As an Empress of Evil announces that she is in charge and from now on it will be “happily NEVER after,” the film appears to jump off the sprockets of the projector and a narrator interrupts with an important announcement. It seems the owner of a light blue coach with Narnia plates…and at this point the fairy tale is clearly off its sprockets as well.
It seems that the wise wizard from the Department of Fairy Tale Security who presides over the scales that balance the forces of good and evil (voice of George Carlin) has gone to Scotland to play golf. His assistants, Munk (voice of Wallace Shawn) and Mambo (voice of Andy Dick) let the scales slip. Cinderella’s evil stepmother Frieda (voice of Sigourney Weaver) does a “hostile takeover,” seizing the Wizard’s magical staff, changing the ends of all the fairy tales, inviting the trolls, ogres, and witches to take over, appointing herself Empress, and taking on Rumplestiltskin as a sidekick. All of fairy tale land is in need of a happy ending and the only people who can save the day are Cinderella (voice of Sarah Michelle Geller) and the Prince, I mean the guy who does the Prince’s dishes and laundry, Rick (voice of Freddie Prinze, Jr.).
This most recent po-mo take on fairy tale may be “Shrek”-lite, but it is just cute enough. A dim-witted character is “a couple of Hansels short of a Gretel,” the clueless prince (voice of Patrick Warburton) is “Blondie McBiceps,” and Rumplestiltskin is “still going for custody.” The animation is more video game than feature film, all textures but limited expressions, and stock-style characters moving like marionettes.
Parents should know that the movie has cartoony peril and violence. The hulking ogres and trolls are more silly-looking than scary. Dwarves don cammo and shoot diamonds at the bad guys. A magic staff shoots laser-beam-ish rays. There is some schoolyard language (“screw up,” “shut up,” “a butt the size of a shopping mall,” “eat this”) and some diaper humor. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of a strong and capable heroine and a commoner hero.
Families who see this movie should talk about how the Prince cannot improvise — when life doesn’t follow the story, he does not know what to do. Why are Rick and Ella better at adjusting to the unexpected? Why does Ella think she loves the Prince? Families should also talk about Frieda’s answer when asked why she hates Ella. They can also talk about why the Cinderella story has been so popular in so many forms ove the centuries. If you were going to write your own version of the Cinderella story, how would it end?
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Shrek and its sequel and Hoodwinked. They will also enjoy the many variations on Perrault’s original story, including Disney’s Cinderella, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Ever After – A Cinderella Story, Ella Enchanted and the book that inspired it, and even Jerry Lewis in Cinderfella. Other funny takes on traditional fairy tales include Once Upon a Mattress, Shelley Duvall’s “Faerie Tale Theatre,” and Jules Feiffer’s hilarious A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears.