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Happily N'ever After

STUDIO: Lionsgate
MSRP: $28.98
RUNNING TIME: 87 Minutes
Feature Commentary w/ director
"Making-of" featurettes
Deleted scenes and alternate ending
• Games

The Pitch

"It's Witches Abroad meets Shrek!"

The Humans

Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr., Sigourney Weaver, Wallace Shawn, Patrick Warburton, George Carlin.

The Nutshell

The world of fairy tales has no room for free will. In an ivory tower, a wizard (Carlin) watches over a set of magical scales, its two pans labeled "Good" and "Evil." With the merest change in the balance, the stories shift from their familiar paths and cross into territory unknown. When an evil stepmother (Weaver) takes control of the scales, the lands of Happily Ever After blacken in her mad fury. Only one person can stop her: a mostly-liberated woman named Cinderella (Gellar.) And a kitchen-boy who loves her (Prinze.) And a couple of weird little homonculi. And a tactical strike force of high-metabolism dwarves.

"You'll never amount to anything, Z!"

The Lowdown

I can get carried away by a good, original concept in a story, even if the execution strays into more well-established ruts of plot. Happily N'ever After (I fucking hate that apostrophe) has a great concept. How can you maintain familiarity with a host of beloved stories while still telling your own, and resisting the urge to stray into the pop-culture pastiche of the Shrek movies? Impose a metaphysical engine on the Grimm collection!

I love metaphysical engines.

The result is a story that earns my instant affection. It also helps that the sole motivation for much of the action is simple boredom. The characters in these stories (those who are aware that they're trapped in stories, anyway) are weary of the same events unfolding with the same endings, the same fates and dooms and unfair treatment of villains. It may not be as instantly compelling a reason for a plot to get rolling as, say, wanting to reclaim a swamp, but it strikes me as more authentic. I know I'm not the only one who occasionally sympathizes with the villains in stories. They get a lot of tough breaks, sometimes just because they're on the wrong side of the imaginary line. Now, imagine if one of those villains had to relive the same failures eternally, and then, one day, suddenly became aware of it...

The Big Book of Witty Ways to Avoid Assassinations

I love it. Unfortunately, these ruminations on story are the equivalent of my intercepting the ball and running with it. Very little of the plot is devoted to expanding on these ideas. Even less of the character work bends toward the unfairness of the whole mystical setup. Instead, the movie concerns its too-brief running time with characters of a less compelling (and occasionally baffling) nature, and plot sequences that take a less interesting tangent from the promise of the setup.

The most baffling character? Cinderella. There are two protagonists in the story: she is one, and the kitchen-hand who dotes on her is the other. The problem I have that Cinderella is written as something of a feminist, but poorly. She's a watered-down princess, strong-willed, but weak in the knees. She fawns over the handsome prince (Warburton, who, as usual, completely steals the show,) but the moral running parallel is that a girl doesn't need a handsome prince to rescue her. The script all but comes out and says so. Which makes it all the more confusing when toes are trodden upon in order to let Cinderella be rescued by the kitchen boy. You don't need a prince, little girls; you can do it yourself! If you haven't managed to wrap any spineless boys around your pinky, yet, that is.

"Give 'em fucking drums in the deep, boys!"

There's a lot of fun to be had in Happily N'ever After's package. It's got the air of slapdash execution, but that results in a plot with no dead weight for all its hasty leaping from event to event. It's over too quickly, and there's no satisfaction to by had in any of the character arcs; but, come on... Metaphysical engines!

The Package

Most of the bonuses are for the kidlings. There's an alternate ending, a few deleted scenes that pad out the second act, and three behind-the-scenes featurettes: "Journey of the Characters in the Enchanted Forest," "Creating the Happily Story: Bringing N'ever After to Life," and "From Story Board to Fairy Tale: A Comparison."

Director Paul J. Bolger offers an entertaining, but none too insightful, commentary track. The disc rounds out with five games of limited interactivity: "Choose Your Own Fairy Tale Ending," "Munk's Fairy Tale Fix," "Mambo and Munk's Magical Matchmaker," "Mambo's Memory Mix-up," and "Create Your Own Witch's Broom." Nope, not brew, but broom. Also known as hog.

6 out of 10