Western Animation: Il était une fois...

aka: Once Upon A Time

Il était une fois... (Once Upon a Time... in English) is a French animated franchise which ran from 1977 until deep into the 2000s. It was created by Albert Barillé and released by Procidis. Each series revolved around some main subject, intended to educate the young viewers about history, biology or science.

The nine different series:

  • Il était une fois... l'Homme (1977) (Once Upon a Time... Man). The first series. Explaining all about human history from the creation of the universe until World War II. In the final episode, it branches slighty as part of future predictions concerning pollution and warfare, by presenting an optimistic path.

  • Il était une fois... l'Espace (1982) (Once Upon a Time... Space). The second series. The only series that is pure fiction and with little educational intent. It's a science-fiction story taking place in the far future when space travel is in vogue.

  • Il était une fois... la Vie (1986) (Once Upon a Time... Life). The third series in which the human body is explored.

  • Il était une fois... l'Amérique (1989) (Once Upon a Time... the Americas). The fourth series, telling a chronological history of North, Middle and South America.

  • Il était une fois... les Découvreurs (1994) (Once Upon a Time... the Discoverers). The fifth series, a chronological history of famous inventors.

  • Il était une fois... les Explorateurs (1996) (Once Upon a Time... the Explorers). The sixth series, a chronological history about famous explorers.

  • Il était une fois... la Musique (2008) (Once Upon a Time... Music). The seventh series, about the history of music, only released in spain.

  • Il était une fois... notre Terre (2008) (Once Upon a Time... Planet Earth). The seventh and final series, about environmental issues.

Once Upon a Time... Tropes:

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    Once Upon a Time... every series 
  • And Knowing Is Half the Battle: All series are educational in tone. Sometimes they tend to be a bit too difficult and/or confusing for the target audience by assuming that they already know a lot about the topic. Especially in Il était une fois... l'Homme, certain historical events or people are quickly glossed over or merely name-dropped. Too much time will be spent on zany Slapstick antics involving the main characters instead of explaining historical events more clearly.
  • Big Bad: Two men are always cast as the villains. The large one is a brute and the small one is the sneaky one too frightened to actually do anything himself.
  • Cool Old Guy: Maestro
  • Cranial Eruption: Damaging head injuries result in one.
  • The Dark Age of Animation: Made during this time period and it often shows. Particularly Il était une fois... l'Homme suffers from stiff animation, not always matching up with the soundtrack and characters making/striking weird facial expressions and poses.
  • From Beyond the Fourth Wall: The clock at the corner of the screen sometimes reminds characters of an error they're making. For example, Maestro using modern numbers in 350 BC, or a Viking woman upset that her lover isn't monogamous.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: There are occasional adult themes, such as sex and nudity. Sometimes merely suggested, other times casually shown. They probably got away with it because it's all meant to be educational.
  • Hammerspace Hair: Maestro tends to hold large objects in his hair, and in one episode of the first series, merges two small boards into a longer board.
  • Limited Animation
  • Minimalist Cast: Four good children, two bad and one old wise man who serves as the narrator. In the historical episodes a anthropomorphized clock appears.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Maestro appears to be based on Leonardo da Vinci.
  • Once per Episode: Usually the sneaky small villainous character tries to get what he wants, but is thwarted by the good characters. He will run to the big villain for help, but the muscular good character always fights and defeats the big villain, causing the little villain to run away in fear.
  • Once Upon a Time: Every series has this phrase in its title.
  • Regular Character: The same characters are shown in each episode — with each episode being a different section of history.
  • Universal-Adaptor Cast: No matter whether they are children or adults, in space or in the human body or what historical time period they're in, the same characters in their distinctive characteristic roles are always re-used.
  • Wizard Beard: Maestro, in the wise old guy sense.

