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Western Animation: Once Upon a Forest

Once Upon a Forest was a 1993 animated film with an environmental theme, released on June 18 by 20th Century Fox. Based on the Furlings characters created by Rae Lambert, it was directed by Charles Grosvenor and produced by David Kirschner, the creator of the An American Tail and Child's Play franchises. It was made by Hanna-Barbera in association with HTV Cymru. The film tells the tale of three forest denizens that go on an expedition to cure their friend, Michelle, who became sick from chemical fumes which leak into the forest due to human carelessness. But unlike many of the Green Aesops of the era, the humans are portrayed as redeemable in the end. Contains many scenes which can be considered Nightmare Fuel especially for a G-rated film, and plenty of Tear Jerker moments as well.

It remains largely obscure and a commercial flop (only making back about half its budget, and this was partly thanks to it debuting a week after Jurassic Park), though it does have a small following among fans who saw it as children and still remember it.


Tropes:

  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer: Justified. A small sewage drain is immense in comparison to three baby animals.
  • Action Girl: Abigail all the way.
  • Adults Are Useless: The young furlings are tasked to undertake the journey for Michelle's herbs on their own, without any adult supervision because Cornelius has to stay at Michelle's bedside, and one can assume the rest of the adults fled for their lives. Somewhat justified, since Cornelius is really the only one around who could take care of Michelle and he's her uncle and thus her only living relative who could look out for her after her parents deaths. And the other adults probably did just what anyone would've done in such a situation.
  • Advertised Extra: Veteran theatre legend Ben Vereen gets top billing next to Michael Crawford. Despite the fact that he only appears in this film for one memorable scene.
  • An Aesop: Edgar's lament that he never kissed his mother goodbye seems to be one of these. The message here seems to be 'Never take your loved ones for granted, because you never know if it's your last time together.' Happily, Edgar gets a second chance at it.
  • Arboreal Abode: Cornelius lives in a literal tree house; others are pictured in the background but not everyone lives in one.
  • A-Team Montage: When the furlings are building the flapper wingamathing a montage plays.
  • Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: Not over-the-top, but blue mice certainly count.
  • Animals Not to Scale: The badgers and moles are about the same size as the mice.
  • Anti-Villain: The humans - this seems to be a standard Humans Are Bastards tale at first, but most of the ones shown are responsible and try to protect animals whenever possible. The only truly bad human is the littering drunk driver who causes the tragedy in the first place.
  • Audible Sharpness: A rare non-combat example. The shard of glass which punctures the chemical tanker's tire, which is what triggers the poisoning of the cast's home in the first place.
  • Award Bait Song: "Once Upon a Time With Me" by Florence Warner Jones. It might have received an award had the movie done better in theaters.
  • Badass Adorable: The furlings all qualify for this in one way or another.
  • Bamboo Technology: The furlings build a flying machine out of sticks and leaves. At least in this case there were actually plans for them to follow.
  • Barefoot Cartoon Animals: Abigail, Russell and Michelle.
  • Berserk Button: Never insult Michelle in front of Edgar. Waggs knows this all too well.
  • Big Eater: Russell the hedgehog, who can't help but pack tons of food for their expedition.
  • Big Lipped Alligator Moment: The scene in which a young bird is saved from a tar patch.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Michelle is brought out of her coma by the herbs, and one by one the furlings are tearfully reunited with their parents. Happy ending, right? But when Michelle asks Cornelius where her parents are, well...as the audience knows...they're not coming back for her. They're dead.
    • And beyond that, there are doubtless many other families in Dapplewood who were torn apart in a similar fashion, and Nothing Is the Same Anymore. But, as Cornelius tells his niece, "If everyone works as hard to restore Dapplewood as your friends did to save you," things will gradually get better.
  • Blind Without 'Em: Edgar the mole can't see without his glasses and becomes defenseless.
