Taking advantage of the gap between "Shrek" films, this feature - not from one of the writers or directors of the "Shrek" series, but from one of the producers - presents a tale that feels a little too similar to both the "Shrek" films and last year's moderately enjoyable "Hoodwinked". "Happily" takes place in a fairy tale world where a wizard (voiced by George Carlin) looks after all the fairy tales that we know and love and tries to keep the balance of good and evil so that there's a happy ending. If the scale tips too far in the evil direction, everything gets thrown out of whack.
When the wizard goes on his vacation to Scotland (I guess that's supposed to be funny) and leaves his bumbling assistants (voiced by Andy Dick and Wallace Shawn), the wicked stepmother (Sigourney Weaver) manages to get control over the scale, ensuring not-so-happy endings for many of the fairy tale characters. This leaves Ella (read: Cinderella, voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar) with the task of stopping the evil plan, as the dim-witted Prince (Patrick Warburton) isn't any help. Helping Ella is a dishwasher named Rick (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), who's had a long-term crush on Ella she's not aware of.
As cruddy as the animation was in "Hoodwinked", the rough animation at least had personality and the film had energy to spare. The animation in "Happily" is also pretty cheap looking (it looks like a PC game) and while it is a bit cleaner and sharper than "Hoodwinked", the character models look bland and generic (although the evil stepmother is surprisingly curvy for a character in a kids' film), as do the backgrounds.
However, the animation isn't the problem here as much as the script, which lacks much of a plot, offers up a series of stale one-liners ("This operation's about to have a hostile takeover," says the wicked stepmother to the wizard's assistants) and generally seems like an attempt to ride the wave of popularity on the fairy tale craze that "Shrek" continues to have a lock on.
The voice acting also has few highlights, as even the reliable Weaver barely seems to be trying in her attempt to make the evil stepmother very evil. Real-life husband-and-wife pairing Prinze and Gellar aren't particularly memorable either, as both sound disinterested. The only actor who contributes much personality is Warburton, whose delightfully oddball spin on the lines makes for the few memorable moments in the picture.
"Happily N'Ever After" has a few moments thanks to Warburton's character, but otherwise, it's a slow, flat animated tale whose thin story seems stretched to the breaking point to even cover the brief running time. A largely unfunny, formulaic family film.
VIDEO: "Happily" is presented by Lionsgate Home Entertainment in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. While the film's animation wasn't to my liking, the presentation does show it off as best as possible. Sharpness and detail were quite good throughout, as the image remained crisp and smooth at all times. A little shimmering (of the not magical kind) was seen in the image, but no artifacting or other flaws were seen. Colors appeared bright and poppy, with no smearing or other concerns.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was less pleasing than the image quality. Surround use was minimal throughout the show, with only a few effects here-and-there not-so-seamlessly placed in the rear speakers. Audio quality was fine but unremarkable, with clear dialogue and effects that sounded clean, but rather flat.
EXTRAS: An alternate ending, deleted scenes, interviews, 5 interactive games, 3 featurettes and promos.
Final Thoughts: "Happily N'Ever After" is a disappointment, with a skimpy, slight story and weak jokes. The DVD offers fine audio/video quality and a lot of extras, but I'd pass on this flimsy fairy tale.
The Film D