    Once Upon a Time... Man 
  • A Day in the Limelight: The "french revolution" episode features Pierrine more than usual, being the leader of the women storming the Bastille.
  • After the End: Ironically enough during the intro of Il était une fois... l'Homme, where people escape Earth before it blows up.
  • Ascended To Carnivorism: Edmontosaurus was shown eating Triceratops eggs.
  • Bubbly Clouds: A pilot in World War I dives out of the plane, lands on a cloud to catch breath, before using the parachute to reach the ground.
  • Bungling Inventor: While Maestro does show inventions, there are plenty of episodes where they break down. In some cases, the mechanical devices explode.
  • By the Hair: A variation, where the pre-humans pulled their desired women by the hair. The women offered no resistance, as if they wanted to be dragged along.
  • Charlie Chaplin Shout-Out: In the episode about the interbellum the characters watch a Charlie Chaplin film in the theater. It features Chaplin falling down and the audience laughing as a result.
  • Conscription: There's at least two means of conscription shown. The eleventh episode shows a man dragging two to the volunteer booth for the crusades. Later episodes use thugs to force signatures, and an even later one has them sign while drunk.
  • Creator Provincialism: Once Upon a Time... Man has its own problems on occasion. In 26 episodes, aired between 1979 and 1981, the show covers world history from the birth of planet Earth and the evolution of life up to the 1970s. While fairly accurate and attempting to be objective, the show covers important events and eras as seen from a Western perspective. Most of the action takes place in Europe, Western Asia and North Africa. Figures like Pericles, Julius Caesar, Muhammad, Charlemagne and Peter I of Russia get entire episodes devoted to them. But the cultures of the rest of Asia, Africa and pre-Colombian America are hardly represented. For example, out of the entire history of China, only Kublai Khan gets the spotlight treatment and then only through his interactions with Marco Polo.

    Unlike a number of examples, this can at least be justified as budget constraints. You can only condense so much global history into 26 episodes at 25 minutes each without becoming too general; as such, it makes sense for an educational children's TV series to show the history of places that are the most immediately important for them — which is, for a French kid, Europe and surroundings.

    The creators tried to make up for this by making a sequel entitled Once Upon a Time... the Americas, which focused on the history of the Americas, including pre-Colombian times.
  • Down in the Dumps: The final episode shows attempts to clean up a junkyard that's become aggressive.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: The English version plays the trope straight. However, the original French version has Caesar saying "Toi aussi, mon fils" (You too my son).
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: While it was kept within certain limits, the depiction of historical realities like murderous brutality, implied sexual violence and death can be rather startling with the cartoony imagery of the series.
  • Fat Girl: The episode concerning trains had a minor obese character having trouble squeezing in through the train's doorway.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The guillotine is only shown chopping the head off a cigar, to symbolize an execution.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: The Vikings had difficulty assaulting a fortress. Because of the failure, they approached the castle to parley, saying that their chief was killed in battle — and as such, they wish to convert to Christianity; the chief is to be buried with his weapons as per their tradition. Once inside, the chief jumped out of the coffin, passed the weapons the allies, and started the rampage.
  • Judgment of Solomon: Depicted as originally described. Then, a later episode spoofs the judgement with two men fighting over ownership of a pig, with a suggestion to cut the pig in half.
  • National Geographic Nudity: Early episodes had the humans with a breast drawn and uncovered — usually when the woman was carrying her baby. However, there were one or two Discretion Shots or Scenery Censor mixed in.
  • Non-Fatal Explosions: During the Storming of the Bastille, a child cheering on the attackers.
  • No Sell: Jumbo shrugs off any attack. Even weapons used against him break, whether they're clubs, swords, or whips.
  • Pillow Pistol: Shown in the French revolution episode. As an artistic licence in gun safety, Maestro kicked the bed when he saw bed bugs approaching.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: "Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565" by Johann Sebastian Bach was used as the introduction theme. You may sometimes hear other classical Standard Snippets as well.
  • Raptor Attack: Archaeopteryx incorrectly has four fingers on its wings, with the feathers attached at its wrist.
  • Right on Queue: Episode 14, where assassins burst into a house, having the door slammed after the third one. The first three are hung from the window above. The door then opens, asking for the next in line to enter.
  • Road Sign Reversal: In the episode with the 1910-era automobile racing, one group was ahead of the pack, and decided to mess everyone behind by adjusting a road sign to Bordeaux. However, the previous scene showed the sign being spun by a breeze, and the cheaters actually corrected the sign before going down the wrong road.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Progress, symbolized by the opening track, which also fast-tracks the entire story from creation to the space age. The main character (Pierre), is seen walking in a steady line through several epochs and periods of human history, changing his clothing on the way. When the medieval era begins, he suddenly stops horrified when the "barbaric" tribes arrive (and then the vikings). The next stop for Pierre is when Jumbo beckons him to assist in building a cathedral. The "walking forward" is also halted by a right-wing turn at the castle of Versailles before a short depiction of the french revolution. From then on, progress goes faster and faster, by train, and then by cars, until the car becomes a plane, and finally a space rocket.
    • Especially the "right-wing" turn reminds us that there is some political anvils hidden in this narration.
  • Shout-Out: In the penultimate episode of Il était une fois... l'Homme, the characters watch Charlie Chaplin and Mickey Mouse in the movie theater.
  • Stock Sound Effects: In Il était une fois... l'Homme, sometimes movie or audio clips are used from 1920s and 1930s films, like Faust by FW Murnau and Valentine by Maurice Chevalier.
  • Slapstick: A lot of humor is based off of Amusing Injuries.
  • Stock Dinosaurs: Archaeopteryx, Stegosaurus, Allosaurus, Apatosaurus (called Brontosaurus), Diplodocus, Brachiosaurus, Pteranodon, Elasmosaurus, Tylosaurus, Edmontosaurus (called Anatosaurus and is incorrectly depicted with a crest), Triceratops, and Tyrannosaurus rex all appear in the first episode.
  • Totem Pole Trench: The second episode has two children use a grass skirt to look taller.
  • Walk This Way: The episode for Louis XIV has one drill sergeant try to train new recruits. The instructor trips over a rock, tossing the rifle into the air, and hitting the other instructor. The three recruits do the exact same thing, landing their thrown rifles on the same instructor.

