a reasonable transfer. There isn't a great deal of detail in the picture so doesn't have to work very hard but, for the most part, the characters are clearly defined and stand out against the brightly-coloured backgrounds. However, there is one instance when the rendering falters between scenes. The effect similar to the picture pausing between scenes and with the action having a grainy, half-finished look as though, for half a second, the pre-rendered animation had been cut into the finished film. It's not that this is particularly troubling, more that if I could see it on the DVD then I can't quite understand how someone from Vanguard Animation or Lion's Gate didn't. And if they didn't, it shows a very poor standard of animation and quality control. On the other hand, if they did but took no action, it reveals a lack of care over the standard of this DVD.
There aren't any such obvious faults with the audio track but, oddly for such a recent film, this DVD only comes with a DD2.0 Surround track in spite of it being listed on the Set Up menu as DD5.1. Not that there is any problem with the quality of soundtrack - dialogue is clear, the music sounds fine and the effects are all present - but it's more the problem with not very much care being taken over the preparation of this DVD, at least not to the original DD5.1 track being ported over to the DVD.
It's a surprise to find quite a lot here, beginning with a Commentary with director Paul Bolger. Bolger, although his film isn't a particularly good one, is a likeable enough director and certainly doesn't appear to want to hide very much from the viewer. He's all over this DVD, beginning here with a commentary but, later, with behind-the-scenes features. This commentary features Bolger on his own, beginning by talking through the production from the point at which he joined it in 2001, though the redesign of the characters and story and on to how certain scenes were written, designed and animated. What's interesting about Bolger's commentary is how he remarks that Happily N'Ever After was a much darker film before he joined the production and much less suitable for children, which, given that it's not exactly child-friendly now, makes one wonder just what it was like to begin with. Bolger is fairly chatty throughout
After that, there are thirteen features, broken down further into four on Characters (8m53s, 2m35s, 49s, 3m02s), three on Storyboard To Film Comparisons (36s, 1m02s, 1m23s), which also include the frames from the Layout and Pre-Rendering Animation stages of production, and six Cast And Crew Features, including Sigourney Weaver (2m02s), Freddie Prinze Jr (2m41s), Andy Dick (1m19s), Director Paul Bolger (2m12s), Writer Rob Moreland (1m50s) and Animation Director Dino Athanassiou (1m42s). There are also two Deleted Scenes - Fairy Godmother (53s) and I Love Her (31s) - neither of which would have added anything to the film, as well as an Alternate Ending (2m16s).
Finally, there's a set of five Games for viewers to play, none of which are very difficult. The first of these is Choose Your Own Fairy Tale Ending, which features Mambo reading a story that lets the viewer decide the outcome of a fairy story, be it good or evil. The second of these, Munk's Fairy Tale Fix is a quiz on fairy tales while the third, Munk And Mambo's Magical Match, tries to find the viewer a match for the Prince's Ball based on some simple personality questions. Mambo's Memory Mix Up gets the viewer to look carefully at a scene before Mambo makes some changes to it, after which the viewer must click on them to proceed before, in the final game, the player gets to Create Your Own Witch's Broom. And to see Frieda present it to them.