Once Upon a Forest

Once Upon a Forest
Once Upon a Forest

Original theatrical release poster
Directed by Charles Grosvenor
Dave Michener
Produced by David Kirschner
Jerry Mills
William Hanna
Paul Gertz
Screenplay by Mark Young
Kelly Ward
Story by Rae Lambert (original Welsh story, A Furling's Story,[1] and Furlings characters)
Starring Michael Crawford
Ellen Blain
Benji Gregory
Paige Gosney
Elisabeth Moss
Ben Vereen
Music by James Horner
Editing by Pat A. Foley
Studio Hanna-Barbera
HTV Cymru/Wales, Ltd.
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) June 18, 1993 (1993-06-18)
Running time 71 minutes
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget US$13 million[1]
Box office $6,582,052

Once Upon a Forest is an animated film produced by Hanna-Barbera in association with HTV Cymru/Wales, Ltd. and released on June 18, 1993 by 20th Century Fox.

Based on the Furlings characters created by Rae Lambert, it was directed by Charles Grosvenor and produced by David Kirschner (creators of An American Tail and Child's Play).

It tells the story of three forest denizens that go on an expedition to cure their friend, Michelle, who became sick from chemical fumes. Despite being made for children, it features material that might be considered a little too grave for the genre.

For example, animals are shown being suffocated by poisonous fumes, and it is more than implied that a very large number do not survive.[2]

The film's environmental theme divided critics at the time of its release, along with the animation and story. It was a commercial failure, grossing only US$6.6 million domestically.



The story opens in a forest known as Dapplewood, where "Furlings" (a term for animal children) live alongside their teacher, Cornelius (Michael Crawford). The four Furlings central to the story are Abigail (Ellen Blain), a woodmouse; Russell (Paige Gosney), a hedgehog; Edgar (Benji Gregory), a mole; and a badger named Michelle (Elisabeth Moss), who is Cornelius' niece.

One day, the Furlings go on a trip through the forest with Cornelius, where they see a road for the first time. Russell is almost run over by a careless driver, who throws away a glass bottle, which shatters in the middle of the road. Cornelius orders the Furlings to forget the road altogether. The ramble ends in a boat ride. Afterward, they go back to the forest to find out that it has been destroyed with poison gas from an overturned tanker truck that blew a tire from the broken glass bottle while transporting chlorine gas. Michelle runs to her home worried about her parents, only to breathe some of the gas and become severely ill. The gas inside the house has already killed both of her parents. Abigail manages to save Michelle, and the Furlings go to Cornelius' house nearby for shelter. There, Cornelius tells the Furlings that they need to fetch two herbs that can save Michelle's life: lungwort and eyebright. With only a limited amount of time, they head off for their journey the next day.

After encountering numerous obstacles including a hungry barn owl, a flock of religious wrens including their reverend Phineas (Ben Vereen), and intimidating construction equipment, which the wrens call "yellow dragons", the Furlings make it to the meadow with the herbs they need. There, they meet the bully squirrel Waggs, and Willy, a tough but sensible mouse. After getting the eyebright, they discover that the lungwort is on a giant cliff making it inaccessible by foot. Russell suggests they use Cornelius' airship, the Flapper-Wing-a-Ma-Thing, to get to the lungwort.

The Furlings manage to get the lungwort after dangerous flight up the cliff, then steer their airship back for Dapplewood. They crash-land back in the forest after a storm, and bring the herbs to Michelle and Cornelius. When a group of humans who come to clean up the gas' mess appear, the animals escape through the backdoor of Cornelius's house. Unfortunately, Edgar gets separated from the group, and (after losing his glasses), gets caught in an old trap. When one of the workers finds him, the animals are at first worried about their friend, but are shocked when he frees Edgar and smashes the trap before stuffing it in his trash bag, an act Cornelius never expected a human to do, making him realize that there are good humans in the world. After taking Cornelius to the site where they crashed, the Furlings give him the herbs to help Michelle get better.

The next day, she wakes up from her coma after a teardrop from her uncle fearing her to be dead. The Furlings' families and many of the other inhabitants arrive as well, except for Michelle's mother and father, who were killed in the gas accident but Corneilus promised to look after her. The Furlings happily reunite with their families, who are relieved to see that their children are okay. Michelle asks Cornelius if anything will ever be the same again. Cornelius looks at the dead trees in the forest and says to her that if everyone works as hard to save Dapplewood as the Furlings did to save Michelle, it will be. The film ends with an overhead shot of Dapplewood to show that much of the forest is still alive and that there is still hope to rebuild and make a home.