    Once Upon a Time... Space 
  • 2-D Space: In the penultimate episode, the admiral of the Cassiopeian fleet talks several times about lines of ships, when in a three-dimensional space one would be talking of walls, even if both his fleet and the Humanoid one are deployed so. As if space was an ocean.
  • Absent-Minded Professor: Maestro as commented in the tropes for all series.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: General Pest, Glorious Leader of Cassiopeia — said to be chosen because masses follow him. From using slaves to build a massive base in a planet near of a star close to going supernova (and when it happens prefering to save first the hardware and later the people) to allying with the Humanoids hoping to betray them later.
  • Artificial Intelligence. The Great Computer.
  • Artistic License – Astronomy. Despite this cartoon having an educational side teaching basic astronomical concepts, there're some examples of this trope. Most notably, the different alien races are said to come from different constellations — examples include Auriga, Cassiopeia, Centaurus, and many others, with Cassiopeia even using the W formed by the brightest stars as seen from Earth as their symbol, when from their homestars those constellations would be unrecognizable as the stars that form them are usually at very different distances one of each other. This goes even further in the episode three ("The Green Planet"), where we see and are said how Cassiopeia controls several and even two crude starmaps showing those asterisms can be seen as background.
  • Asteroid Thicket: Several examples, starting with Sol's one as appears quite prominently on the show's opening credits. Avoided, however, with the rings of Saturn who appear as dense as in Real Life.
  • Battle Theme Music: Four different music pieces are used for combat scenes.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The episode "The Giants" takes place in a planet inhabited by giant insects such as thermites. There's a Giant Spider there, too.
  • Cool Starship: Lots of them, from the Cassiopeian Murene and Nautilus to the Omega Confederation heavy cruisers or the Ursus freighter.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • The near-complete destruction of the Cassiopeian Navy by the Humanoids in the episode "The Battle of the Titans".
    • The ending of the series, with the Humanoids being destroyed by the beings of light met by Psi in the episode "The Infinity of Space" counts too.
  • Deflector Shields: There're at least two types: magnetic ones, used by the Confederation to deflect metallic asteroids, and subnucleonic ones, used by the Humanoids.
  • Do-Anything Robot: Metro, the robot built by Maestro and sidekick of the two main protagonists, who looks a lot like its maker. Of the many abilities it has, the most used are a pair of antennae that can be used to hack into another robots or computers, Eye Beams (Ray Guns), wheels, and can open the plates of its body to become a helicopter.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom:
    • The Humanoids try their planet-destroying ship, actually formed of six smaller vessels that join together, with what looks like a Moon-like planet. After defeating the Cassiopeians, the Great Computer menaces to do that with their homeworld if they do not surrender.
    • There're two others involving stars, one of them natural when an unstable star (Kohler's Sun if memory is correct) goes supernova, in the episode "A Planet Blown to Pieces", and the other of them induced by energy beings to destroy the Humanoid fleet in the last one.
  • Energy Beings: Psi, the female protagonist who has psionic habilities, knows some of them who destroy the Great Computer and its fleet in the last episode.
  • Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: The episode "In the Land of the Dinosaurs" has our heroes visiting a planet populated by those animals. They're presented, however, as the old pre-Dinosaur Renaissance ones with water-based sauropods or a Tyrannosaurus rex walking upright.
  • The Federation: The Omega Confederation.
  • The Future: The show takes place in the year 3000.
  • The Future Will Be Better: Even if there's evil aliens and other menaces, the show presents a galaxy where different alien races live in peace and the Earth is recovering (see Humans Are Bastards below).