    • This is actually Fridge Brilliance when you consider that moles have terrible vision, and can't see well in sunlight or moonlight which is why they remain underground most of the time.
  • Brainy Brunette: Abigail.
  • Break the Cutie: Michelle, after finding out her parents are dead. While we don't exactly see Michelle sobbing over it (because that would be too much of a Tear Jerker even for this movie), the implications of how Michelle will need to cope with that after the movie ends is tragic enough.
  • Buffy Speak: The Flapper-wingamathing!
    • "Crank the winder-uppers!"
  • Celestial Deadline: The furlings have to get the herbs to Michelle by the full moon.
  • Character Development: Oddly, the most character development goes to... Edgar. He goes from being a cowardly, worrying Nerd to a brave, quick-thinking Nerd.
    • Well, that and they all learn to work together a lot better. At the beginning they couldn't even row a boat without bickering and causing it to sink.
  • Cheerful Child: Michelle, at least until her coma and her parents dying.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Early on in the movie the animals are told by their teacher that a certain part of the forest is off limits, but says that the reason why is "not today's lesson". Pan across to reveal an animal trap. This is promptly forgotten...until the very end of the movie, when Edgar the Mole gets caught in it while trying to evade some humans doing cleanup after the gas damaged the forest. One of them frees Edgar, smashes the trap, throws it in a garbage bag, and proves to the animals that perhaps (contrary to dire warnings throughout the movie) humans aren't exclusively destructive monsters. Not bad as environmentalist messages go.
    • The furlings know they're home when Edgar realizes that they're in front of the tree Cornelius pulled a piece of bark from during a lecture at the beginning of the movie, and he still has the piece of bark and it fits into the little hole made when it was taken out.
    • Also, the magnifying glass that Abigail decides to pack on a complete whim saves her life when the owl captures her, and she uses it to enlarge her teeth and scare it off.
  • Cherubic Choir: In the song "Once Upon a Time With Me"
  • Chickification: Abigail from halfway through the movie on. After she gets into real danger, she becomes a little more cautious: understandable. However, from there, her biggest contribution is getting the locals to like her and her party by flirting, and she fails to get the lungwort and puts herself in mortal peril again so that Edgar can complete his own character arc.
  • Coming In Hot: They crash the Flapper Wingamathing after it hits a telephone pole and catches on fire.
  • Coming of Age Story: "You're no longer my Furlings. You've grown up."
  • Convenient Coma: Michelle's coma is a main plot point.
  • Conveniently an Orphan: Michelle, after her parents die.
  • Converse with the Unconscious: Cornelius sings a song to Michelle as she's lying unconscious. It's quite the Tear Jerker.
  • Cool Big Sis: Abigail to Michelle, to a certain degree.
  • Cool Old Guy: Cornelius.
  • Cowardly Lion: Edgar.
  • Deadly Gas: After the tanker truck runs over the glass shards and blows out its tires, the gas contained in the tank begins leaking out and starts killing everything. It's supposed to be chlorine gas, and the creators have Shown Their Work in that inhaling it can be severely damaging to the lungs and eyes, as what happened to poor Michelle.
  • Disappeared Dad: Neither Russell nor Edgar seem to have fathers.
    • Possible Truth in Television, as female moles and hedgehogs raise their young alone (although ordinarily, field mice and badgers do too.)
  • Disney Death: Michelle just had to fake everyone out by not waking up right away when they give her the herbs, just to wring out every last tear from the furlings and the audience.
  • Distressed Damsel: Michelle.
  • Everything's Nuttier With Squirrels
  • Fantastic Racism: The furlings encounter a bullying squirrel in Oakdale Meadow named Waggs who seems to have something against every species other than squirrels.
  • Feathered Fiend: The owl that nearly eats Abigail.
  • Find the Cure: Fairly self-explanatory.
  • Five-Man Band:
  • Flower from the Mountaintop: The furlings need to gather eyebright and lungwort flowers in order to cure Michelle. The eyebright is fairly easy to get, but the lungwort is up on the side of a very high cliff.
