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It was a time in desperate need of heroes -- any kind of heroes.—opening narration
Twice Upon a Time is a 1983 mostly-animated comedy-fantasy directed by John Korty and Charles Swenson, and executive produced by George Lucas. As with several other such films of the early '80s (The Last Unicorn, The Secret of NIMH), its theatrical distribution was such that it made virtually no impact...and unlike those films it didn't get much video/cable exposure either.
The land of Frivoli is where dreams are made, and the land of Din is where they are taken to for delivery to the sleeping Rushers, via the jolly old man Greensleeves and his helpers the Figs. They have an evil counterpart in Synonamess Botch, who runs the nightmare factory known as the Murkworks and sends vultures out to deliver nightmares to Rushers. (Frivoli, the Murkworks, and the residents of both are animated via illuminated cut-outs while Din is Deliberately Monochrome live-action -- the Rushers are humans.)
Now Botch launches a master plan: He has Greensleeves and company kidnapped, and then tricks innocent fools Ralph (an "all-purpose animal", so called for his shapeshifting abilities) and Mumford (a Chaplin-esque mime) into stealing the spring of Din's Cosmic Clock for him. They do and this stops time in Din -- at a moment when everyone is awake. Botch will send the vultures there to drop powerful nightmares everywhere, then restart the clock and detonate them, which will trap all the Rushers in waking nightmares...forever. It's up to Ralph, Mum, Greensleeves's niece/aspiring actress Flora Fauna, inept superhero Rod Rescueman, and a harried Fairy Godmother to put things to rights before it's too late.
Last seen in a few airings on Cartoon Network, the film is distinguished not only by its unique "Lumage" animation, but also by a story, screenplay, and vocal performances that are imaginative and witty throughout, making this another great example of early renaissance-era animation.
This animated film contains examples of:
- Bad Boss: Synonamess Botch (and he's aware of it where the vultures are concerned).
- Big Red Button: Labeled "The Big Red One", it will detonate all the nightmares in Din.
- Books That Bite: Seen during Ralph and Mumford's nightmare.
- Cartoon Creature: Ralph's default form.
- Character as Himself: Mumford.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Mumford, again.
- Deadpan Snarker: The Fairy Godmother.
- Deliberately Monochrome: Din.
- Deranged Animation: Very much so.
- Disney Villain Death: Played straight with Ratatooie, and subverted with Botch, who falls out of his tower but is caught and carried off by his vultures. Given how poorly he treated them, this is probably not going to turn out well....
- Distressed Damsel: Heavily spoofed. Flora gets a job at the Murkworks playing this role in various nightmares, and Rod Rescueman's test for whether he's appropriate for being hired by the Fairy Godmother is rescuing her from her flaming desk. Flora subverts the trope when Ibor captures her -- Rod tries to rescue her, but in the end she destroys the robot herself.
- Doing It for the Art
- The Dragon: Ibor the video gorilla (a TV Head Robot). Via one of the shout outs below, a clip of quintessential dragon Darth Vader appears on it at one point.
- Dramatis Personae: After the opening credits and prologue, the main characters are introduced to us in this manner.
- Dream Land
- Embarrassing Slide: Synonimess Botch accidentally puts a photograph of a half-naked woman in his slide show. ("That's an old actress I used to know.")
- Evil Tower of Ominousness: The Murkworks.
- Extreme Omnivore: Botch's pet armadillo... thing Ratatooie -- most spectacularly when he eats all the garbage that Ralph and Mum were gathering up. His regular diet consists of nuts and bolts.
- Fairy Godmother
- Happily Ever After
- Heel Face Turn: Scuzzbopper.
- Lilliputians: The residents of Frivoli and the Murkworks.
- Keep Circulating the Tapes: Of torrents, in this case.
- Never Learned to Read: Played for Laughs -- this applies to the Chef Justice of Frivoli, which is why he just tosses away Greensleeves's letter (which is a plea for help). Luckily, Flora Fauna has noticed that all letters sent to him get tossed away in this manner, and decides to retrieve it and see what it actually says...
- Once Upon a Time: The phrase is used in the opening narration (naturally).
- Punch Clock Villain: Scuzzbopper; with his jester outfit and status as an unappreciated lackey (he's the head nightmare writer) he also has aspects of the Villainous Harlequin.
- Punny Name: "Synonamess Botch" is a pun on (painter) Hieronymus Bosch.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Ralph, Mum, Flora Fauna, and Rod Rescueman. The first two are actually referred to as "misfits"  early on, but no one else in Frivoli is aware of what's going on save for the Fairy Godmother, and there's only so much she can do for Ralph and Mum (i.e., hiring Rod). Even she loses faith in the pair and fires them from trying to save the day. Their determination to prove they can do something right leads into the final act.
- Roger Rabbit Effect
- Shout-Out: Among the clips seen on Ibor's screen are ones from The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, apt for a movie George Lucas executive produced.
- Smooch of Victory: Rod expects/wants this as payment for "saving" Flora from the Murkworks. At the end, he finally gets one out of her, and she also gives this to Ralph, Mum (twice) and Scuzzbopper.
- Splash of Color: A balloon in Din turns yellow in the final shot.
- Sugar Bowl: Frivoli is a Played for Laughs example.
- That's All Folks: Parodied via the trope namer as the last thing we see on Ibor's screen before he blows up.
- The Renaissance Age of Animation
- Time Stands Still
- Under Crank: Used to portray the waking world of Din. "Rushers" are so named because they're literally rushing through their lives, thanks to what Botch explains is a lack of time -- he tells the heroes his plan is to give them more via fixing the too-quickly-ticking Cosmic Clock. When Ralph and Mum search the Cosmic Clock for the spring, they cause time to run even faster, much slower (via overcranking), and even in reverse until it stops outright. At the end, when time restarts, it's at a normal pace at last.
- Unwanted Rescue: Rod's rescue of Flora from the Murkworks (he thought the King Kong-inspired nightmare she was filming was real).
- Voluntary Shapeshifting: Ralph.
- Writers Suck: Scuzzbopper yearns to write "the great Amurkian novel", but Botch does not care.
- ↑ "And dumb too!"