  • Hammer Space: Metro. As his maker within his beard, he stores a lot of things between the plates that make its body. He qualifies, too, as Hyperspace Arsenal.
  • Hollywood Tactics: Fleet officers of all sides seem to be very fond of having their ships flying in very compact formations, even if there's more than plenty of space to deploy their ships and if it's a very bad idea as can be seen next:
    • At the end of the episode "A Planet Blown to Pieces", when a fleet of five Cassiopeian warships go to the planet where they have their base even if that planet was destroyed by the Kohler's Sun becoming supernova. The flaming meteors produced by the supernova (don't ask) impact in one of the ships blowing it up, its debris hitting the other four and destroying all but one of them.
    • "The Battle of the Titans" features even better ones starting with the (admittely cool and even more with the background music) shots of the Cassiopeian navy marching to battle, during the battle with the Humanoid fleet, the first shots of the latter destroy many ships of the first battle line (battle wall actually) being so tightly deployed. Much later, one unfortunate Nautilus is blown apart both by Humanoid fire as well as debris from another that was close and was hit at the same time. Finally, at the end of the episode, the ship where Pierrot and his crew landed and left explosive charges blows up apart destroying in a chain reaction what seems to be a sizable chunk of the Humanoid navy.
  • Human Aliens: Those prehistoric humans in one planet of the Andromeda Galaxy in "The Cro-Magnons".
  • Humanoid Aliens: Some in the Omega Confederation and others not.
  • Humans Are Bastards: The episode "The Long Voyage" features a ship launched by the Earth in the 21st century and that finds Omega. One of the things they bring is a set of what look like video tapes depicting the human species in a good, light-hearted and optimistic way, that are stolen by Cassiopeian agents and played in their planet. Among other thigs, the video starts with two hunters shooting a deer, continues showing a heavily polluted, over-populated planet and a huge traffic jam said to last more than a day and having beaten a previous record, and ends showing tanks and nuclear missile-launching trucks boasting with the high number of explosives per inhabitant in Earth.
  • Human Subspecies: Some dialog and images (in the episode "Earth") suggest what seem to be alien races may actually be that.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet: While the leaders of the Omega Confederation are humans, Earth itself is just a minor member of it.
  • Insufferable Genius: Metro. He's arrogant, always bragging of his ability to do various things better than humans and other robots, and then doing it, assuming he hasn't already done it. Best shown by the events of "The Revolt of the Robots" and "The Revenge of the Robots": in the first he declared he'd defeat the much larger combat robot Goldenbar, and then, after reminding him of David and Goliath, gave him an hilarious beating before getting pissed at Goldenbar's one successful hit and brutally destroying it; after that battle he would sometimes brag about defeating Goldenbar until "The Revenge of the Robots", where he had to deal with the improved Goldenbar II and Goldenbar III, at which point he started bragging about destroying Goldenbar III (because Goldenbar II wasn't that hard to defeat, but Goldenbar III was).
  • The Juggernaut:
    • The Nautilus warships of Cassiopeia are proved to be more than a match for the Omega warships, until the Confederation develops heavy cruisers to counter them.
    • The greatest Humanoid warships qualify too, mopping the floor with an armada of Nautilus.
    • The rocket featured in the episode "The Unstoppable Menace", launched by the Humanoids against Earth. Faster than any other ship of the Confederation (see below), impossible to intercept, and protected by a very powerful shield. Pierrot and his friends are able to intercept it, slip through the shield, and change its course to the Sun. Later is known the Humanoids planned to have it burning on Earth's atmosphere without hitting it — unlike what Pest wanted.
    • The heavy cruisers of the Omega Confederation are presented as a ship able to defend against any threat. They, however, never fire their weapons in anger during all the series.
