It may star the fairest of them all, but the new cartoon feature Happily Ever After is one ugly piece of marketing opportunism. A sequel to the Snow White fairy tale, the movie sat unreleased for five years. It could be the fair lady's most embarrassing moment since her 1989 Oscar-night production number with Rob Lowe.
Happily Ever After bears little relation to either the 19th-century Brothers Grimm story or Disney's 1937 feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs except that it's arriving on 1,100 theater screens exactly one month before Disney reissues its film to theaters for the eighth time. In fact, Ever After was spawned by the same now-defunct animation studio that brought you such stupefying TV fare as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.
But that small-screen lineage isn't exactly played up in the $7 million publicity campaign heralding Ever After's release. Newspaper ads declare it ''A New Animated Masterpiece!'' and use curlicue lettering reminiscent of the Disney film's logo. Given the new movie's stiff, amateurish animation, that's about as fallacious a come-on as the evil queen's reassurance that there's nothing suspect about that shiny red apple.
Not that you'll find the vanquished queen, or much else of the original tale, in this cartoon. Apparently in deference to legal threats from Disney, Happily Ever After jettisons the seven dwarfs. The Seven Dwarfelles the dwarfs' female cousins have now taken over the old cottage; they help Snow White overcome Lord Maliss, a brother to the queen who kidnaps Snow's prince to avenge his sister's death. Watching this contentious gang, especially red-faced Sunburn (voiced by Sally Kellerman), slobbo Muddy (Carol Channing), compulsive decorator Blossom (Zsa Zsa Gabor), and Thunderella, the baby-girl screwup who learns self-confidence (Tracey Ullman), you'll be appalled at how shamelessly and charmlessly they crossbreed existing characters like the Smurfs, the Troll dolls, and the cast of Disney's TV show Rescue Rangers.
In the voice casting, the producers have tried to match actors' personas and the characters, a la Robin Williams' vocal turn as the Genie in Aladdin. But the ''all-star'' approach backfires because the animation is so inexpressive. No matter how impassioned Irene Cara (''Fame,'' ''Flashdance...What a Feeling'') makes her line readings as Snow White, the character remains stubbornly doe-eyed and blank looking. Many of the supporting character designs, from Ed Asner's rapping owl, Scowl, to Dom DeLuise's magic mirror (here named Looking Glass), blatantly rip off earlier Disney models from Bambi and Alice in Wonderland. Meanwhile, the listless vocal performances themselves sound literally phoned in. Do yourself and your kids a big favor: Wait till the Disney version arrives next month, and give this Snow White the big kiss-off. F