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Originally published Friday, January 5, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Happily N'Ever After" | Clever fairy tale ends "Happily" — except for the animation

You say Rapunzel's been yanked by her hair from that famous tower? Prince Charming fell asleep after kissing the moribund Sleeping Beauty...

Special to The Seattle Times

You say Rapunzel's been yanked by her hair from that famous tower? Prince Charming fell asleep after kissing the moribund Sleeping Beauty?

Clearly there's a crisis in upper management at Fairy Tale Land in the computer-animated, clever "Happily N'Ever After." This is where a Wizard (voiced by George Carlin) makes sure familiar story lines of famous fables are all fulfilled according to plan.

But when the Wizard goes golfing, two underlings (Andy Dick, Wallace Shawn) mess things up at the office, leaving an opening for nasty Frieda (Sigourney Weaver), wicked stepmother of Ella (aka Cinderella, voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar), to take control of all yarns for children. All that familiar misery Frieda causes at home for poor Ella (slave labor, etc.) grows exponentially in Fairy Tale Land as she reverses the traditional fortunes of such characters as Rapunzel, Snow White's Seven Dwarfs and Red Riding Hood.

Movie review 2.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"Happily N'Ever After," with vocal performances by Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr., Sigourney Weaver, Andy Dick, Wallace Shawn, Patrick Warburton. Directed by Paul J. Bolger, written by Robert Moreland. 85 minutes. Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor. Several theaters.

Unfortunately for Ella, Frieda assumes her dark powers just when the made-over maiden is impressing handsome Prince Humperdink (Patrick Warburton) in the gown her fairy godmother gave her. The prince proves to be a klutz and boor, leaving the heroic task of eliminating Frieda (and many trolls and villainous wolves) to Rick (Freddie Prinze Jr.), a lowly dishwasher who happens to be in love with Ella.

Essentially a brash comedy taking one idea as far as it can go, "Happily N'Ever After" is spare on emotional development but generous with smart-aleck shtick. The film could very easily be a first experience with comic irony for many young children, as they see stock characters from favorite tales undergo the opposite of their standard fates.

Some changes are unexpectedly imaginative, such as Rumplestiltskin's growing attachment to the baby he takes (this time) from its mother. But for the most part, characters are painted broadly enough for the vocal cast to have a heap of fun, especially Weaver, who clearly relishes the opportunity to play a heartless diva.

Paul J. Bolger's direction is crisp, but the art — created by BAF Berlin Animation along with several small studios — is lumbering and lifeless. In an era when Pixar and DreamWorks set the standard for computer-generated animation that can define characters with behavioral nuances and unique movements, the generic stiffness of "Happily N'Ever After" seems anachronistic.

Tom Keogh:

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