I've always been skeptical of films that use a narrator for explaining the storyline -- particularly right out of the gate. While the voice-over in The Pursuit of Happyness worked well in that film, Happily N'Ever After didn't use it nearly as effectively.
We open with Frieda taking the wizard's enchanted staff and inviting the ogres, giants and other 'evil' sorts to the Prince's castle. Enter narration to explain how the wizard keeps all the stories in Fairy Tale Land ending happily ever after (again and again and again). And, that the Wizard just left on a golf holiday to Scotland, leaving his two marginally competent apprentices in charge of maintaining the balance, and his enchanted staff.
So Frieda gets the staff, tries to prevent her step-daughter Ella (a la CinderELLA) from kissing the prince, and does so by changing Ella back into the floor-washing maiden -- confusing the dimwitted Prince, who only knows how the story is supposed to go (it's in the fairy tale book he constantly references, y'know).
I confess struggling to stay awake. The previews and trailers made the film look good, and it heralding from the same producers as Shrek left me with high hopes. (In reading the producer credits on IMDB and in the closing credits, John H. Williams is but one in a cast of many; I wonder even if creative genius can be squelched with too many cooks in the kitchen -- "Happily" lists 10, with executive producer Rainer Söhnlein seemingly doing his first English-language production after being rooted in German cinema and TV.)
But back to Fairy Tale Land. Many seemingly familiar characters or stories are here, Sleeping Beauty and her narcoleptic Prince Charming, Rumpelstiltskin, the seven little men (they hate being called dwarfs), and an assortment of half-hearted puns and jokes aimed at fairy tales in general. The ending serves as something of a paradox of the title, but offers little surprise.
The story line and script seem to share title of weakest link. In a theatre packed with kids and parents alike, I didn't experience, much less hear, any outrageous laughter, though an occasional giggle did pass the lips. Sarah Michelle Gellar (Ella), Freddie Prinze, Jr. (Rick as the underdog dishwasher-turned-charming, though not prince), with Wallace Shawn (Vizzini from "Princess Bride") and Andy Dick as the wizard's apprentices all deliver on their voice roles, but even the best voices can't correct script issues.
I'm sure the littlest ones probably had a good time, but my kid crowd rated it as "okay -- just okay." For a bloke hoping to bridge the animated film silence before Shrek the Third in mid-May, I found it disappointing.