Once Upon a Forest was conceived as early as 1989, when the head of graphic design at HTV, Rae Lambert, devised an environmental tale entitled A Furling's Story as a pitch to the American cartoon studio, Hanna-Barbera, along with partner Mike Young. Thanks to screenwriters Mark Young and Kelly Ward, the project started as a made-for-TV movie with The Endangered as its new name.[1][3] With 20th Century Fox on board, it was re-designed as a theatrical feature, with a US$13 million cost attached.[1] The producer was David Kirschner, former chairman and CEO of Hanna-Barbera.[1]

At the suggestion of Liz Kirschner, the wife of the film's producer, The Phantom of the Opera's Broadway star Michael Crawford was chosen to play Cornelius. Members of South Central Los Angeles' First Baptist Church were chosen to voice the chorus accompanying the preacher bird Phineas (voiced by Ben Vereen). While filming the live-action references, the crew "was thrilled beyond [...] expectations [as the chorus] started flipping their arms and moving their tambourines", recalls Kirschner.[1]

Hanna-Barbera founder and animator William Hanna was in charge of the film's production. "[It is] the finest feature production [we have] ever done," he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in May 1993. "When I stood up and presented it to the studio, my eyes teared up. It is very, very heartwarming."[1]

Kirscher spoke to The Dallas Morning News' Philip Wuntch a month later on the diversity of the film's production services: "Disney has great animators, and the studio has them locked up for years and years. We got the best worldwide animators available from Sweden [actually Denmark], Asia, Argentina, Spain and England [actually Canada]."[1] Work on the animation was in the hands of Wang Film Productions in Taiwan; Lapiz Azul Animation and Matias Marcos Animation of Spain;[4] the Jaime Diaz Studio of Argentina; Denmark's A. Film; Phoenix Animation Studios in Toronto, Canada; and The Hollywood Cartoon Company. Mark Swanson Productions did computer animation for the "Yellow Dragons" and the Flapper-Wing-a-Ma-Thing.[5]

Because of time constraints and budget limitations, over ten minutes were cut from the film before its release. One of the deleted scenes featured the voice of Glenn Close, whose character was removed entirely from the final storyline.[1][3][5] At around the same time, the Fox studio changed the name of The Endangered to the present Once Upon a Forest, for fear audiences would find the former title too sensitive for a children's film.[3]


Once Upon a Forest received mixed reviews from critics during its original run. Showing praise for the film were The New York Times' Stephen Holden,[6] and Variety's Todd McCarthy.[7] But some reviewers questioned the movie's message, such as Hal Hinson of The Washington Post on June 19, 1993: "It's true that human beings are polluting and destroying the planet, but does anyone really think that the way to help children love nature is to teach them to hate mankind?"[2]

The quality of the animation and story, the attributes of the characters, and the film's environmental approach were rebuked by Hinson and many other reviewers. Roger Ebert's feelings on the film were mixed; he deemed it "a children's animated adventure that seems to have been conceived as an anthology of Politically Correct attitudes". He noted at the end of his review, "[It] has a good heart — I liked the way it treated its themes — but the movie is kind of dumb."[8] The staff of Halliwell's Film Guide called it a "Dull and unimaginative animated movie that is unlikely to engage anyone's attention."[9]

The film's advertising at the time promised a new masterpiece "from the creator of An American Tail". The creator in question was David Kirschner, who served as Tail's executive producer, and actually did create the characters and the story of the film. But ReelViews' James Berardinelli and the Times Union of Albany found it misleading, hoping instead for the likes of Don Bluth.[10][11]


The Miami Herald took note of the film's potential competition with Universal Studios' already-established summer hit, Jurassic Park: "[A] small but well-crafted animated feature like [this] seemingly doesn't stand a grasshopper's chance. And that's a shame, because this is a delightful family film."[12] Ultimately, Once Upon a Forest did poorly in theaters: after opening with $2.2 million at 1,487 venues, it only managed to make back US$6,582,052 at the North American box office, about half its budget[1][13].

