Remember Shrek? Cute fairy-tale story, nice animation and music, interesting, original characters and storyline? Happily N'Ever After, I'm sorry to report, is nothing like Shrek. It's not often I can say with certainty less than a week into a new year that I've already seen what's sure to become one of the worst films of the entire year, but in this case, I feel pretty secure in saying that this film will be anchoring my "worst of 2007" list come December.

There was, quite honestly, nothing good about this film, from the cheesy opening voiceover to the predictable ending, so all I can really do for you is enumerate the ways in which this film is utterly wretched, in the hopes that you will stay away from it in droves, thus saving yourselves money and the desire to have the memory of its 73 minutes burned physically from your brain (actually, I suppose you could say its brevity is the one good thing the film has going for it).

Here's what we have: We're in Fairy Tale Land. The goodness and badness of the life stories enacted there (apparently on an endless cycle of repeats that the characters themselves are unaware of) are watched and regulated by the Wizard (a woefully underused George Carlin -- perhaps he was hampered by being unable to use any of the Seven Dirty Words) who controls the outcome of the stories with a giant ... scale. Tip it a wee bit to the "badness" side of the scale, and Little Red Riding Hood ends up as lunch, or perhaps Rapunzel gets a wicked case of dandruff. If this seems like a stupid way to run a world -- what, no checks? no balances? -- it is.

Oh, and guess what? The Wizard has two assistants -- a dorky, serious one (Wallace Shawn, whose distinctive voice you'll instantly recognize, and then you'll rack your brain the rest of the film trying to remember his name because you know he's that guy from The Princess Bride) and a bumbling, stupid one (Andy Dick, whose hyperactive inaneness you'll try to tune out by trying to remember Wallace Shawn's name). I'll give you one guess what happens when the Wizard decides to check out for a vacation in Scotland, leaving these two schleps in charge. (And, by the way, what kind of god-like authority figure, responsible for the fate of life, the universe and everything, checks out without so much as a Magic 8 Ball to check in with to make sure things are going smoothly?) Anyhow (yawn) Frieda, the Evil Stepmother (Sigourney Weaver) gets ahold of the wizard's magic staff and evilness and hilarity ensue. Or not.

The story is narrated by Rick (Freddy Prinze, Jr.), the servant of Prince Humperdink, (Patrick Warburton), the dumbest royal buffoon this side of far, far away. Rick is in love with Ella, aka Cinderella (Prinze Jr's wife, Sarah Michelle Gellar), but she's too busy ogling Humperdink's royal anatomy to notice poor Rick right in front of her. In addition to the Evil Stepmother, who looks more like a campy drag queen than a villainness, we also have the requisite ugly stepsisters, and an assortment of the to-be-expected fairy-tale folk, both good and evil, most of whom look and act like rejects from the Shrek auditions.

I don't know what it is with Prinze, Jr. He's a good-looking kid, he looks like he ought to have talent, and yet he hasn't made a solid script choice since House of Yes. Ditto Gellar, who I really liked back in her Buffy the Vampire Slayer days, but not so much since. If Buffy were in this film, she would totally kick Ella's animated butt for her sappy, superficial mooning about over Prince Stupid. Then Spike and Angel could come in and fight over her, and we'd have a much better film. But alas, that's not the case. Instead we get Buffy and her hubby voicing over these saccharine, annoying characters, and you can't help but picture the cutesy couple making goo-goo eyes at each other in the studio as they recorded their parts.

The plot is so simplistic it was probably sketched out on a cocktail napkin after too many five o'clock martinis. It probably sounded like a really cool idea at the time, and maybe it could have been cute, but whatever vision the filmmakers and producers started out with, I can't imagine it much resembled the mess we see on the screen. Scriptwriters: You are writing for intelligent kids, not still life. It's okay to be smart. Nothing much of any import or interest happens to get us to the end we predicted within the first two minutes, so if for some masochistic reason you do let your kid drag you to this, this would be a good time to catch a nap.

The animation, as aforesaid, is sorely lacking. The characters walk with a gait that makes them look as if they had a beanstalk up their nether-regions, and the editing is so choppy it felt almost as if we were watching a rough-cut. Even the music didn't seem to fit quite right, like trying to cram yourself into those jeans you wore two babies ago. Everything about the film, from Weaver's voice-acting, which varied from over-the-top melodrama to barely disguised boredom, to the bad guys to the resolution was just ... lame.

Gellar tries to invest Ella with some spunk and sass, but this is one of the weakest female characters I've seen in an animated film in a long time. Prinz Jr. gives it his game best, I suppose, but even he seems to be stifling laughter at some of the lines he's forced to recite. Perhaps someone had some juicy blackmail material on the golden couple or something, I can't imagine why else they would read this script and sign on. The couple of times I laughed during the film, it was in utter disbelief at one awful line or another.

If you're looking for a film to take the kids to, avoid this one like you would a nasty stomach flu. Charlotte's Web is still out, or you can find a screening of Happy Feet , or just rent some DVDs of Shrek and Shrek 2 and stay home instead. We have to unite here, people, and stop spending money going to see films this bad. It only encourages the studios to make more, and we really don't need anymore years packed with mediocre family entertainment, do we?