By Terry Kelleher
October 13, 1997 12:00 PM

HBO (Sun., Oct. 12, 7 p.m. ET)


Just stop your dissin’ and get off your hind tuffet and listen.” Thus speaks the Spider to Little Miss Muffet in this rollicking, if a trifle rude, special episode of HBO’s animated series Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child. Mother Goose-berg (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg) abruptly retires from rhyming because she’s fed up with her characters’ carping (one of the Little Piggies demands to know why he never gets roast beef). But without Mother, the inhabitants of Gooseberg Land have neither reason nor rhyme. Old King Cole (Jimmy Smits), who looks more like the king called Elvis, holds open auditions to find Mother’s replacement, but a tough audience heckles the aspirants into submission. The only hope: Lure the lady back to work by throwing her a lavish party and sucking up royally.

The script is hip but comprehensible to prekindergartners, and the star voices run the gamut from rappers Salt-N-Pepa as the Three Little Kittens to Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford as Jack and Jill. Funniest of all is Denzel Washington as a Humpty Dumpty prone to prolixity and nervous perspiration.