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There's hardly any `Happily' in fairy tale

Sarah Michelle Gellar and spouse Freddie Prinze Jr. lack chemistry in animated story.

January 05, 2007|Alex Chun | Special to The Times

Putting a spin on classic fairy tales is nothing new, and unfortunately that's just what the "Shrek"-lite animated feature "Happily N'Ever After" brings to the big screen.

That "Happily N'Ever After" resembles "Shrek" at all is no accident, given that they share the same producer, John H. Williams. This time around, however, first-time feature film director Paul Bolger and screenwriter Rob Moreland have created human protagonists in the form of Cinderella, a.k.a. Ella (voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar), and Rick (voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.), the royal dishwasher and her would-be beau.

As the film's title implies, things are not as they should be in fairy tale land as Ella's power-stepmother (Frieda, voiced by Sigourney Weaver) attempts to seize control of the kingdom and permanently alter the various storybook endings. Standing in her way are Rick, Ella, vapid Prince Humperdink (voiced by Patrick Warburton) and the obligatory comic relief, Mambo and Munk (voiced by Andy Dick and Wallace Shawn, respectively), who look like plasticized versions of Timon and Pumbaa from the "The Lion King."

Even though Prinze and Gellar are real-life spouses, their computer-generated selves never quite click. Gellar's Ella is disappointingly less-than-progressive despite her updated bob cut, and Prinze, as the reluctant hero with a huge chip on his shoulder, is equally hard to warm up to. And though Gellar and Prinze may be young and hip, they lack the star power -- or more specifically, the voice power -- of an Eddie Murphy, a Mike Myers and even a Cameron Diaz to carry an animated film on their own.

Voice vets Shawn and Warburton do their best to provide some much-needed backup playing secondary characters, as does Weaver, who brings chutzpah to the film in her role as the "Empress of Evil." Design-wise, Weaver's scepter-wielding Frieda with her over-the-top bosom and impossibly high stiletto heels is an imposing sight who comes off as much dominatrix as wicked stepmother.

Also fun is a battle royal involving the seven dwarfs taking on an aerial assault from a cadre of witches riding chopper-like brooms. And though the romance between Ella and Rick never quite gets off the ground, the built-in appeal of Gellar and Prinze still might be enough to court the preteen sect, but not nearly enough to shake the feeling that "Happily N'Ever After" is the last hangover from the animation glut that was 2006.

"Happily N'Ever After." MPAA rating: PG for some mild action and rude humor. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes. In general release.

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