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‘Once Upon a Forest’ (G)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 19, 1993

The principal virtue of the new animated feature "Once Upon a Forest" is that it is 100 percent dinosaur-free.

And that includes Barney.

The movie, which was produced by the famously below-average Hanna-Barbera Productions, is bright and bouncy and full of cuddly-cute talking animals, just the way animated children's movies are supposed to be. Then, all of a sudden, there's all this gratuitous human-bashing and hysterical ecological rhetoric about what a fiendishly evil creature man is -- how dirty and soulless and indifferent to the plight of God's furry pets.

What do these men -- who remain faceless -- do? First, they litter. And what's more, their littering causes a tanker filled with poison gas to crash and overturn, spilling its lethal stench throughout the forest, killing all sorts of bunnies and mice and badgers, and -- even worse -- the mommies of bunnies, mice etc. At least that's what this rather grim and unlikable cartoon leads us to believe.

The three heroes of this pen-and-ink editorial -- a green-eyed tomboy mouse named Abigail (voice by Ellen Blain), an overdressed mole named Edgar (Ben Gregory) and an overweight hedgehog named Russell (Paige Gosney) -- must rush off to a distant meadow, where they are supposed to find the rare plants that will provide the medicine to rescue their adorable possum pal Michelle (Elizabeth Moss) from death's door.

While these three do all the dirty work, Michelle's do-nothing uncle, Cornelius (Michael Crawford), hangs back with the sick patient. And sings. The number isn't bad, but it's not "Phantom of the Opera," and it does absolutely nothing for his niece.

The movie's other name star, Ben Vereen, who provides the voice for a Holy Roller rooster named Phineas (and bears an uncanny resemblance to the Rev. Al Sharpton), proves equally worthless. Though he too manages to squeeze in a musical number -- this one a sort of chicken-coop gospel stomp.

As cartoon characters go, our three heroes are rather drippy, though that probably won't matter to the kiddos. But even children can't help but be bored by the movie's shadowless, textureless, weightless style of animation. And though the humans are redeemed (somewhat) and the woodland parents reunited with their youngsters, the filmmakers -- director Charles Grosvenor and producers David Kirschner and Jerry Mills -- employ shameless shock tactics to send their save-the-earth message. It's true than 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?

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