Retro Review: Twice Upon a Time (1983)
This week in Retro Reviews, I’m tweaking the rules a little. Twice Upon a Time is not technically a straight-to-television film…it was just released in such a botched manner that the only experience most have had of it is was during it’s limited run on both HBO and Showtime. So, I’m going to say it qualifies, cause I make the rules. Deal with it.
The whole history of Twice Upon a Time is a tragedy of missed opportunities and blown chances. The company that financed the film went belly up shortly afterwards, which caused the movie to suffer only a limited release. It tanked at the Box Office, and was pulled quickly. When preparing for a run on HBO which could have saved the film and created a wider audience, a full blown fight broke out between the producer John Korty on one side, and the voice actor for the main villain Synonamess Botch, who was supported by the script writer. At issue was the use of foul language and adult jokes, which the writer and actor favored, but Korty vehemently opposed. Because of the tussle, HBO had to yank the production after a few showings and a totally recut PG version was used instead. Fans went ballistic over HBO willing to show a “censored” version. After its run ended, HBO dropped it like the nuclear disaster it was quickly becoming, and further showings and VHS releases suffered from split personalities as no definitive version was agreed upon. After winning the argument by default, Korty’s sanitized version was released as a VHS, but no DVD version has ever been planned. In this limbo, Twice Upon a Time remains to this day, though many spliced versions abound online, trying to recreate the original airing.
Twice Upon a Time takes place between three worlds: Din is the “real” world, a modern city peopled by Rushers (using black and white footage of actual people instead of the stylized cut-out animation and bizarre Monty Python-esque pastiche backgrounds of the fantasy worlds.) The cosmic clock resides in Din, and is stuck at slightly too fast, leaving the Rushers beleaguered by the pace of their lives. Relief comes from Frivoli, a sunny fantasy world peopled with careless (and often brainless) do-gooders who create sweet dreams which are delivered to the hapless Rushers by Captain Greensleeves and his little bouncing fig men (fig men of imagination…get it?) On the flip side of Frivoli is Murkworks, where Synonamess Botch and his Vultures deliver nightmare bombs each evening to harry the people of Din.
As the movie commences, Botch has grown tired of only tormenting the people of Din in their sleep. His goal is to terrify them ceaselessly in a waking nightmare. Towards this end, he uses his vultures to capture the fig men (and depending on the version you watch) also Greensleeves. Greenie manages to get off a message to Frivoli, where it is tossed in the garbage because the feckless Head Chef of Frivoli can’t read or write. Enter our heroes: Ralph the All Purpose Animal who can transform into any animal (but not reliably,) and Mumford, the “no purpose nothing,” a silent Charlie Chaplin riff. Too intelligent to go about carelessly in Frivoli (though not quite smart enough to get anything right…) the duo is soon demoted to garbage duty, where with the help of Greensleeves niece, the aspiring actress Flora Fauna, the pair happen upon the distress note and vow to save the day. How, they don’t know.
Along comes Botch, who has been spying on the pair. He arrives and claims to be a friend of Greensleeves, and tells the heroes that they must seize the clock spring from the Cosmic Clock. With time stopped, Greensleeves will have all the time in the world to help the Rushers. Despite Mumford’s pantomime protests, Ralph sets out to prove that the two are not hopeless losers. They arrive in Din, and after much trouble, secure the spring, which is promptly stolen by the Vultures.
Enter the FGM (Fairy God Mother): a tough talking talent agent of a godmother with delightful Jewish mannerism, she sizes the two losers up and sets them straight about Botch. She also equips them with 3 magic dimes to call for help, and sets them up with a final hero, Rod Rescueman. Rod is a hero in training with a learners rescue permit who manages to crash through every situation he encounters. So all in all, the best character in a movie full of wonderfully warped characters.
Can the dimwitted heroes save the day? I won’t spoil it, though you probably have a good idea of how it ends…
Cut and Paste
The style of Twice is irreverent and topical, even in the PG version. George Lucas’s first animated venture, it is rife with inside jokes and allusions to films such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and The Muppets. The stop motion cut-out animation is as impressive now as it was when released, and the blending of real world back drops with fantastic characters is charming to behold. The movie suffers from lack of polish, which is a sad legacy of the squabbles that led to fractured versions being the only versions available.
Hopefully Warner Brothers will head the vocal minority of fans who have made this movie a cult object. A cleaned DVD version would certainly go along way towards making this delightfully demented fair tale the classic that it deserves to be. If you can russle up a vintage VHS copy of this film, I would highly recommend it. If not, you can find less than stellar copies all over the internet which will wet your appetite for the sweet dreams in Twice Upon a Time.