    • On smaller scale, the combat robot Goldenbar III. Where Metro could inflict a Curb-Stomp Battle on the first model and quickly found a way to blow up the second, Goldenbar III was impervious to anything Metro had. Unluckily for him, Goldenbar wasn't that bright, and Metro found four different ways to destroy it (because Goldenbar III could create up to four alter-egos. Two were destroyed in one go).
  • Master Computer: The Great Computer.
  • Number Two for Brains: The Dwarf, Consul of Cassiopeia and General Pest's second-in-command. Besides serving as a representant of Cassiopeia for Omega and the Humanoids among others, in all the series he does little more than flatter Pest.
  • Old-School Dogfight: Space battles follow this trope quite well, with ships being really close to each other when fighting (within what seems as visual range) and moving — the most maneuverable ones, at least — like planes. For large fleet engagements, however, Standard Starship Scuffle applies.
  • Planet of Hats: In several episodes the protagonists travel to planets that turn around this trope such as a planet habited by the Greek Gods (episode "The Planet Mytho"), other by Incas (episode "The Incas"), and other by prehistoric humans — oddly enough, this one is in the Andromeda Galaxy — in "The Cro-Magnons".
  • Point Defenseless: The Nautilus as seen in the episode "A Planet Blown to Pieces". After finding how it's nigh invulnerable to the Omega warships attacking it as well as destroying one of their vessels, Pierrot has the ship where he's dodging the shots of the Nautilus and approaching it to point-blank range to torpedo the enemy ship down the throat.
  • Rapunzel Hair: Psi's hair comes down to her hips. Maestro's beard to his feet.
  • Recycled In Space: Cassiopeia, clearly based on the Romulans from Star Trek down to their looks, is the Roman Republic with space technology, Crystal Spires and Togas, and aliens instead of humans. They have a bit on inspiration on the Nazis, too, their military carrying arm bandages that evocate Nazi ones.
  • Robot War: The conflict first between the Humanoid and Cassiopeian forces and when the latter are defeated the one between the Humanoids and Omega. There're two other episodes ("The Revolt of the Robots" and "The Revenge of the Robots") where this trope appears too. Both other instances are revealed to have been engineered by the Humanoids.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: In "Towards Andromeda", the Omega Confederation as well as Cassiopeia are implied to have arrived so far away as NGC 7052, a galaxy at around 190 million light-years from the Milky Way (assuming they're refering to what we know as NGC 7052 in Real Life). Also one of the races that form the Omega Confederation says to come from the Andromeda Galaxy itself, acting as proxies of Cassiopeia in the council fearing them.
  • Shout-Out:
    • One race that comes from the Andromeda Galaxy look like green-skinned Andorians (from Star Trek), and like them they're heavily militarized and aggressive (second only to the Cassiopeians).
    • There're also other shout-outs in the dialog, such as when the Computer greets the people from Omega using the phrase "Welcome to the Rendezvous with Yama".
    • In the episode "Earth", we visit an Earth that is recovering of centuries of pollution and worse and there's an orbiting theme park named "Barillé's Land". Albert Barillé was the creator of the series.
    • Metro is described as a positronic brain android. as Isaac Asimov's robots.
  • Show Their Work:
    • In one of the episodes ("The Rings of Saturn") the protagonists visit the largest planets of the Solar System. While the moons of Jupiter are described in some detail showing the knowledge of them that existed at the epoch the cartoon was made (what the Voyager probes found there in 1979 and 1980 such as a ring around Jupiter or the volcans of Io), the moons of the others are described much more vaguely and even appear as nearly featureless orbs since at that time knowledge about that topic was very limited. This can be noted, too, in the opening credits.
    • The times given for the rocket that appears on the episode "The Unstoppable Menace" to cross the orbit of the different planets of the Solar System are consistent with it moving at around 240,000 kilometers per second (0.8 times the speed of light).
