Everyone knows the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, right? Well, this is a take on what happened after Snow White rode off into the sunset with her prince.
The Wicked Queen is dead, having failed to kill Snow White with the poisoned apple. Arriving at her castle is her brother, Lord Maliss, a powerful sorcerer who vows revenge against Snow White. He transforms into a dragon and eventually finds Snow White with her prince who are going to visit the Seven Dwarfs' cottage in order to invite them to their wedding. Lord Maliss manages to grab Snow White, but drops her in the woods. As for the the prince, he tries to fight Lord Maliss, but is easily defeated and captured, whoops.
Snow White runs through the forest, something she has plenty of experience in, and finds the Dwarfs' cottage. But it's no longer inhabited by Dwarfs; in their place are their cousins the seven Dwarfelles. Unlike the Dwarfs, who were simple miners, the Dwarfelles each have magical powers that control different aspects of nature. The one we need to pay the most attention to is Thunderella, who is having self-esteem problems because she can't control the weather as well as she has to.
Snow White eventually learns that she has to travel to Lord Maliss' domain in order to find her Prince, and the Dwarfelles happily tag along to help out. Of course, Lord Maliss is looking forward to Snow White's arrival, because he has something very sinister planned for her demise.
This film, which was released in 1993, is I think one of the earliest attempts to revisit a famous fairytale by expanding the story beyond what know, instead of just re-telling the same story through its familiar beginnings and endings. Ten years later, revisiting fairytales has been done dozens of times over for so many different movies and cartoons, and though I'm a little tired of this trend, discovering Happily Ever After was a small pleasure for me, especially because at the the time it was made, it was still a shiny new idea.
I initially caught this movie on cable tv by chance some time in 2005, I think I was ironing socks or something just as mundane, and I turned the telly on for noise. When I did, a familiar voice filled the air: it turned out to be lovely vocals of Irene Cara, whom people remember fondly for the songs "Fame" and "Flashdance (What a Feeling)". Her singing opened this film over the credits and caught my attention. Sadly, when I bought the DVD (this version), that opening was REMOVED. Instead, after the magic mirror's introduction, it cuts immediately to Lord Maliss arriving at the Wicked Queen's castle. What's up with that? Boo!
Anyway. Happily Ever After is obviously in part inspired by the success of Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but it makes quite a bit of effort to create its own look and style, so in the end, it's a sequel to the general pop culture idea of Snow White, instead of any specific cartoon or movie. However, it follows the rule of all sequels, which is: bigger, bigger, BIGGER. The story of Snow White is a "small" fairytale, so Happily Ever After makes it larger and more dramatic, bringing in lots more magic and a great deal of adventure travelling.
For much of the movie, we're following Snow White's adventure, as she's separated from the Prince and has to find him again. This Snow White, though still sweet and pure as Snow White should be, has a bit of a fiery streak in her, which is established early on when she unblinkingly faces off against a dragon while she's armed with nothing more than a branch. Strong believable heroines are still a rare and exceptional species, so it was quite a bit of fresh air that an animated movie of the late 80s (which was when the film was made, only to be shelved until its 1993 release) would have a heroine who is very feminine and willing to fight for her man at the same time.
The Dwarefelles follow the rules of most adaptations of the Snow White in that each of them have their own distinct personality. Muddy, who controls the earth, is the intelligent(ish) leader; Sunburn, who controls the sun, is cranky and hot-headed; Blossom, who works with plants, is the feminine lover-not-fighter; Critterina, who communicates with animals, is the adventure-seeker; Moonbeam, whose powers we never really see, spends most of the time sleepwalking; Marina, who controls the rivers and lakes, is the maternal figure; Thunderella, who controls storms, is the insecure youngest. Thunderella, who voiced by Tracey Ullman, is the cutesy character who bonds with Snow White and helps save the day in the end.
Oh, and it wouldn't be fair to not mention Malcolm McDowell's glorious over-the-top turn as Lord
Maliss. McDowell's no strange to villainous acting (I loved him as The Wolf in Faerie Tale Theatre's
Little Red Riding Hood), and he takes to this role with enthusiasm, screaming and laughing
fantastically like the drama
queen king he is. I was a little sad there were no flashbacks to
his sister, whom I'm sure was as crazy as he is.
If you look a little closer, besides the characters of Snow White, The Prince and the Magic Mirror, Happily Ever After doesn't revisit much of the fairytale that we know. It does its own thing, right down to a Snow White who doesn't sing on-screen. That said, props to them for making the Prince a red-head. There's a severe shortage in red-headed heroes, that's for sure.
I have to confess that it's the ending that really sells the whole thing to me. It's melodramatic, but what animated movie isn't? When faced with a terrible villain, the final confrontation is the moment for the heroes come together to save the day, giving us the audience the pay-off we've been waiting for. And the heroes deliver with a satisfying and logical (although not surprising) conclusion where, yet again, Snow White has her moment of awesomeness. As a bonus, the animation for Snow White is really good, capturing a range of emotions from shock to terror to sorrow to anger.
I have the strongest feeling that if I had discovered this movie much earlier when I was a younger wide-eyed twinkie, it would have been much more magical and cemented its place in my memory lane. As it is, I can only watch it with a sense of nostalgia for the 80s.