Starring (voices): Ellen Blain, Paige Gosney, Ben Gregory, Michael Crawford, Elizabeth Moss
I have fond memories of putting in the tape for "Once Upon a Forest" into the VCR and being enchanted by the story. All these years later, it hasn't stood the test of time, but it remains charming and entertaining. Those looking for a nostalgia trip would do well to revisit this film. Or if you have kids, then they'll like it too.
Three animal children, or furlings, are going on a trip with their teacher, Cornelius (Crawford) and his niece, Michelle (Moss). They are the tomboy mouse Abigail (Blain), the chubby hedgehog Russell (Gosney) and the timid mole Edgar (Gregory). While on their trip, a gas truck blows a tire and overturns, leaking gas and poisoning the village. Michelle impulsively runs into her home to check on her parents and becomes gravely ill. Cornelius tells them that they have to find a new meadow in order get the herbs needed to heal her. Thus the three set off on a race against time to save their friend.
No, it isn't the most original story, but unless your name is Hayao Miyazaki, that's to be expected (or even encouraged) in a movie made primarily for kids. And this movie is for kids only; it's fast moving, cute and simple. Adults, especially those who are cynical, will be bored.
The voice acting is effective, but they are hampered by a screenplay that is full of clunkers. Writing for children is hard, but even kids will be able to tell that little of the dialogue sounds natural. Another rewrite could have smoothed out some of its rough edges. The acting by the three leads overcomes this setback for the most part, but Michael Crawford struggles. He does have a lovely singing voice, though.
"Once Upon a Forest" isn't any kind of masterpiece. It's not even a particularly good movie. But it's bright, colorful, and short enough that kids won't get fidgety. The environmentalist theme, while present, isn't hammered home. It's the kind of movie that you watch when it's on Netflix or if you see it in the discount bin at Wal-Mart. On that level, I recommend the film.