  • Flower in Her Hair: Michelle wears one briefly. We get a close-up of it drifting to the ground and wilting after she has her accident with the gas leak that renders her comatose.
  • Fragile Speedster: Abigail.
  • Furry Confusion: The one-eyed owl who tries to eat them. Later on, while in a sewer, the furlings encounter scary non-anthropomorphic rats.
  • Furry Reminder: Russell the hedgehog curls up into a ball when he gets scared.
  • Genki Girl: Michelle is one, perhaps also Abigail.
  • Girls Need Role Models: Abigail is the strong female lead of the movie, and actually manages to pull it off quite well without completely giving in to the stereotypes. The film doesn't try to play up the fact that she's a female as something 'special' either.
  • Gospel Revival Number: "He's Back".
  • Glasses Guy: Edgar, Cornelius, and Bosworth.
  • Green Aesop: An unusually positive one. While the effects of the gas leak are shown as world-shattering to the animals, humans immediately take responsibility and begin clean-up efforts. The Aesop seems to be that yes, humans have messed this world up a lot, but we can all do something to make things better and correct our mistakes. At the very least, a fairly realistic aesop.
  • Half-Dressed Cartoon Animal
  • Hate Sink: Waggs the squirrel, the only straight-up antagonistic character in the film.
  • Hazmat Suit: What the humans are wearing at the end of the movie.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Michelle, at the end of the movie.
  • Huddle Shot: After Russel survives almost being run over by a car, ending up on his back as his friends check up on him.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters:
    • Implied throughout the film as humans are the cause of a gas leak that devastates Dapplewood, and also killed Cornelius's parents in the past... ...but then turned around and averted at the end when humans are seen cleaning up the mess they created in Dapplewood, to the surprise of Cornelius and the furlings. So pretty much humans can be bastards, but they're not all bad.
    • A human also releases a trapped Edgar, then crushes the trap for good measure, and puts it into a trash bag. He even very carefully puts him down.
      "There ya go, little fella."
    • Also the gas leak was caused by carelessness (some guy just threw a glass bottle out his car window and the truck carrying the poison gas ran over it, got a flat and crashed). The first thing the truck driver does when the truck full of gas crashes, he runs for help, concerned about the ensuing gas leak - any person would have done just that.
      *sees the gas leak* "Gas! I gotta get help!"
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: They're depicted as alien and inscrutable (the only time we see a human above the foot level, he's wrapped in a Hazmat Suit), but they're shown to be rather decent, so more like "Humans Are The Great Race of Yith."
  • Idiot Hero: Abigail is highly impulsive and headstrong; she fits much of the Idiot Hero mold despite it normally being an Always Male trope. Then again, it's Abigail, and she Gender Flips plenty of Always Male tropes.
  • Ill Girl: Michelle
  • James Horner: One of his most overlooked film scores. It's quite nice if you can track down the soundtrack.
  • Jaw Drop: "Russell, your mouth is hanging open..."
    Michelle: Uncle Cornelius, your mouth is hanging open.
  • Jerk Ass: Waggs.
  • Killed Off for Real: Michelle's parents, tragically. The point is harshly driven home at the end of the film, when after everyone is reunited with their parents Cornelius must explain to Michelle that her parents are never coming back.
  • Large Ham: Phineas and Cornelius.
  • Love at First Sight: When Abigail falls on top of Willy the fieldmouse from a tree, and they instantly become shy and flirty. We can deduce that Abigail doesn't meet many male mice.
  • Meaningful Name: The name Abigail means "father's joy". This actually hits Genius Bonus when you realize how much her father loves and cares for her.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: While it isn't clear just how many siblings Russell has, there's enough of them to completely cover him in a dog-pile at the end.
  • Mighty Glacier: Russell.
  • Missing Mom: Abigail's mother is never shown and it's unknown what happened to her.
  • Mouse World: Done in a more rural, wilderness setting.
  • My Beloved Smother: Edgar's mother, somewhat.
  • Never Got to Say Goodbye: When the parents disappear, Edgar laments rushing off to class without ever kissing his mother good-bye. She's fine, and when they're reunited, it's the first thing he does.
  • Nice Hat: Edgar has one.
