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Once Upon a Forest

20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 68 mins . G . PAL


Put together from worldwide sources in 1992, Once Upon A Forest sees a rather trite tale of forest creatures versus man in a very usual manner. Shot mostly to film from painted cels, rather than the more modern scanning of 2D pencils, the wear and tear and horrors of cel shooting are more than evident throughout the 68 minutes of this feature.

Based on a Welsh story by Rae Lambert, we meet various young creatures (known collectively as ‘furlings’) under the tutelage of Cornelius, a wizened old badger. Whilst on their learning ramble one morning, they first connect with humans and learn they are to be feared among all other creatures (damn right!).

"Great Hulk! Look what you’ve done!"

Through human error a gross environmental disaster occurs that lays waste to whole regions of their precious forest and sickens their young friend, Michelle, granddaughter to Cornelius. To save her, the furlings must travel to another meadow and gather certain herbs that will revive her, but before the full moon in two days. Thus begins their greatest adventure as they must learn to work together to save their friend.

Featuring a rather eclectic mixture of various influences, this film runs more as a series of linked vignettes than a coherent whole. Produced in various studios across the world, the film certainly has a universal feel, particularly in mannerisms of character and such. However, the kids this film is aimed at won’t pick up on that, and indeed anyone who doesn’t religiously follow animation will probably miss it as well.

Incorporating some very subtle and quite nice early use of digital effects, the film is visually rather pretty with boundless colours and cheerful imagery, yet lurking beneath is quite a grim theme of mankind versus nature. Sometimes quite obvious and at others more subtle, this underlying theme is still hard to miss. And yet, even as we see it clearly, there is a new hope attached to it and a sort of resolution. While not among the best animated features I’ve ever seen, it’s far from the worst and one the kids will find relatively entertaining. Comparisons could be drawn to the bigger-budgeted Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest, so if they liked this they’ll like Once Upon A Forest.


Well, it’s only presented in 4:3 which is the first failing here. However, the kids won’t care a great deal either way, I’ll bet. Another failing is in the awful clarity of picture quality. I know, hard to believe that could be called a failing, but here, in the crystal clear clarity of DVD, every fault of cel animation is hideously exposed for all to see. Brazenly strutting their stuff are the myriad flecks of crap that cels attract with their static prowess. Fibres, dust, hair and general detritus are everywhere throughout and this is the DVD's biggest failing visually. On the darker scenes it’s like a sparkling night sky at times, there’s that much crap everywhere. What a shame.

As to everything else, being animated it looks fairly nice. Colours are great, backgrounds are pretty and the layouts all seem to have been worked toward the 4:3 ratio rather than a widescreen effort. However, I do recall this film in cinemas way back when and so perhaps I’m mistaken on that one. One thing I’ve already touched on that’s worth bringing up is in the early digital animation. This is very nice and doesn’t draw attention to itself as some still does in films, even today. In fact, even to the trained eye, there was that wondering of ‘is it or isn’t it?’ Nice stuff, well executed and well worth mentioning.


Music carries the bulk of this film mood wise, and to that end the score by James Horner (Titanic, The Mask of Zorro) is very nice. Building tension, portraying emotion or enhancing the action the music performed by the London Symphony Orchestra is perfect for the film and is a real plus.

Dialogue is all easily understood, as is usually the case with mainstream animation of this nature (it’s pretty hard to lip synch a character you can’t understand...). Michael Crawford is the only really recognisable name, though the ‘wonderful Ben Vereen’ is also mentioned in the trailer. Sound effects are the usual effort in being comical or whatever according to the storyline and they are fine here, especially when the furlings encounter the yellow dragons that make so much familiar noise.


We’re only delivered the theatrical trailer here folks, I’m sorry to say. Unusual for an animated feature to have so few extras in such a flooded marketplace but there you have it. The trailer runs in 4:3 (naturally) for 2:18 and has the usual sort of pissy voiceover.


Friendship and loyalty are our more obvious morals here, but there is that grim undercurrent about how nasty we humans can get in relation to nature. I felt this ‘human’ angle overshadowed the friendship moral a little too often, but both are valid messages in their own right. There’s plenty here for the kids to enjoy in the film itself, regardless of the cel artefacts present, but the lack of extras may find parents or guardians or older brothers heading for a disc with a little more on offer for the same bucks.

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      And I quote...
    "A simple film in a simple format, presented on a simple disc with a simple extra."
    - Jules Faber
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          Nintaus DVD-N9901
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          Sony 51cm
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