Once Upon a Forest

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Once Upon a Forest
OUAF poster.jpg
Directed by Charles Grosvenor
Produced by William Hanna
David Kirschner
Jerry Mills
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
Edited by Pat A. Foley
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • June 18, 1993 (1993-06-18) (United States)
  • October 22, 1993 (1993-10-22) (United Kingdom)
  • December 23, 1993 (1993-12-23) (Australia)
Running time
72 minutes
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $13 million[1]
Box office $6,582,052

Once Upon a Forest is a 1993 animated film based on the Furlings characters created by Rae Lambert. A Hanna-Barbera/HTV Cymru/Wales production released by 20th Century Fox, the film was directed by Charles Grosvenor and produced by David Kirschner (the producer of An American Tail, Child's Play and Hocus Pocus).

It tells the story of three forest denizens that go on an expedition to cure their friend, Michelle, who became sick from chemical fumes. The film's environmental theme divided critics at the time of its release, along with the animation and story. The film was a box office bomb , grossing only US$6.6 million against a budget of 13 million.


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. The Furlings happily reunite with their families, who are relieved to see that their children are alright. 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.



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][2] 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]

William Hanna, co-founder and chairman of Hanna-Barbera 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;[3] 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.[4]

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][2][4] 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.[2]

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 or Steven Spielberg.[5][6]

Hanna-Barbera's feature production unit created to produce this film and Jetsons: The Movie (1990), which 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 (it would license live-action film adaptations of The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo before being dissolved in 2001).

Release and reception[edit]

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."[7] 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, just over half its budget.[1][8] The film was also panned by critics and currently holds a 19% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 21 reviews.

In spite of the financial death and criticisms, Forest soon gained a cult following among its fans.[4] 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][4] On October 28, 2002, it premiered on DVD, also available on VHS in the UK with the content presented in fullscreen and widescreen formats.[4][9] The original trailer was included as the only extra on the Australian Region 4 version.[10]

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.[11]


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.[12]


Once Upon a Forest was adapted into book form by Elizabeth Isele, with illustrations by Carol Holman Grosvenor, the film's production designer.[13] 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 point-and-click adventure game based on the film, on CD-ROM and floppy disk for IBM computers; Beth Agnew served as its adapter.[14] Many elements of the game stayed faithful to the original source material.[15][16]

See also[edit]


  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 c "The Wrist" at MousePlanet.com. Retrieved February 9, 2007.
  3. ^ Jury page at ANIMACOR 2005. Retrieved March 27, 2007. (NB: Content is a machine translation from original Spanish.)
  4. ^ a b c d e The Once Upon a Forest Page. Retrieved July 6, 2006.
  5. ^ Once Upon a Forest at ReelViews. Retrieved March 23, 2007.
  6. ^ Once Upon a Forest Just Politically Correct (1993, June 18). The Times Union of Albany. Retrieved March 23, 2007.
  7. ^ Once Upon a Forest Will Enchant Wee Ones (1993, June 19). The Miami Herald. Retrieved March 23, 2007.
  8. ^ Once Upon a Forest at Box Office Mojo
  9. ^ The film is the coming attraction (2005, February 19). Oakland Tribune. Retrieved March 21, 2007.
  10. ^ DVD.net: Once Upon a Forest. Retrieved March 24, 2007.
  11. ^ Awards page for Once Upon a Forest at the Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 24, 2007.
  12. ^ Once Upon a Forest at Movie Music U.K. Retrieved March 23, 2007.
  13. ^ Carol Holman Grosvenor at the Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 27, 2007.
  14. ^ Profile for Beth Agnew at WritersNet. Retrieved March 27, 2007.
  15. ^ Once Upon a Forest at CD-ROM Access. Retrieved March 24, 2007.
  16. ^ Sheldon (2004), p. 164.

External links[edit]