HAPPILY N'EVER AFTERPG
It ain't Shrek, but it ain't dreck. A computer-animated, deconstructed fairy tale ostensibly aimed at all ages, this odd duck written by an American and directed by a German seems exactly like what a German-U.S. co-production would be: flip and snarky on the one side, and Teutonically archetypal on the other. This movie is a cabaret, my friend, a regular Weimar Bros. production. It may have its longest life as a camp midnight movie.
Advertised as "from the producer of Shrek and Shrek 2"--that would be John H. Williams, one of three producers on each--Happily N'Ever After is a perfect example of how it's not just the idea but the execution that makes something work. It's not bad, and there are some inspired bits, but essentially it's one long extrapolation of a funny notion and never really goes anywhere. Imagine a jazz saxophonist laying down a melodic riff...and then never actually noodling and playing all around it for the, y'know, jazz part.
The core concept is promising, though, and should appeal to all those who like to say that you can keep your Sleeping Beauties and Snow Whites 'cause it's the wicked stepmothers and evil queens who are really hot. What would happen if they came out on top? If that insufferable Little Red Riding Hood became wolf chow and that idle-rich prince had to work for a living?
Except for a couple of minor detours, that good idea never goes anywhere particularly interesting. What does keep you riveted, however, is that bizarre-contraption German sensibility, where fairy tales, sex and politics are all part of the same thing. Here it takes the form of a B&D wicked stepmother (voice of Sigourney Weaver) who purrs like Eartha Kitt and slinks around in a skintight, slit-skirt evening gown with six-inch stiletto heels, vacuum-corseted into an hourglass bodice that makes her look like Jessica Rabbit after a boob job. Think I'm exaggerating? The movie opens with a prologue capped by a zoom-in cleavage shot--in close-up! And what's the wicked stepmother's name? Frieda--apparently "Ilsa" and "Helga" were a little too on-the-money. As if that weren't weird enough, her takeover is precipitated by a wizard's assistant, Mambo (Andy Dick), with the most flamboyant gay mannerisms since Jack on "Will & Grace."
The magical kingdom here operates in Groundhog Day fashion, with all the fairy tales running their proscribed courses over and over again. When the wizard in charge (George Carlin) goes on vacation, he leaves the trouble-prone Mambo and straitlaced senior assistant Monk (Wallace Shawn) in charge. Squabbling, they accidentally tip the (literal) scales of good and evil--reverting Cinderella (Sarah Michelle Gellar) to a scullery maid before the Prince's (Patrick Warburton) ball is over, and letting Frieda power-grab a magical staff that runs everything. Soon the Prince's disgruntled servant, Rick (Gellar's real-life Prince Charming, Freddie Prinze, Jr.), is up to his neck in big, bad wolves (including a priceless Jon Polito), a beanstalk giant, a baby-snatching Rumplestiltskin (Michael McShane) and others of that ilk. Forced to lead a rebellion to take back the kingdom, Rick and Cinderella encounter two great conceits: wicked witches on Harley-Davidson broomsticks, and redneck-survivalist Seven Dwarfs with names like Bubba and Cletus.
There's little else so original and inspired in this by-the-storybook affair, and the German studio's computer animation looks state-of-the-art from five or ten years ago. But in the right context, we may have here a fabulous cult classic.