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Western Animation / Once Upon a Forest

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Once Upon a Forest is a 1993 animated film with an environmental theme, released 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 Wales.

The film tells the tale of three forest denizens—a headstrong mouse named Abigail, a carefree hedgehog named Russell and a timid mole named Edgar—that go on an expedition to cure their badger 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.

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.

Once Upon a Forest provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Absurdly-Spacious Sewer: Justified. A small sewage drain is immense in comparison to three baby animals.
  • 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.
  • Advertised Extra: Veteran theater legend Ben Vereen gets top billing next to Michael Crawford, despite the fact that he only appears in this film for one memorable scene.
  • Advertising by Association: Advertisements for the film said it was "from the creator of An American Tail". This was possibly done to mislead people into thinking it was a Don Bluth film, which it wasn't; David Kirschner produced both films (and came up with the initial idea for An American Tail).
  • 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.
  • Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: Not over-the-top, but blue mice certainly count (though the mouse in question appears grey on some TVs).
  • Anger Born of Worry: At the beginning, when the Furlings are on the road and unaware that it's dangerous, Cornelius sees them then angrily raises his voice telling them to get off the road as a Range Rover car nearly runs over Russell. Cornelius sternly warns them about the road, telling them to avoid it forget seeing it.
  • Animals Not to Scale: The badgers and moles are about the same size as the mice.
  • Animals Respect Nature: The elderly badger Cornelius acts as mentor to three "furlings:" Abigail (field mouse), Edgar (common mole) and Russell (hedgehog). They learn about nature and conservancy, including using willow bark as an analgesic. His aesop at the end of the film answers a furling's question whether their homeland of Dapplewood will ever recover from a toxic devastation: "If we all work together, it will be."
  • Animated Musical: Though with only two songs, one of which is a Crowd Song and the other a solo.
  • 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 humans were the littering drunk driver who caused the tragedy in the first place and the poachers who killed Cornelius' parents.
  • 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.
  • Audible Sharpness: A rare non-combat example. a man throws a glass bottle out of a window, and the sharp edge of the bottle's broken bottom produces a sound along with a glint of sharpness. Sometime later, the glass punctures a chemical tanker's tire, causing the meadow where the main characters live to be poisoned.
  • Automobiles Are Alien: Phineas and the flock warn the furlings about "yellow dragons" that "breathe fire and brimstone" and could crush them in an instant. These yellow dragons are construction vehicles that are clearing the land out for a new structure.
  • Award-Bait Song: "Once Upon a Time With Me" by Florence Warner Jones is a typical award bait song from the era, which since it only plays over the credits, was likely meant to become a Breakaway Pop Hit, but perhaps because of the film flopping at the box office it wasn’t to be.
  • Bamboo Technology: The furlings build a flying machine out of sticks and leaves, using plans for them to follow.
  • Big Eater: Russell the hedgehog, who can't help but pack tons of food for their expedition.
  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: A society of crows mourns a child stuck in the mud whom they believe is impossible to rescue. The heroes create an elaborate device to save him, inspiring the crowd to excitedly burst into a gospel-influenced song about it.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • Michelle is brought out of her coma by the herbs, and one by one the furlings are tearfully reunited with their parents. But when Michelle asks Cornelius where her parents are, 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. 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, just like how real moles can't see in bright lights.
  • Break the Cutie: Michelle, after finding out her parents are dead. 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!"
  • Call of the Wild Blue Yonder: Cornelius has a dream of flight, which leads him to pen diagrams and construct a scale model of a "Flapper Wingamathing". He doesn't get the chance to build one, though, as the tragic events of the story intervene. Cornelius's three young pupils, however, construct the device out of necessity, and it works. The end credits show Cornelius aboard his invention with the young 'uns operating it.
  • Catchphrase: For Cornelius: "Great honk!" His niece Michelle tends to add "I betcha!" to the end of her sentences.
  • Celestial Deadline: The furlings have to get the herbs to Michelle by the full moon.
  • Character Death: Michelle's parents die due to the toxic gas. 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.
  • Character Development:
    • Edgar goes from being a cowardly, worrying nerd to a brave, quick-thinking nerd.
    • The Furlings 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.
  • 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 humans aren't exclusively destructive monsters.
    • 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.
    • Early on, Cornelius demonstrated the model for his Flapper Wingamathing. It ends up playing a big role in the climax when it's discovered that the paper Russell had wrapped his snacks in were the plans for it.
  • 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.
  • Clarke's Third Law: The trailers talked about the main characters searching for a "magic potion." Sure, if herbal remedies that exist in real life count.
  • Comfort the Dying: The furlings have only two days' time in which to retrieve medicinal herbs for the dying moe Michelle. Their adult mentor, Cornelius, cannot accompany them, since he dares not leave Michelle unattended. As the furlings journey forth, Cornelius conducts an agonizing vigil at Michelle's bedside. Although the furlings return with the herbs at the eleventh hour, Michelle remains unresponsive. It's a Disney Death, however.
