Western Animation: Twice Upon a Time

It was a time in desperate need of heroes — any kind of heroes.
— Opening narration

Twice Upon a Time is a 1983 mostly-animated comedy-fantasy directed by John Korty and Charles Swenson, and executive produced by George Lucas. As with several other animated films of the early '80s (The Last Unicorn, The Secret Of NIMH), its theatrical distribution was such that it made virtually no impact...and unlike those films it didn't get much video/cable exposure either. The month it debuted on HBO, the pay channel's guide made a full page announcement - and that was the last anyone heard of it until the early 1990s, when it had a brief video release; Cartoon Network twice showed it as a weekend feature by decade's end. The film finally resurfaced on DVD in 2015 via Warner Archive.

The land of Frivoli is where dreams are made, and the land of Din is where they are taken to for delivery to the sleeping Rushers, via the jolly old man Greensleeves and his helpers the Figs. They have an evil counterpart in Synonamess Botch, who runs the nightmare factory known as the Murkworks and sends vultures out to deliver nightmares to Rushers. (Frivoli, the Murkworks, and the residents of both are animated via illuminated cut-outs while Din is Deliberately Monochrome live-action — the Rushers are humans.)

Now Botch launches a master plan: He has Greensleeves and company kidnapped, and then tricks innocent fools Ralph (an "all-purpose animal", so called for his shapeshifting abilities) and Mumford (a Chaplin-esque mime) into stealing the spring of Din's Cosmic Clock for him. They do and this stops time in Din — at a moment when everyone is awake. Botch will send the vultures there to drop powerful nightmares everywhere, then restart the clock and detonate them, which will trap all the Rushers in waking nightmares...forever. It's up to Ralph, Mum, Greensleeves's niece/aspiring actress Flora Fauna, inept superhero Rod Rescueman, and a harried Fairy Godmother to put things to rights before it's too late.

The film is distinguished not only by its unique "Lumage" animation, but also by a story, screenplay, and vocal performances that are imaginative and witty throughout, making this another great example of early renaissance-era animation.

Notable names among the crew, years before they became famous as directors, are Henry Selick (sequence director) and David Fincher (special photographic effects).

This animated film contains examples of:

