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Happily Ever After

Better than you'd think
Because of the circumstances surrounding its release, "Happily Ever After" has a reputation as a cheap knockoff of the Walt Disney feature film, a lazy cashgrab relying on the original's good name. And while I won't argue that this sort of thing wasn't the executives' reasoning... watching "Happily Ever After" is a far more pleasant experience than you'd think.

Of course, the animation can't hope to match the theatrical wonder of the 1937 classic, but it's actually pretty solid. There's never an off-model frame and the characters are rarely static; some of the character animation is also lively and, if not exactly Disney-quality, at least the sort of thing you'd see in a Don Bluth film. I'm thinking especially of Lord Maliss, Mother Nature and Snow White. There are also some nice effects, such as lightning, sprinkled through the feature. It's direct-to-video, but it's *good* direct-to-video; I daresay it's better than *some* of what Disney themselves have put out over the years.

Naturally, Filmation could only skirt towards Disney's iconic designs, and perhaps the different appearance of Snow White and co. may be off-putting to some, but in truth, those designs *work*. Sure, Prince Florian is now a red-head, but... who cares, really? The design for Snow White in particular manages to be both pretty and original without straying *too* jarringly from the classic look. The only real downside here might be the Magic Mirror (inexplicably voiced by Dom DeLouise of all people), who feels like a badly-done parody of the original.

The new characters aren't too bad either. Lord Maliss isn't exactly a complex villain, nor does he have the most original design in the book, but Malcom McDowell's acting is delightful in an over-the-top, Corey-Burton-as-Captain-Hook sort of way, and there's no denying his evil powers are, to put it simply, "way cool". The Dwarfelles may have the tackiest name in the history of animation, but they are actually engaging in their own way, and far from being just genderbent versions of the original Dwarfs; tying them to different elements and making them the apprentices of a personified Mother Nature is an... off-the-wall idea, to be sure, but not actually a bad one. It's entertaining. Scowl the Owl and Batso are decent comic relief on the villains' side, though they feel more like Iago than like Queen Grimhilde's Norman the Raven in the original.

That's really the best thing to say about "Happily Ever After": for all that it curries favor based on the original's fanbase, it's not a lazy retread of the original. The plot and scenes (despite one or two echo, like Snow's run through the Black Forest) are quite original, not a thinly disguised remake. That's not to say it's the best plot ever, but it's engaging and will definitely keep kids watching, though aspects of it are predictable for adults.

The big flaw of "Happily Ever After" is neither in its visual nor plot, but in the soundtrack. Some of the acting is fine or even great (Irene Cara is a surprisingly great Snow White, and I've already mentioned McDowdell as Lord Maliss), but some of it on incidental characters is weaker; and most glaringly... god, the *music*. I didn't come in expecting another "Someday, My Prince Will Come", of course; but it is just about the blandest, most 90's-esque *mess* imaginable. Consider that Scowl the Owl has a rap number of a villain song. Yes. A RAP NUMBER. I kid thee not. To make matters worse, these songs are poorly segued into the story, with characters talking one moment and then suddenly, abruptly breaking into (terrible) singing. Did I mention the singing was terrible? Because yup, it is.Tracey Ullman's Thunderella sounds cute and nice when talking, but her lack of singing skill turns what might simply have been a *mediocre* song into an awful experience to sit through. As for the instrumental music playing behind non-singing scenes, it's similarly bland and uninspired, though rarely distracting.

Still, a poor soundtrack is not enough to make a movie bad. It's no Disney Classic, but I'd definitely take "Happily Ever After" over a lot of Disney's own direct-to-DVD sequels (such as "Belle's Magical World" and "The Fox and the Hound II"). If you like the original "Snow White", or fairy-tale-type animation in general, I'd recommend you give it a watch... though you shouldn't come in with too high expectations.

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