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 theAn American Tail and Childs 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 afterJurassic Park), though it does have a small following among fans who saw it as children and still remember it.
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.
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.
All Animation Is Disney: And in an interesting twist, it is also sometimes mistaken for a Don Bluth movie, which of course it also isn't (instead, it was produced by Hanna-Barbera, out of all companies.) Though its posters and trailers which proudly proclaimed "from the creator of An American Tail" would have you think otherwise (they mean David Kirschner, not Bluth).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 a 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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-Barberacan be well animated when there's a budget.
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.