  • Ambiguously Jewish: Fairy Godmother. Check that, Unambiguously Jewish.
  • Ash Face: Rod passes the Fairy Godmother's rescue test by inhaling the flames surrounding her. But then he accidentally exhales the flames back out, charring her to a crisp.
  • Bad Boss: Synonamess Botch (and he's aware of it where the vultures are concerned).
  • Batman Gambit / Secret Test of Character: Fairy Godmother "firing" Ralph and Mum, telling them they don't have what it takes to be heroes. It works.
  • Beware the Nice Ones:
  • Big Red Button: Labeled "The Big Red One", it will detonate all the nightmares in Din.
  • Books That Bite: Seen during Ralph and Mumford's nightmare.
  • Bowdlerized: Most airings were edited to remove some of the more PG-13 content that the original (which aired on HBO) had. Fortunately, the original version is still floating around. Arguably, this is a case of reverse bowdlerization, since the saltier dialogue was added without the director's knowledge. The sanitized version is actually closer to the director's original intent. The DVD release includes both audio tracks.
  • Cartoon Creature: Ralph's default form.
  • Character as Himself: Mumford.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Mumford, again.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Of the PG variety in Botch's opening Rousing Speech.
  • Cool Old Guy: Greensleeves. He's very crusty (he notes that his Fig workers never sing nor fart), but he's unequivocally a good guy.
  • Crazy-Prepared: During the final battle, Botch has a series of traps laid out for Ralph the All-Purpose Animal, apparently intended to handle any form Ralph can take. Unfortunately for Botch, Ralph eventually turns into a bug and flies around the rest of the traps.
  • Cut Out Animation
  • Damsel in Distress: Heavily spoofed. Flora gets a job at the Murkworks playing this role in various nightmares, and Rod Rescueman's test for whether he's appropriate for being hired by the Fairy Godmother is rescuing her from her flaming desk. Flora subverts the trope when Ibor captures her — Rod tries to rescue her, but in the end she destroys the robot herself.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The Fairy Godmother.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Din.
  • Deranged Animation: Very much so.
  • Disney Villain Death: Played straight with Ratatooie, and subverted with Botch, who falls out of his tower but is caught and carried off by his vultures. Given how poorly he treated them, this is probably not going to turn out well....
  • The Dragon: Ibor the video gorilla (a TV Head Robot). Via one of the shout outs below, a clip of quintessential dragon Darth Vader appears on it at one point.
  • Dramatis Personae: After the opening credits and prologue, the main characters are introduced to us in this manner.
  • Dream Land
  • Duck!: Ralph yells it when being attacked by the vultures. And then he turns into one.
  • Dumpster Dive: Flora while looking for her uncle's letter at the Garbagerie.
  • The '80s: The film would be timeless if not for some of the '80's pop songs scattered throughout the film.
  • Embarrassing Slide: Synonamess Botch accidentally puts a photograph of a half-naked woman in his slide show. ("That's an old actress I used to know.") Mumford is especially pleased.
  • Epic Fail / This Loser Is You: When Botch activates the nightmares too early, his monitor mocks, "Failure", "Nightmares Wasted", "Tilt", and "You Lose".
  • Establishing Character Moment: The opening Rousing Speech by Botch basically tells you all you need to know about the film - this was not going to be your usual fairy tale cartoon.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: The Murkworks.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: When Flora finally meets his uncle Greensleeves.
    Flora: Uncle Greenie, is it really you?
    Greensleeves: Basically it is, yeah.
    Flora: You're short and bent!
    Greensleeves: I'm short and bent.
    Flora: What happened to my Uncle Greenie, the handsome dashing hero?
    Greensleeves: He got short and bent.
  • Extreme Omnivore: Botch's pet armadillo... thing Ratatooie — most spectacularly when he eats all the garbage that Ralph and Mum were gathering up. His regular diet consists of nuts and bolts.
  • Fairy Godmother: She prefers "FGM" - she hates excess verbiage.
  • Fan Disservice: Botch taking a shower.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The Movie. In one version of the movie, Botch mocks his vulture troops for wanting "to get into the feathers" of their girlfriends.
    • The version without the excess profanity manages to sneak in one "Shit!" from Botch during the final showdown.
  • Happily Ever After
  • Heel-Face Turn: Scuzzbopper.
  • Idiot Hero: Rod Rescueman. He's only got a superhero learner's permit.
  • I Fell for Hours: Flora falls for so long after stepping out of Rod Rescueman's flying bachelor pad, Rod has enough time to wash and iron one of his dirty capes before flying to her rescue... sorta.
  • Is This Thing On?: The first lines of dialog uttered.
  • Jerk Jock: Rod Rescueman. His base even resembles a football.
  • Joisey: The Fairy Godmother.
  • Lilliputians: The residents of Frivoli and the Murkworks are puny compared to the Rushers of Din.
  • Look Ma, I Am on TV!: Rod Rescueman shouts this when he sees himself on Ibor's screen, just before Ibor knocks him out.
  • Never Learned to Read: Played for Laughs — this applies to the Chef Justice of Frivolinote , which is why he just tosses away Greensleeves's letter (which is a plea for help). Luckily, Flora Fauna has noticed that all letters sent to him get tossed away in this manner, and decides to retrieve it and see what it actually says...
    Flora: Why am I not believing this man?
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Literally, as Ralph and Mum end up accidentally breaking the Cosmic Clock with all their messing around
  • Nightmare Fuel: invoked Quite literally. Nightmares are made of screams poured into nightmare bombs.
  • Once Upon a Time: The phrase is used in the opening narration (naturally).
  • Punch Clock Villain: Scuzzbopper; with his jester outfit and status as an unappreciated lackey (he's the head nightmare writer) he also has aspects of the Villainous Harlequin.
    • Ibor and the Vultures qualify as well. It's implied the latter barely tolerate Botch.
  • Punny Name: "Synonamess Botch" is a pun on painter Hieronymus Bosch.
    • Greensleeves' assistants are the Fig Men (figment) of the Imagination.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Ralph, Mum, Flora Fauna, and Rod Rescueman. The first two are actually referred to as "misfits" note  early on, but no one else in Frivoli is aware of what's going on save for the Fairy Godmother, and there's only so much she can do for Ralph and Mum (i.e., hiring Rod). Even she loses faith in the pair and fires them from trying to save the day. Their determination to prove they can do something right leads into the final act.
  • Railroad Tracks of Doom: Flora's first job as a nightmare actress is to be tied to a railroad track.
  • Raymanian Limbs: Scuzzbopper has no arms, his gloves just float in mid-air.
  • The Renaissance Age of Animation: One of the earliest glimmers of hope for the medium towards the end of The Dark Age of Animation.
  • Roger Rabbit Effect
  • Rousing Speech: Botch attempts one, but it doesn't seem to inspire any morale at all.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Smooch of Victory: Rod expects/wants this as payment for "saving" Flora from the Murkworks. At the end, he finally gets one out of her, and she also gives this to Ralph, Mum (twice) and Scuzzbopper.
  • Splash of Color: A balloon in Din turns yellow in the final shot.
  • Speaks in Shout-Outs: Ibor, courtesy of his TV screen face.
  • Stop Helping Me!: Everyone eventually feels this way about Rod. invoked
  • Sugar Bowl: Frivoli is a Played for Laughs example.
  • That's All, Folks!: Parodied via the trope namer as the last thing we see on Ibor's screen before he blows up.
  • Time Stands Still: The effect of Ralph and Mumford removing the mainspring from the Cosmic Clock.
  • Title Drop: During the final song "Second Chances". The title refers to Ralph and Mumford getting a second chance to save the day.
  • TV Head Robot: Ibor.
  • The Twelve Principles of Animation: Followed surprisingly well, for a stop motion film, with numerous examples of squash and stretch and exaggeration throughout, notably when Ralph and Mum mess around inside the cosmic clock, and while most of the film suffers from the "jerky" look most stop motion has, others have surprisingly good timing and flow.
  • Undercrank: Used to portray the waking world of Din. "Rushers" are so named because they're literally rushing through their lives, thanks to what Botch explains is a lack of time — he tells the heroes his plan is to give them more via fixing the too-quickly-ticking Cosmic Clock. When Ralph and Mum search the Cosmic Clock for the spring, they cause time to run even faster, much slower (via overcranking), and even in reverse until it stops outright. At the end, when time restarts, it's at a normal pace at last.
  • The Unintelligible: The only sounds Mumford makes are squeaks.
  • Unwanted Rescue: Rod's rescue of Flora from the Murkworks (he thought the King Kong-inspired nightmare she was filming was real). He punches out Flora by mistake.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Ralph.
  • Walking Disaster Area: Ralph and Rod Rescueman. The former gets better. The latter, not so much.
  • Writers Suck: Scuzzbopper yearns to write "the great Amurkian novel", but Botch does not care. This sets off Scuzzbopper's Heel-Face Turn.
    Synnonamess Botch: That's just Scuzzbopper. He's nothing. A writer.
  • You Just Ruined the Shot: Rod Rescueman sees Flora performing on a set and thinks she's really in danger.

Alternative Title(s):

Twice Upon A Time