Monday, June 21, 1993.ONCE UPON A FOREST. Written by Mark Young and Kelly Ward. Based on 1989's A Furling's Story and characters created by Rae Lambert. Music by James Horner. Directed by Charles Grosvenor. Running time: 71 minutes. General entertainment.
EMPTY CALORIES ARE UNHEALTHY.
Responsible parents know that feeding kids junk food is a mild form of child abuse. That's why we all read the ingredient labels, isn't it?
Empty animation is just as bad. Utterly artless cartooning eventually turns little brains into cottage cheese, making them fair game for religious cults and medical quackery.
Be warned, then, that Once Upon a Forest is the theatrical equivalent of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs. A syrupy, entirely synthetic confection, it's the latest embarrassment from Hanna-Barbera, purveyor of pap to television's Saturday morning cartoon ghetto for more than 30 years.
Be wary of the claim that this feature is "from the creator of An American Tail." When it was released in 1986, much was made of An American Tail being a Steven Spielberg production.
The picture was co-produced and directed by Disney alumnus Don Bluth. Its screenplay was credited to Judy Fruedberg and Tony Geiss, based on a story by Fruedberg, Geiss and David Kirschner.
The last named Kirschner is currently chairman of Hanna-Barbera. He's the only one of the above named lot associated with first-time feature director Charles Grosvenor's dreary Once Upon a Forest.
On offer is another example of the push-button plotting that the creatively bankrupt fob off as children's fare. The setting is Dapplewood, a generic nature park turned into a disaster area when a tanker truck full of poison gas runs off the road.
As a result, survivor "furlings" Abigail Mouse (Ellen Blain), Russell Hedgehog (Paige Gosney) and Edgar Mole (Ben Gregory) must undertake a quest for medicinal herbs to save the life of their little friend, Michelle Badger (Elizabeth Moss).
"Avoid the humans and try to work together," advises wise Uncle Cornelius Badger (Michael Crawford). Obstacles to their success are time, a hungry, half-blind owl, and the valley of the "yellow dragons" — a construction site full of power shovels, bulldozers and backhoes.
Their edge is Cornelius's blueprint for a "flapper-wing-a-ma-thing" which, when built, will give them the power of flight. If the characterizations are rudimentary, the situations are more so.
Combine that with lacklustre, undistinguished animation — subcontracted to a half-dozen offshore cartoon shops, including Toronto's Phoenix Animation Studios — and there really is nothing in this listless disappointment for parents hoping to spend a little quality time with their kids.
The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1993. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.
Afterword: I have to wonder if the world would be less in danger of climatic disaster if movies such as Once Upon a Forest had been more interested in raising genuine eco-consciousness than in merchandising. As it turned out, TV animator Charles Grosvenor's feature tanked at the box office, but not before spawning the usual flood of tie-in books, games, toys and soundtrack CDs. We are where we are today in part because so many corporate entities gave lip service to green sentiments, while actively thwarting any real change in their own business practices. Only now are we coming to appreciate the negative effect of so many years of mixed messages on our society's ability to take any action at all on the real issues. Sorry, kids, your boomer parents really messed up.
See also: More sincere, and considerably more entertaining, was director Bill Kroyer's 1992 attempt at animated eco-activism, FernGully: The Last Rainforest.