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No reason to believe in 'Happily N'Ever After'

The film aims for sassy but lands in soggy, and one comes away remembering only the oddly sexy Wicked Stepmother ( right). (Lionsgate Entertainment via VNU digital photo)

I'll keep this short. "Happily N'Ever After" is the latest computer-animated stepchild of "Shrek," a pallidly "hip" revision of classic fairy tales that would be better told straight up if anyone had the nerve. It will divert small children, but so will a brightly colored object if you twirl it.

Like last year's "Hoodwinked" -- which looks like "Citizen Kane" next to this -- "Happily" is set in the land of make-believe on a bad day. The wizard who oversees the happy-ending machinery (voiced by George Carlin, not given nearly enough to do) goes on vacation, leaving in charge his sorcerer's apprentices, dutiful Munk (Wallace Shawn) and mischievous Mambo (Andy Dick).

They gum up the works and suddenly all the fairy tales are ending miserably, which is fine for the Wicked Stepmother (Sigourney Weaver), who has always lusted for power. Against her are the tomboyish Cinderella (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and the handsome castle servant Rick (Freddie Prinze Jr.), supplying the necessary heroism in place of idiot Prince Humperdink (Patrick Warburton).

"Happily N'Ever After" is a co-production between the L A -based Vanguard Films and the German animation company Berlin Animated Films, and it is one ugly sucker. The film aims for sassy but lands in soggy, the victim of lazy scripting and pacing. One comes away remembering only Weaver's oddly sexy Wicked Stepmother, which probably wasn't the intended effect.

A throwback to the weird international B-movies that played Saturday matinees when some of us were kids, "Happily" is only appearing in theaters on its way to DVD, where adults will be able to safely ignore it. That should suit the mother sitting a few seats over from me, who slept through the movie while her children rioted with the fidgets.

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