  • Not the Fall That Kills You: Abigail falls off the flapper-wingamathing while trying to retrieve the lungwort from the side of a very tall cliff, but is saved by grabbing onto the wing after Russel swoops the flying machine down to catch her.
    • Abigail seems to have a habit of falling. She falls out of a tree twice in the film but her fall is 'broken', once by landing on Russel and Edgar, the second time by landing on Willy. This is sort of a Running Gag because at the beginning of the movie Abigail's dad tells her not to climb trees because she could fall.
  • Off Model: See if you can count how many times Abigail's eyes change from blue to green and back again. A good example is when she's in the owl's tree her eyes are blue, but when she meets Willy, her eyes are green.
    • Maybe her eyes are hazel and change color.
  • Ominous Owl: A very intentionally creepy one-eyed owl attacks the furlings at one point.
  • One of the Boys: Abigail, who aside from perhaps Michelle has only guy friends.
  • One-Way Visor: The toxic waste cleanup crew from the ending.
  • Only Sane Man: Edgar in most situations.
  • Parental Abandonment: Michelle is orphaned by the gas leak killing her parents.
  • Preacher Bird: Phineas.
  • Puppy Love: Abigail and Willy.
  • Quicksand Sucks: Averted. A young quail gets stuck in a bog. Edgar draws up schema for a lever device to pry him out, which takes a while to build.
  • Race Against the Clock: The Furlings must get Michelle the herbs within two days in order to cancel her appointment with the Grim Reaper.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: All of the main characters to differing extents.
    • Especially Michelle.
  • Scary Teeth: When the owl captures Abigail and is about to eat her, she holds a magnifying glass in front of her face and her teeth suddenly become fangs, utterly terrifying the bird.
  • Scenery Porn: Most notably at the beginning, though the backgrounds (as well as the animation itself) are quite lush throughout, as if to remind us that a cartoon involving Hanna-Barbera can be well animated when there's a budget.
  • Shorter Means Smarter: Edgar is the shortest and smartest of Michelle's rescuers.
  • Stop Drowning and Stand Up: Edgar is left flailing in a pool of water, only for Abigail and Russell to point out that it's only knee-high.
  • Stealth Pun: The Furlings encounter a bird pastor and his flock.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: The furlings to their parents, almost hitting Generation Xerox territory.
  • Swiss Army Tears: Michelle doesn't wake up until Cornelius' tears fall on her face (though it isn't really implied that the tears themselves had any magical properties or anything).
  • Take My Hand: When Edgar rescues Abigail as she's clinging to the wing of the flapper wingamathing.
  • Team Dad: Cornelius pretty much is the Team Dad figure.
  • The Power of Friendship: Only by working together do they pull through.
  • The Professor: Cornelius
  • Promotion to Parent: Cornelius, with the death of Michelle's parents.
  • That Reminds Me of a Song: "He's Back" is presented this way. The entire scene with the birds could be dropped without really affecting the plot.
  • The Renaissance Age of Animation
  • °Three Amigos!
  • Those Magnificent Flying Machines: The Flapper Wingamathing.
  • Tomboy: Abigail, naturally.
  • Trrrilling Rrrs: Cornelius does this constantly.
  • Two Guys and a Girl
  • Vanilla Edition: Because this movie was both a financial flop and not made by Disney, this is probably the only edition we'll ever see. And you're lucky to even find that.
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: The furlings' quest to find the herbs rivals a Redwall book in the amount of random encounters they keep having. None of them (except for perhaps the birds) get them any closer to finding a new meadow.
  • Well, Excuse Me, Princess!: Russell has his moments of this with Abigail.
  • Wham Line: Quite a few of them actually. Here are some examples:
    Cornelius: No, furlings, there's a deadly gas in there!

    Michelle: Lookie Uncle Cornelius, all the mommies and daddies are coming back.
    Cornelius: Not ALL the mommies and daddies.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Edgar.
  • Woodland Creatures

AladdinAnnie AwardThe Lion King
Nick & NoŽlFilms of the 1990sOnly the Strong
Oliver & CompanyThe Renaissance Age of AnimationThe Pagemaster
Oliver & CompanyAnimated FilmsOne Piece Film: Strong World

alternative title(s): Once Upon A Forest; Once Upon A Forest
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