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Friday, May 28, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Snow White Cartoon Nice To Look At But Too Preachy

XX 1/2 "Happily Ever After," featuring the voices of Ed Asner, Tracey Ullman, Irene Cara, Malcolm McDowell, Sally Kellerman, Dom DeLuise, Carol Channing, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Phyllis Diller. Directed by John Howley, from a screenplay by Martha Moran and Robby London. Totem Lake, SeaTac 12, Lewis & Clark, Newmark, Everett 9, Alderwood, Aurora Cinemas. "G" - Suitable for all ages. ------------------------------------------------------------------- It's gotten to the point where it's no longer fair to hold every animated feature up to the venerable Disney standard. After "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin," everything else is second best.

But that certainly doesn't imply a Disney monopoly, and in the case of "Happily Ever After," veteran animation producer Lou Scheimer has geared up his Filmation company to meet Disney on its own turf, with this ambitious and vibrantly animated sequel to "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

Originally scheduled for release three years ago, it's a worthy effort that deserves to be a hit with kids, even if it ultimately lacks the sheer inspiration that has fueled the recent Disney triumphs. There's obvious care and enthusiasm in every frame of this work, which defies the current state of the art by eschewing the advent of computers.

The result is a never quite magical but mildly enchanting adventure that picks up where "Snow White" left off: The evil Queen is dead, and her castle has been overtaken by a menagerie of crazy creatures including Scowl the Owl (voice of Ed Asner) and his batty sidekick, Batso.

Scowl loves to brag about his supreme badness, but he's small potatoes compared to the Queen's surviving brother, Lord Maliss (Malcolm McDowell), a sinister shape-shifter who, after consulting his late sister's magic looking glass (Dom DeLuise), vows revenge against Snow White (Irene Cara) and her fiance, the Prince.

The young lovers set out to invite the Seven Dwarfs to their wedding, but after the Prince is captured by Lord Maliss, Snow White recruits the Seven Dwarfelles - the Dwarfs' cousins - to enter the Lord's Realm of Doom and rescue the Prince. This, clearly, is a Snow White for the '90s.

As are the Dwarfelles, each of whom represents an earthly force of nature - all under review by Mother Nature (Phyllis Diller) - such as Sunburn (Sally Kellerman), Blossom (Zsa Zsa Gabor) or the timid, bumbling Thunderella (Tracey Ullman), whose control of weather becomes a crucial gift.

That's an unprecedented lineup of vocal talent, all of whom have a field day with their alter egos, particularly McDowell, who brings an epic theatrical flair to the melodramatic Maliss.

Although the Dwarfelles are never given the fully memorable personalities that the classic Dwarfs had, the animation is easily on par with the voices, though it's more impressive in its dazzling palette of colors than in the actual execution of the hyperactive plot.

But there are more than a few moments when "Happily Ever After" seems derivative, especially in the rather tepidly trendy musical numbers, which have a tendency to stop the story in its tracks.

The plot also seems more concerned with teaching lessons than spinning a good yarn - a trap that the Disney classics have always avoided by delivering their morals in a less obvious package.

Still, this one's a cut above in the animation contest, deserving attention in the once-exclusive realm of Disney and Don Bluth. It almost, but not quite, escapes those nagging comparisons.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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