    • In the episode "A Planet Blown to Pieces" Maestro lists the supernovae that have taken place in the Milky Way. After mentioning the one that appeared in 1604 in Ophiuchus and while is attempting to remember the next is interrumped and the conversation follows with another topic. The last recorded supernova that took place in our galaxy is SN1604, in that constellation.
  • Space Is Air: See Old-School Dogfight above.
  • Space Is Noisy: From the sounds made by the engines of ships to the one caused by their weapons. Not that it's exclusive just to this show, though.
  • Starfish Aliens: Some alien races mentioned in the episode "The Cro-Magnons".
  • Stun Guns: Paralysing guns are standard sidearms for the Space Police, although they have deadlier Ray Guns too. Interestly enough, the protagonists use the paralyzers against living targets; against non-living ones such as robots they use the lethal guns. As seen in "In the Land of the Dinosaurs", though, the paralyzers aren't terribly efficient against large predators, only affecting them a couple seconds.
  • Telepathy: Psi (also known as Mercedes or Kira in other languages).
  • Theme-and-Variations Soundtrack: The soundtrack of this series has some themes that follow this trope, being variants in different musical styles of a single theme (from synthethizer or jazz to chamber or orchestal music).
  • Theme Music Abandonment: Or maybe Executive Meddling. In the Spanish doubling the title song and the ending credits song in the latest episodes were changed by the very different theme sang by Parchís, a child band very famous in Spain at the time. See it by yourself
  • Too Dumb to Live: Psi in the episode "The Rings of Saturn". Her ship is chased by Humanoid fighters into the (dense as hell) Solar System's asteroid belt. After playing cat-and-mouse with them hiding among space rocks she decides to enter hyperspace within the belt, ignoring Metro's warnings of that being a very bad idea. Of course she crashes into an asteroid. After that, with the ship destroyed and Metro out of commision, and while near death she telepatically communicates with Peter and is rescued by him.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: The robots in the episodes "The Revolt of the Robots" and "The Revenge of the Robots", both taking place in the same planet and wanting to be treated as humans.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Great Computer and the scientist who created it, who offered it to their fellows as a way to have the humans living in peace. It turns out the concept the Great Computer has of giving peace to the men is having them tightly controlled and living without technology as in the Middle Ages. At least the computer is indirectly shown experimenting to see if there are better ways.... The scientist started out trying to give the colonists of Apis and Yama help with his robots, and didn't turn to the ways later used by the Great Computer when they wrecked his lab because he preferred creating extremely helpful working robots instead of coming out and building houses with his own hands. Also, the scientist proposed the computer as a way to prevent the rise of new dictators... And without that Omega had to deal with Pest.
  • What a Senseless Waste of Human Life: During the battle between the Cassiopeia and Humanoid fleets, and when their finest warships, the Nautilus-class, are being slaughtered by dozens, one of the officers onboard the flagship begs the admiral to think about how useless is the battle and how it's more of a suicide. In the same battle, the Humanoids tell two times their opponents to surrender, the third and last one coming with the warning of destroying their homeworld if they don't comply.
  • World Tree: A big, sentient tree found in one lush planet of the Pegasus sector without intelligent animal life, that appears in the episode "The Green Planet". It turns it dislikes those people who mess with nature.
  • World War III: According the episode "Earth", that narrates the backstory of that planet, there was that followed by a "Second Renaissance" (or something alike) — an epoch of, by the way, Crystal Spires and Togas.

    Once Upon a Time... Life 
  • Ghost in the Machine: This metaphor is used extensively, up to the point that the nucleii of every cell in the body were represented by fully staffed command centers. Maestro runs the brain.

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