The Hanna-Barbera feature production unit created to produce Once Upon a Forest, as well as Jetsons: The Movie which was released earlier and also carried an environmental theme, was spun off into another unit under parent company Turner Entertainment, Turner Feature Animation, which produced The Pagemaster and Cats Don't Dance. David Kirschner remained as head of the division. No further theatrical animated films were produced by Hanna-Barbera itself (save for the live-action film adaptations of The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo and Yogi Bear), although The Powerpuff Girls Movie would be made in 2002 by Hanna-Barbera successor Cartoon Network Studios.

In spite of the financial death and criticisms, Forest soon gained a cult following among its fans.[5] Fox Video's original VHS and laserdisc issue of the film, released on September 21, 1993, proved successful on the home video market for several months.[1][5] On October 28, 2002, it premiered on DVD, also available on VHS in the UK with the content presented in fullscreen and widescreen formats.[5][14] The original trailer was included as the only extra on the Australian Region 4 version.[15]

Once Upon a Forest was nominated for an Annie Award for Best Animated Feature in 1993. It won an MPSE Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing.[16]


The score for Once Upon a Forest was among the last that composer James Horner would write for an originally made animated film. Three songs were written for it: "Please Wake Up", "He's Gone/He's Back", and the closing credits track, "Once Upon a Time with Me". The soundtrack, released by Fox Records, has been out of print since its publisher went out of business in the mid-1990s.[17]


Once Upon a Forest was adapted into book form by Elizabeth Isele, with illustrations by Carol Holman Grosvenor, the film's production designer.[18] The tie-in was issued by Turner Publishing and distributed by Andrews McMeel, a month prior to the film's release (ISBN 1-878-68587-2).

The multimedia company Sanctuary Woods also released a MS-DOS game based on the film, on CD-ROM and floppy disk for IBM computers; Beth Agnew served as its adapter.[19] Many elements of the game stayed faithful to the original source material.[20][21]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Beck, Jerry (2005). "Once Upon a Forest". The Animated Movie Guide. Chicago Reader Press. pp. 18–19. ISBN 1-55652-591-5. 
  2. ^ a b Review of Once Upon a Forest by Hal Hinson (1993, June 19). The Washington Post. Retrieved March 23, 2007.
  3. ^ a b c "The Wrist" at MousePlanet.com. Retrieved February 9, 2007.
  4. ^ Jury page at ANIMACOR 2005. Retrieved March 27, 2007. (NB: Content is a machine translation from original Spanish.)
  5. ^ a b c d e The Once Upon a Forest Page. Retrieved July 6, 2006.
  6. ^ Review of Once Upon a Forest by Stephen Holden (1993, June 18). The New York Times. Retrieved January 31, 2007. (Requires registration to view page.)
  7. ^ Review of Once Upon a Forest by Todd McCarthy (1993, June 17). Variety. Retrieved March 24, 2007.
  8. ^ Review of Once Upon a Forest at rogerebert.com. Retrieved March 23, 2006.
  9. ^ Gritten, David, ed (2007). "Once Upon a Forest". Halliwell's Film Guide 2008. Hammersmith, London: HarperCollins Publishers. p. 876. ISBN 0-00-726080-6. 
  10. ^ Once Upon a Forest at ReelViews. Retrieved March 23, 2007.
  11. ^ Once Upon a Forest Just Politically Correct (1993, June 18). The Times Union of Albany. Retrieved March 23, 2007.
  12. ^ Once Upon a Forest Will Enchant Wee Ones (1993, June 19). The Miami Herald. Retrieved March 23, 2007.
  13. ^ Once Upon a Forest at Box Office Mojo
  14. ^ The film is the coming attraction (2005, February 19). Oakland Tribune. Retrieved March 21, 2007.
  15. ^ DVD.net: Once Upon a Forest. Retrieved March 24, 2007.
  16. ^ Awards page for Once Upon a Forest at the Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 24, 2007.
  17. ^ Once Upon a Forest at Movie Music U.K. Retrieved March 23, 2007.
  18. ^ Carol Holman Grosvenor at the Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 27, 2007.
  19. ^ Profile for Beth Agnew at WritersNet. Retrieved March 27, 2007.
  20. ^ Once Upon a Forest at CD-ROM Access. Retrieved March 24, 2007.
  21. ^ Sheldon (2004), p. 164.

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