Is there anything more depressing, more unpromising, more forbiddingly dire than ads proudly claiming that a given film is from the producer (or worse yet, studio) of some other film? Has there ever been a case where that boast has actually drawn in viewers, instead of instantly making them wonder whether the advertised film really has nothing more significant going for it?


Unfortunately, the credits-in-common thing really is one of the few elements the CGI kids' film Happily N'Ever After (from one of the nine producers of Shrek!) can claim in its favor. A leaden, irritatingly obvious postmodern fairy tale, Happily N'Ever After aspires to Shrek-like clever energy, but leaves out most of the humor in favor of clunky drama. Sarah Michelle Gellar voices a Cinderella who's fallen head over heels for musclebound, moronic blonde prince Patrick Warburton; meanwhile, sarcastic castle servant Freddie Prinze Jr. pines for her, in a plot that can only be resolved via a dully repetitive angst-rock montage comparing the two. (Never mind that they're both rice-pudding bland, with Warburton mostly distinguished by his plummy overacting, and Prinze by his eye-rolling and sulking.) Bringing the relationship to a crisis, Gellar's evil stepmother Sigourney Weaver lays hands on the magical scales that balance good and evil in fairy tales, then tips the scales to "evil." There's a brief giggle in watching traditional stories like "Rumplestiltskin" and "Little Red Riding Hood" take a turn for the worse as a result, but that's about all the satiric snap Happily N'Ever After can muster. Mostly, it just reiterates its few plot points over and over, and tries to look much busier than it actually is.

Problem is, it's criminally short on ideas, and unwilling to take risks—the characters keep talking about fairy tales gone "edgy," but there's never anything significant at stake here. First-time director Paul J. Bolger lingers on sight gags and action moments alike too long; interminable bits where characters just amble around, or Andy Dick (as half of a transparently Timon and Pumbaa-like cat-and-pig comic duo) makes an embarrassing foray into street slang give the impression that the film is headed nowhere interesting, and is just stalling, lest it get there too soon. Even Eddie Murphy's endless hyper Shrek vamping is more entertaining.