''Happily N'Ever After'' a dud: Despite some high-powered voiceovers, Eileen Clarke was happiest when this unlikable cartoon was over. Plus: Luke Perry in ''The Sandlot: Heading Home''; and two books to grow by

By EW Staff
Updated May 03, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

”Happily N’Ever After”? Not so much


Happily N’Ever After
PG, 87 mins., 2006
Once in a while, it’s nice to peer beneath the surface of fairy tales and take a good hard look at the characters we hold near and dear. Take the first Shrek: It was a hit because it took these respected, albeit one-dimensional figures, and made them seem almost human; flawed creatures who were just trying to live their lives but couldn’t since they were being booted off of their land. Shrek centered on three extremely likable characters — a cranky but vulnerable ogre, a flatulating, waffle-loving donkey, and a princess with an understandable fear of sunsets. And herein lies the problem with Happily N’Ever After, which aims to turn FairyLand upside down: There’s not one likable character in the bunch.

Tired of letting ”dorky ingénues” always get the happy ending in fairy tales, Frieda the stepmother (voiced by Sigourney Weaver) decides to throw off the good and evil scales that are carefully guarded by FairyLand’s wizard, but we never really get a chance to feel sorry for Cinderella, or Ella (Sarah Michelle Gellar), since she is pathetically pining for a Prince Charming who is vain, not terribly smart, and not terribly gallant either (he’s referred to as a ”blondie with biceps”).

And while Frieda fiddles with other fairytale endings — not only Sleeping Beauty but her Prince never wakes up; Rumplestiltskin gets that firstborn baby he wanted; and poor Rapunzel has an unexpected fall — Ella realizes that she may find happiness with the Prince’s dishwasher, though the guy comes off less a humble servant boy than a working-class stiff with a huge chip on his shoulder. The only remotely fun characters are the wizard’s assistants, Mambo (Andy Dick), and Munk (Wallace Shawn). But there’s not enough of them to save this movie from being dumped on the never-want-to-see-it-again pile. C-Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 4 and up

The Sandlot: Heading Home
(96 mins., 2007)
In this third installment of the Sandlot series, Luke Perry plays a self-serving major leaguer who never really got the whole ”team player” thing. Thankfully, a bump on the noggin sends him back to a pivotal time in his childhood, where he can choose to either stick with his friends and learn to play for the love of the game, or go down the lonely road he knows could bring stardom. (The majority of the movie is set in 1976, and there are many nods to bicentennial frenzy.)

Perry’s Tommy (played by Keanu Pires) is back with his scrappy sandlot team who face the added drama of a developer who wants to build condos on the land. Adults may wince at the cheesy music and heavy-handed message, but the goofy physical comedy and winsome boys are enough to please youngsters, especially if they’re already caught up in the baseball season.

Extras abound, including an interesting interview with pitching legend Rich Goose Gossage, baseball instruction from Cal Ripken, a blooper reel, deleted scenes, director’s video diary, an on-set featurette, and a demo of the Backyard Baseball video game. B+Abby West
Recommended ages: 6 and up


Penina Levine is a Hard-Boiled Egg
By Rebecca O’Connell; illustrated by Majella Lue Sue
When Penina’s sixth grade teacher — the clearly daft Ms. Anderson — tells the class they must pretend to be the Easter Bunny and write letters to the kindergartners, Penina politely declines: She’s Jewish, and wouldn’t feel comfortable. Ms. Anderson persists, and a battle of wills ensues until a big fat zero is finally recorded in the grade book next to Penina’s name. She doesn’t say a word to her parents, though. It’s when they’ve driven to see her grandparents, at Passover, that she finally spills the story. ”Grandma hugged Penina hard. ‘Oh, my little hard-boiled egg,’ she said. ‘You make your grandmother proud.”’ And the whole situation makes her parents hopping mad: Before Penina knows it, they’ve called the principal, Ms. Anderson is in hot water, and the class has embarked on a study of diversity and family history. Though I doubt any teacher these days is as clueless as Ms. Anderson, the tale is a completely charming one, and the underlying message — about religious tolerance — is imparted as the plot unfolds, without any heavy-handedness. I really liked the spunky Penina, one of the smartest, most engaging characters I’ve encountered in quite some time. B+Tina Jordan
Recommended ages: 8-12

Marshmallow Kisses
By Linda Crotta Brennan; illustrated by Mari Takabayashi
Because I love it so much, I’m happy to see this gentle book — published seven years ago — finally out in paperback. Like its companion title, Flannel Kisses, Marshmallow isn’t a linear story but a pastiche of summer images: ”Hungry children/Slam screens/Buttered corn/Snapped beans.” The beautiful, delicate watercolors are a perfect accompaniment to the spare text. ATJ
Recommended ages: 3-6