  • Coming in Hot: The Furlings end up crashing 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.
  • Converse with the Unconscious: Cornelius sings a song to Michelle as she's lying unconscious.
  • 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, and prolonged exposure ensures termination of life.
  • Disappeared Dad: Neither Russell nor Edgar seem to have fathers. Possibly Truth in Television, as female moles and hedgehogs raise their young alone.
  • Disney Death: Michelle doesn't wake up right away when they give her the herbs, but eventually does.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Abigail gets in a fight with a mouse named Willy. It causes the two of them to plummet from the tree they're both in and it causes Willy to lose the acorn they were fighting over. He turns to yell at Abigail and this trope ensues.
    Willy: JUST WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE... You're... Gosh I hope I didn't hurt you when you threw me down.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Green Aesop: 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.
  • 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 Bastards: Subverted. The humans aren't evil, but they do make mistakes.
  • 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." In the flashback to Cornelius' youth they seem to be carrying out some kind of deliberate extermination for reasons unknown.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters:
    • Implied throughout the film as humans are the accidental 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 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.
  • 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.
  • It's Quiet… Too Quiet: In the midst of reprimanding the Furlings for capsizing their boat, Cornelius suddenly notices a large flock of birds flying overhead and concludes that things are too quiet. He orders them to return home, and it is then that they finally see the damage the gas has caused.
  • Jaw Drop:
    "Russell, your mouth is hanging open..."
    Michelle: Uncle Cornelius, your mouth is hanging open.
  • Love at First Sight: Abigail falls on top of Willy the field mouse from a tree, and they instantly become shy and flirty.
  • 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.
  • Missing Mom: Abigail's mother is never shown and it's unknown what happened to her.
  • Motor Mouth: Michelle's Establishing Character Moment has her rushing in to greet her three friends, talking so fast they can barely keep up with her.
  • Mouse World: Dapplewood is a mouse world done in a more rural, wilderness setting. It consists of houses built into trees with Bamboo Technology being the norm and animals wearing clothing, far from the prying eyes of humans.
  • 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.
  • No FEMA Response: Subverted with decontamination crew cleaning up the entire area affected by the leak.
  • 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 has 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.
  • 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.
  • Parental Abandonment: Michelle is orphaned by the gas leak killing her parents.
  • Please Wake Up: Cornelius sings a song by this title to an unconscious Michelle. It's exactly as sad as it sounds.
  • The Power of Friendship: On their quest, the Furlings discover that in order to succeed, they must work together, which they eventually learn to do.
  • 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, but the quail is okay until it's finished.
  • Race Against the Clock: The Furlings must get Michelle the herbs within two days in order to cancel her appointment with the Grim Reaper.
  • 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 and animation are quite lush throughout.
  • Serendipitous Survival: Thanks to being on their ramble, Cornelius and the Furlings aren't in the meadow during the gas accident. Unfortunately, not only does this mean that they have no idea what happened to their families while they were gone, but a worried Michelle races back home because of it and gets a lethal dose of gas.
  • Shorter Means Smarter: Edgar is the shortest and smartest of Michelle's rescuers.
  • Shown Their Work: Just like in Real Life, the chlorine gas in the movie is lime-green and causes severe damage to the eyes and lungs - and death after prolonged exposure.
  • Stealth Pun: The Furlings encounter a bird pastor and his flock.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Take My Hand!: Edgar rescues Abigail this way as she's clinging to the wing of the flapper wingamathing.
  • 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.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Abigail is the tomboy to Michelle's girly girl.
  • Too Dumb to Live: In other circumstances, Michelle might be excuse for not being familiar with what an echo is. However, this echo is coming out of her own home and it's difficult to imagine her not having heard it before to the point that she can't tell that it's not her mother answering.
  • Took a Level in Idealism: Cornelius has an intensive hatred for humans as he and his young sister in their childhood had to see their parents in their old home being exterminated by humans but at the end of the movie when he sees Edgar being freed by a human as he gets trapped in an old trap, he realizes that not all humans are evil and embraced the fact that they have the capacity for kindness.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The driver who drops his bottle. One careless act of littering causes a chain reaction that devastates the forest, nearly kills Michelle, and DOES kill her parents.
  • Vanilla Edition: The DVD has no extras and is probably the only edition that will come out.
  • 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 get them any closer to finding a new meadow.
  • Wham Line:
    Cornelius: No, furlings, there's a deadly gas in there!
    • Another happens at the end.
    Michelle: Lookie, Uncle Cornelius, all the mommies and daddies are coming back.
    Cornelius: Not ALL the mommies and daddies.


Toxic Gas

If only the actual movie had this....

How well does it match the trope?

3.4 (5 votes)

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