As I watch these movies, it is easier to pass judgement on some genres than on others. For instance, I can confidently knock comedies and action movies. I've seen any number of these in my life and I get them. On the other hand, I don't like most romantic comedies, so I can't tell if I'm too tough on that genre. Along those lines, you wouldn't think that I could fairly evaluate kids' movies. I don't watch them often, if at all, and since I'm not the target audience it's not entirely fair to say the movie is bad if it fails to reach me. You wouldn't think that, but the quality of the best kids' movies, especially CGI ones, has been so high as of late that many adults -- me included -- have gone to see them. Rather than going to see Eclipse yesterday, I went to see Toy Story 3 for the second time (it definitely holds up, as an aside). I saw at least the first Shrek in the theater and have seen the others on DVD (besides the one that just came out, of course). I've watched every Pixar movie and own a number of them on DVD. I even pop in Aladdin and The Lion King every so often. The best kids' movies have been pretty good lately. The problem is that I'm only watching the best. In front of Toy Story 3, there are a lot of previews for movies that I had no desire to see. Disney apparently kicks out a lot of straight-to-DVD stuff, most of which I have to assume is fairly mindless garbage. So, there are a lot of weak offerings, but Happily N'Ever After, the 38th worst-reviewed movie of the last decade on Rotten Tomatoes, has to be among the weakest.
At least the first couple of Shrek movies were pretty good and Pixar puts out great film after great film. These movies didn't really have to be good, though. Maybe Pixar doesn't make $226 million in two weeks if Toy Story 3 isn't as ridiculously good as it is, but they could have made an awful lot of money by putting Woody and Buzz on the big screen and not really trying that hard to entertain. One imagines that the fact that the movie opened to $110 million was enough to make it a success financially.
Of course, Pixar has some built in capital with the movie-going public (and, of course, they refuse to squander that). Happily N'Ever After suffers from a complete lack of care in its execution. Even though it came out in 2006, it has CGI that is barely a step above Dire Straits' "Money For Nothing" video. The characters have no, well, character to them. The film is narrated by its star, Freddie Prinze, Jr., so there you go with that. It's probably good that the main song is forgettable, because I vaguely remember it being annoying and nonsensical. The jokes fall flat and the plot itself is lazy. In "Fairy Tale Land" there is a wizard who watches to make sure every story goes the way they are supposed to go. There are scales that balance between good and evil and if someone tips the scales towards evil, as someone obviously does at some point, things go horribly wrong. It is never discussed what happens if the scales are tipped towards good. Cinderella and Prince Charming's servant (who has a crush on her, the prince doesn't seem to really care or be any kind of dramatic factor) have to make sure the scales are put right. I'm unclear, if all of the fairy tales are happening at the same time in this world, why the scales even exist. Once the stories end with "happily ever after" nobody should have to watch over them. It's confusing, but I'll leave it. Not worth caring about.
That's not to say that there aren't minor disappointments. Wallace Shawn does a voice and it's sad because he's in the Toy Story movies. George Carlin did a little part; it was his last movie ever. Two theme songs were performed by They Might Be Giants and Squirrel Nut Zippers and you'd hope that they'd have the sense to know this was going to be bad. And again, you could tell this was going to be bad just by looking at it. Maybe Pixar is leaps and bounds in front of everyone else visually, but this one really doesn't stand up at all. Happily N'Ever After cost $47 million to make and brought in $15 million at the box office. It opened to $6 million and quickly dropped off. People could tell it was weak.
Are Pixar -- and Dreamworks, to a lesser extent -- so strong that nobody else can realistically compete in quality when it comes to animated films? Probably not, when a movie like Focus Features' Coraline could be so well-received last year. There's a lot of money to go around with kids' movies and there's room for films of great quality to break through. I may not be a kid anymore and I may not yet have one and, at that point, realize that anything with a talking pig in it is worth putting on TV to get the brat to shut up. So, I may not know kids' movies in total, but I do know lazy and that jumps across every genre. I'm happy that people can see through that.