Happily N'Ever After (US - DVD R1)
Gabe chews on the animated equivalent to a rice cake and watched the paint dry
When the evil, buxom, and bootylicious stepmother Frieda (voiced by Sigourney Weaver) gathers an alliance of evildoers, things look bleak for Fairy Tale Land. Cinderella, who's hip enough to go by Ella (who looks like an animated version of Winona Ryder, circa 1995, and is voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar), and the servant who loves her, Rick (who looks like an animated Jared Leto, circa 2000, and is voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.), are heroic enough to take back the kingdom. Love blossoms and morals are telegraphed.
I view the Shrek movies as total throwaways. They're entertaining enough the first time you see them, but they have absolutely zero staying power in light of even the weakest Pixar flick. They're all calories, no protein. When presented with a Shrek cash-in I wasn't very excited.
The funny thing is that Happily N'Ever After, though obviously inspired by the oodles of cash raked in by the first two Shrek films, has a very similar plot to that of the third Shrek flick (or at least what I gather from the plot synopsis, it hasn't been released at the time of writing). Interestingly enough, one of the seventeen producers also acted as one of the eleven producers on Shrek 3 (I wonder how the two scripts ended up having similarities, and I wonder if there were any lawsuits considered?). And that's really the only funny thing about the movie. That and Rumplestiltskin stuck carrying a baby the whole movie, that was pretty funny. For a comedy it's really not very amusing.
Derivative, cash-in plot (cash-in is not the same thing as rip-off, as I'm sure the writers and directors had the best intentions) and lack of comedy aside, the film is still entirely lifeless. The actors, many of them great voice talents (Patrick Warburton, Andy Dick, Wallace Shawn, John Di Maggio, George Carlin, and Rob Paulsen) all phone it in without exception, including the usually reliable Sigourney Weaver. I don't really blame them; the characters are archetypes in the most negative sense, even if that may be the point.
The animation varies wildly from pretty good (considering the low-budget aspirations of the film) to downright awful. The only more blandly animated theatrically released, CG cartoon I can think of is Hoodwinked, which at least had some bull’s-eye jokes. I actually like most of Happily N'Ever After's character designs, which remind me of the classic, Chuck Jones era Warner Bros. characters, but the movement and characterization is severely lacking. Sometimes the lips aren't moving to the words at all, and often it's very obvious that different characters have been animated by different people and crammed in the same scene. I'm willing to forgive the lack of finish to the films overall look (it appears that just one more rendering pass might've fixed this), but quality and continuity control seems to have dropped the ball here.
Oh come on! The one thing I should expect from a CG animated feature DVD is impeccable image quality, and Lionsgate gives us this combed and interlaced stinker? Image detail is, of course, sharp, but not nearly as sharp as so many other comparable discs on the market. The film's one strong point is its design, and the colour scheme is nicely produced, but gradients are messy and warm colours noisy. The real problem is the interlacing and combing effects though, which despite my most sincere efforts found their way into my screen caps.
Part of cashing in on Shrek is adding a few pop songs to your flick and an awkward singing moment in the film's centre. Like the rest of the movie, these aren't particularly exciting. The DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is well balanced, features some impressive surround effects, and I can't place a single error. It's not huge, and the boring music could use a bit of a bass boost in parts, but it works for a kid's flick. Some specific sound effects are pretty impressive (like the shooting magic bolts, the motorcycle sounding witch's brooms), but on the whole pretty average.
Though releasing such a blah film is a pretty iffy choice on Lionsgate's part, their hearts and minds are in the right place with the DVD's extras. The disc is aimed at kids, and though I can't really call it a success, it's a nice try. Things start with the opening menus, which offer the viewer a choice of good or evil themes. The menus are hosted audibly by Andy Dick and Wallace Shawn, and the directions are made pretty clear even for kids who might not be old enough to read.
The games section of the extras is another entree in the 'nice try' book. Most of us that have an affinity for kid’s films on DVD are probably aware of the fact that DVD games pretty much never work. These are simple, not action based like the awful game that accompanied the Condor DVD I had to review a few months back, and there is a possibility that the wee ones could be entertained. I was bored pretty quickly.
The film's main director (there are technically two), Paul J. Bolger, has a commentary track, and hosts the disc's three brief featurettes, seems like a really nice guy. The track and mini-docs are informative enough (Bolger's Irish accent is a plus), and entertaining enough, but like the film are pretty forgettable. The filmmaker's effort comes through, and I feel a little bad about bad mouthing the film itself, but not bad enough to take back the review. Better luck next time guys.
The deleted scenes are mostly extended scenes. The unmemorable nature of the film insured that even though I watched them immediately after the main feature, I couldn't tell you what was different about the majority of them. There are sections of unfinished (more unfinished?) animation that give away a few of the deletions, but I was kind of lost. The alternate ending, on the other hand, is truly different. It's a little 'quirkier' than the ending the film, erm, ended up with, but not any better. Things are forgettabgly wrapped up with a series of Lionsgate Kid's trailers.
The theatrical release of this flick is mind boggling, because everything about it screams ‘Straight to Video’. It's made to take advantage of lazy parents that have worn out their kids' Shrek 2 DVD. It's entirely inoffensive, listless, and forgettable. It's low budget, and rather uncreative. I don't really recommend it to anyone, but not recommending it would imply that I had a particularly strong opinion on the film's quality. I don't. It's so bland I just don't care, and have all but forgotten it already.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 1st May 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Alternate Ending, Featurettes, Games, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Paul J. Bolger, Yvette Kaplan
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr., Patrick Warburton, Andy Dick, Wallace Shawn, John Di Maggio, George Carlin, and Rob Paulsen
Length: 87 minutes
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