Film review: Once Upon a Forest

Published: Thursday, June 24 1993 12:00 a.m. MDT

There's no question that Disney is at a peak right now — but even its less notable efforts in the past ("Oliver and Company," "The Fox and the Hound") are better than most of what passes for theatrical animated features these days.

Just look at the dozen non-Disney losers we had between "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin." Not to mention the hideous "Happily Ever After," which should be hitting the dollar theaters any minute.

In fact, the only non-Disney bright spot last year for animation aficionados was "FernGully." And another environmentally correct yarn, "Once Upon a Forest," is this year's valentine to cartoon buffs. (And kids, too, of course.)

"Once Upon a Forest" is a delightful little yarn about three young critters — a wood mouse, a hedgehog and a mole — who have a series of adventures as they travel together on a quest.

They are in search of an herb that will heal a friend of theirs who has become deathly ill after a man-made accident — a tanker-truck has overturned and leaked a lethal gas, which is spreading throughout the forest.

Their teacher and mentor, an older badger who represents a sort of grandfatherly figure (voiced by Michael Crawford), has sent them on this quest, and the adventures they meet along the way range from comical to scary to musical (Ben Vereen voices a choir-conducting, gospel-shouting preacher in one amusing, toe-tapping segment).

In some ways, "Once Upon a Forest" is remarkably old-fashioned, despite a few nods to contemporary thinking. But that's not meant as criticism. On its own terms, the fairy tale sensibility works perfectly in context — and the film is most enjoyable for children and their parents.