Happily N'Ever After
The wizard who monitors all the fairy tales in the world needs a vacation. He's been quietly keeping things balanced and making sure that Fairy Tale Land's magical yarns and enchanted love stories go "by the book." But it's time for a break. So the overtaxed sorcerer takes off on a golf trip and leaves his bumbling assistants in charge of the scales of good and evil.
Cinderella's (Ella) wicked stepmother (Frieda) accidentally finds out about the wizard's absence and steals a magic staff away from the dim-witted helpers. With it she draws all the malevolent miscreants in the fairy tale kingdom together and tips the enchanted scales to full-out evil. Rumpelstiltskin gets the baby, Sleeping Beauty puts her prince to sleep, and when Jack gets to the top of the beanstalk he's smooshed beneath the giant's heel. Everything is going ... bad.
It seems that the only ones who can save the day are Ella and a lowly dishwashing servant to the prince named Rick. But there's one big problem. Rick knows that he can't possibly save the day and win the girl of his dreams because that's a job for a princely hero. Isn't it?
Ella and Rick work diligently to save the kingdom from Frieda and her evil minions, refusing to leave the fairy tales with unhappy endings. Rick has loved Ella from afar for a long time, but she's obsessed with the handsome (dunderheaded) prince and can't imagine herself with anyone else. She reminds her pal, "You can't save the day. You're not a prince, you're just Rick." And Rick is sure that if Ella's fairy tale does get back on track he won't be part of her life anymore ("This is the last thing I wanted to do. But we both know how this story has to end"). Still, the faithful dishwasher does all he can to help, even using his body to shield Ella from one of Frieda's deadly energy spells.
Ella is imagining how things will be when she and the prince are together, but then she comes up short. What will she do after they marry? She worries that life will lack challenges. Someone asks her, "What else did you expect?" "I don't know," she responds, "More." In the end, Ella finally wakes to the realization that her dream of being a princess was superficial and silly. She loves Rick. When asked about her desire to marry a prince, she says, "I had one all along. I just didn't know it."
Magic rules the land. The scales of good and evil are central to the movie's action and Frieda places the official book of Fairy Tales on the evil side of the scale to keep the land in a sort of, well, cute, comic darkness. Frieda also casts numerous spells with the wizard's magic staff, levitating people, setting things on fire, shrinking a giant and controlling the horde of bad guys.
A chaste fairy-tale kiss is the only physical contact, but many of the female characters appear overly sexual in their design. Examples range from an abundant bosom-hoisting witch to Ella's more petite put still pronounced décolletage to Frieda's voluptuous figure in a skintight dress. In fact, when Frieda first encounters the wizard's assistants, one of them—overcome with his appreciation of her form—exclaims, "Owchy-momma!"
Trying to explain that magic changed her gown back to rags, Ella says, "I was dancing with the prince and my dress disappeared." Rick misunderstands and says, "OK. That's too much information."
There are several scenes of cartoon violence. For instance, the prince rides face-first into a tree, the seven dwarfs shoot diamonds to repel evil trolls and wolves, and Frieda sets fire to a flying rug carrying the wizard's assistants. Ogres throw axes and swords into a wall near a wolf's face, witches shoot laser beams from their flying broomsticks and Frieda talks of feeding a crying baby to crocodiles. Ella punches Frieda in the face and through a magical portal.
Crude or Profane Language
"Gosh," "heck" and "dang." Traded insults and comments include "jerk," "shut up," "air head," "loser," "freak," "shrimp" and a reference to having "screwed up." One character is also described as "a royal pain in the butt." Mambo sing-songs that Munk has a "butt the size of a shopping mall."
Drug and Alcohol Content
When the evil trolls and wolves take over the Prince's castle, they party raucously, and it's implied that they're indulging in tankards of mead. Rick makes a toast.
Other Negative Elements
Rumpelstiltskin, who becomes Frieda's evil sidekick, carries the captured baby everywhere he goes. This opens the door for a few gas and dirty diaper jokes. A wolf turns the "wee, wee, wee" part of the "This Little Pig" rhyme into a bathroom gag. Before delivering a killing energy spell, Frieda tells Ella to "Kiss your little pumpkin goodbye."
Happily N'Ever After tries to be more than just another twist on a story we've all seen in a thousand renditions. It wants to have some old-fashioned animated fun while presenting us with a modern ideal. It longs to tell us that we don't have to feel trapped by what society dictates as our roles in life. We can write our own stories, it says. We can break the mold.
Unfortunately, its creators don't do much to break the animated fairy tale mold. They barely live up to it. The film starts with a good idea and follows through with cute animation and strong voice talent, but there's very little to drape these good bits over. The central characters aren't very cheer-able—Rick starts out and stays annoyingly sarcastic, and Ella is head-scratchingly obtuse. The sidekicks aren't funny. The musical sections are practically non-existent and raise the question of why they even bothered leaving what little they had in there.
But the big detractor for families will be the strangely over-sexualized feminine features. Variety noticed and said, "The female characters all boast hourglass figures that would make even Jessica Rabbit jealous." The most pronounced of these is the evil stepmom Frieda, who looks like she's had one too many facelifts and augmentations. Her slinky gait and over-the-top, umm, top motivated Slant magazine to say, "Nothing beats Frieda's unbelievable physique in terms of insult. Perpetually strutting into frame, she suggests a cross between a Pussycat Doll and a Maxim cover model, but there's no rationale for her hyper-sexualized appearance."
And so, Happily N'Ever After ends up being much less than it aspired to be ... and a touch more than a lot of families will care to handle. Or, as the Washington Post's Ann Hornaday less delicately puts it, this is "a slick piece of computer animation that can be described as a family film only in the sense that it's a film the whole family will want to avoid."
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Sigourney Weaver as Frieda; Sarah Michelle Gellar as Ella; Freddie Prinze Jr. as Rick; Andy Dick as Mambo; Wallace Shawn as Munk; Patrick Warburton as Prince Humperdink
Paul J. Bolger ( )