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Once Upon a Forest Reviews

Cheery and well-intentioned, ONCE UPON A FOREST offers its politically correct ecology allegory within a reasonably diverting framework. Featuring tunes that are more melodic than usual, this musical also benefits from pleasantly detailed animation by talented cartoonists from several countries. In their storybook-pretty forest, Uncle Cornelius Badger (Michael Crawford) conducts classes for his young furlings including his niece Michelle (Elizabeth Moss), Edgar Mole (Ben Gregory), Abigail Mouse (Ellen Blain), and Russell Hedgehog (Paige Gosney). One day, on a field trip, the animal children discover a concrete highway travelled by humans. By the time they return home, their peaceful glen has been destroyed by poison gas that falls off a tanker truck that had careened off the road. Barely rescuing Michelle, who falls victim to the gas while hunting for her already dead parents, Cornelius and the furlings head for the high ground of his lair. There, he informs the youngsters that they must search for an unspoilt meadow where they can find two medicinal herbs to heal the dying Michelle. Uncertain and terrified, the tiny travelers' worst fears are confirmed when a one-eyed owl nearly snacks on them. Escaping this feathered cyclops, the furlings next encounter a flock of mourning birds whose funeral is cut short happily when the animal kids rescue the not-quite-dead Bosworth Bird (Rickey Collins). After warning them about the Yellow Dragons, the Preacher Bird, Phineas (Ben Vereen), directs them to a leafy meadow. Navigating past the Yellow Dragons, which turn out to be construction equipment, the intrepid trio falls into a sewer which lets them out near an untouched forest. Although the resident feuding mice and squirrels belittle them, the furlings find one herb and then build a fullscale version of Cornelius's model air-contraption in order to snatch the other, cliff-growing herb. Flying back home with the herbs in time to save Michelle, they are grateful when they spot human beings repairing the pollution damage done to their forest. Good-natured and brightly colored, ONCE UPON A FOREST is wholesome family fun, particularly for younger kids, though one wishes more care had gone into creating memorable characters than using the animals as mouthpieces for a Keep Our Forests Clean campaign. As anthropomorphized here, it's difficult to tell which species of animal Michelle or Edgar are; they're cute but nondescript creations. Additionally, that dinnertime owl attack is a miscalculation; it's as frightening a scene as you will find in any innocuous children's film anywhere. Quibbles aside, this musical moves quickly and is enlivened by the voices of the Andrae Crouch Gospel Singers, who make the revival-flavored funeral scene a foot-stomping delight. While it does force youngsters to confront some unpleasant facts of forest life--that the Food Chain isn't kind to tiny animals, human beings are callous where the environment is concerned, it's possible to lose one's parents at a tender age--this public service cartoon feature ends on a note of reassurance: the dreaded humans prove less dreadful than they first seemed. When its Save-the-Forest sloganry is kept in check, ONCE UPON A FOREST enchants. Even at its preachiest, the circus-bright colors and bouncy songs keep the sermonizing and the saccharine content under control.