NFK film review: Happily N’Ever After
Nathanael Smith | On 28, Feb 2016
Netflix For Kids, a monthly column where VODzilla.co get a childless adult to sift through the dregs of Netflix’s kids-friendly catalogue.
Thanks a lot, Shrek.
Thanks to the success of the ogre-sized franchise, a spate of imitators emerged, hoping to cash in on the fairytale deconstruction gimmick. This was combined with the CGI animation boom of the early 21st century, when every 2-bit studio was trying their hand at churning out cheap films using this newly accessible technology. The result was films such as Hoodwinked, as well as this, the nadir of the genre, Happily N’Ever After.
This 2006 kids’ film is an attempt at the meta, post-modern japery that was weirdly popular in the 2000s, telling the story of Prince Charming’s dishwasher, Rick, Cinderella and a witch who tries to get all the fairytale villains to take over the world. There’s a wizard with actual scales of good and evil, his two hapless assistants and a screenplay that comes across like a Shrek 2 tribute band. The film opens with a joke ripped off from The Emperor’s New Groove (Patrick Warburton stars in both) and generally goes downhill from there.
One of the biggest of Happily N’Ever After’s myriad problems – beyond that nonsensical title – is that its central conceit doesn’t work. The wizard (played by George Carlin) has one job, which is to make sure that every tale reaches its appropriate happy ending. He does this by ensuring the scales of good and evil are balanced, which seems to entail merely moving the scale with his hands, not using weights or any humorous equivalent. The premise seems to suggest that every single fairy tale is happening in perpetuity, all at the same time, like some terribly animated Groundhog Day. This Grimm deity takes a holiday in Scotland and all it takes is an evil step-mother placing a book on the scales and… oh who even cares.
Meta-commentary on classic storytelling tropes can be funny. It’s easy to forget that Shrek itself is actually a whole load of fun, while the presence of Wallace Shawn in the cast only serves as a sad reminder that nothing has ever really topped The Princess Bride. This is just so lazy and painfully unfunny, though. The jokes (including the suggestion, heh, that Prince Charming is, hee hee, stupid) are so passé it feels like reading a tweet plagiarised from something you laughed at three years ago.
What moves Happily N’Ever After from merely lazy to nearly unwatchable, however, is the animation. Obviously, CG today is better than it has ever been but technological advancement is a poor excuse for something dating so terribly. Snow White and Toy Story both used entirely new mediums yet look as remarkably fresh today as they ever have done. One suspects Happily N’Ever After looked terrible even upon its release 10 years ago. The total lack of texture and the dullness of the character and production design give you flashbacks to a cutscene from The Sims. Sigourney Weaver stars as the evil step-mother, a character so disproportionately buxom that she should be in a Playstation One video game. It is rare and upsetting to see something so consistently ugly, but every frame of Happily N’Ever After’s almost-90 minutes makes you want to throw yourself from Rapunzel’s tower.
Amazingly, there’s a sequel.
Happily N’Ever After is available to watch on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.