TWICE UPON A TIME is on of those rare gems that so uniquely comes from a pretty singular vision (or in this case, a singular vision with lots of collaborators). It immediately calls to mind animated classics like YELLOW SUBMARINE for sure and perhaps Terry Gilliam's work for MONTY PYTHON, but director John Korty's own distinct animation style helps make this movie pretty memorable. The animation technique was called 'Lumage' (for Luminous Image) and it consisted basically of using cutout pieces of translucent fabric. It is a slightly more sophisticated and time consuming version of traditional cutout animation (which has been around since the 1920s or so), but the result is quite transplendent and lovely. We of course are accustomed to seeing cutout animation these days via shows like SOUTH PARK, but the Lumage techniques used for TWICE UPON A TIME have a remarkable almost water-color-y consistency that I feel elevates the proceedings to another artistic level. That and the fact that real photographs are often used as backgrounds which gives one the sense of the fantastic mixing with the mundane. There were actually bunches of other filmmaking and special effects methods used to achieve the movie's look and feeling. The film's story basically revolves around the conflict between two warring factions of dream-makers who make two different kinds of dreams. In a place called Frivoli, a guy called Greensleeves who has underlings called Figmen of Imagination (the look like little purple sacks with eyes that hop and fly about) have made it their mission to deliver magical pixie dust to sleepers which induce sweet dreams. Not too far away in a dark and creepy factory known as The Murkworks, the high ruler Synonamess Botch sends his legions of nightmare-bomb-dropping vultures to stop the Figmen's quest and to kidnap them as well. Enter Ralph the "All Purpose Animal" (who can shapeshift into various creatures) and his pal Mumford (a very Charles Chaplin-esque) mime-type guy who become the unlikely heroes sent on a pilgrimage to stop evil Botch's plan. That's basically it, but the fantastic world in which TWICE UPON A TIME takes place is such a delightful and yet sometimes scary microcosm for our heroes that the whole movie becomes unforgettable in it's oddball way. There are some other very fun characters like Rod Rescueman (who is basically a super hero who works for a temp agency) and others, but it all comes together in a way that's not really like anything you've seen before. I'm a big fan and cannot recommend this movie enough. It is an important animated classic that needs only for more people to find it to achieve its proper recognition.
John Korty is a really interesting dude in that he was a filmmaker who was doing his own thing independently of Hollywood up in Marin County California before George Lucas and Coppola had thought of setting up shop there. Apparently Lucas met Korty when they were on a panel together in the late 1960s and he was immediately taken with Korty's whole setup. Korty had made three features (THE CRAZY QUILT, FUNNYMAN & RIVERRUN) from 1967 to 1970 and he was holding his own in his Hollywood-outsider way. He had previously been nominated for an academy award for his animated documentary short (called BREAKING THE HABIT) about smoking an lung cancer in 1964. Lucas would of course go on to executive produce TWICE UPON A TIME.
Korty had lots of talented people working with him on TWICE UPON A TIME including Henry Selick (Coraline, The Nightmare Before Christmas), Harley Jessup (production designer on Ratatouille and Monsters Inc.) and even another guy you might know by the name of David Fincher. There's even a story about how Selick and Fincher almost came to blows whilst working on this movie (though that is not really touched on in the commentary).
TWICE UPON A TIME has an interesting history behind it and its lack of much in the way of home video releases since it first came out in 1983. It was produced by The Ladd Company for distribution by Warner Brothers, but the powers that be at the time had little confidence in the movie and it received a minuscule theatrical release (basically it ran for two weeks in Westwood, California). Warners apparently even opened TWICE UPON A TIME against another of their own animated releases (DAFFY DUCK'S FANTASTIC ISLAND) which would seem like an extra kick to keep TWICE down. After it's two week theatrical run, Warners was free to sell TWICE to pay TV and they did just that. A good portion of the film's limited notoriety came from a dozen airings that HBO did in the summer 0f 1984. Lots of people saw the movie that way and some even taped it and passed around those tapes for years after. The movie didn't get an official VHS'LD release until 1991 and when folks who had seen it on HBO saw this "official" version, it was now minus the profanity that they had remembered hearing when they first watched it. You see, for a long time, that "swearing version", the PG rated version of the film was considered the definitive one. Not so though as John Korty had intended the movie for a family audience and the re-recorded dialogue with colorful metaphors had been added later for the HBO TV airings (to widen the films appeal beyond young children supposedly). So this movie has had a long road to more home video glory and it is very nice to see Warner Archive dig it up and send it out into the world again. WAC has put out the film with both the original (director's preferred) clean audio track and the latter HBO/PG-rated sweariffic version.
As hinted at above, this disc does include a newly recorded commentary track which includes Korty himself and several of his collaborators like Henry Selick, Harley Jessup, John Baker, Brian Narelle, Will Noble and Carl Willat. The track is serviceable, but is made more enjoyable by Korty himself interjecting with some technical bits and bobs during much of the dead air that exists on the track.
There is a great article written by Taylor Jessen which covers a lot of the details and conflicts surrounding TWICE UPON A TIME getting made. Check it out here:
The Warner Archive DVD of TWICE UPON A TIME can be purchased here:
John Korty's Film THE CRAZY QUILT can be purchased from his website here: