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DVD Review: “Twice Upon a Time”

DVD Review: "Twice Upon a Time"

The long-awaited DVD release
of John Korty’s landmark animated feature is finally available thanks to Warner
. Only a precious few Archive releases include bonus material, and
fortunately this one gives viewers—and listeners—a chance to experience and
compare the two versions for themselves.

Thankfully, the DVD also has
an Audio Commentary! Korty (who co-directed with Charles Swenson) explains the
two versions in this way:

“The thing to get straight at the beginning here, is that [the PG] version
Twice Upon a Time is the original. There was a lot of
controversy about that. We had, legally, to make a family film and that’s what
we did
. [Producer/co-writer] Bill
Couturié panicked and was afraid it wasn’t going to work with [teenage and
young adult] audiences and brought the actors back to do the version with the
that is the alternate
version. Just so you’re straight, this is the one that is meant for family
audiences and has a PG rating.”

Korty’s version does not
have raunchy, raw language, but it does contain the kind of verbiage and
innuendo that became acceptable for family films by 1983. There are some bodily
noises and phrases like “asshole” and “sex maniac” that Disney animated films
would not touch, but live-action films had embraced.

The altered version doctored
by Couturié (NBC’s Ed and various documentaries)
was shown often on HBO, but the network replaced it with the PG original.
Technically, it was not the theatrical cut. There were complaints, so HBO
dropped it and Showtime picked up the original PG version. The original is
already well stocked with strong visuals and outstanding performances, but
choosing a favorite is a matter of preference—like eating regular Oreo cookies
or the ones with Double-Stuf.

From the very beginning, the
film makes it clear that you are not going to see the garden variety, run-of-the-mill
animated feature. The musical score is odd, disturbing. The credits are funny.
And then the great and powerful voice of Paul Frees sets up the premise with
narration in the style of Dudley-Do-Right

The voice actors–all
masters of improv–cover a variety of approaches. Lorenzo Music (best known as
the voice of Garfield and Carlton, Your Doorman) is a master of mellow delivery
as a hapless hero called The All-Purpose Animal; Marshall Efron (featured on
PBS’ The Great American Dream Machine,
also new to DVD gloriously chews the scenery as the villainous Synonamess Botch. Other cast members include Julie Payne (Garfield and Friends, Curb Your Enthusiasm)
as the sprightly Flora Fauna; Judith Kahan (Norman Lear’s Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and the MTM sitcom Doc) as the Rhoda Morgenstern-like Fairy Godmother; James Cranna (THX 1138, Mrs. Doubtfire) as the Stan
Freberg-ishly loony Rod Rescueman and Hamilton Camp (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, DuckTales) as Greensleeves, a.k.a.
“Uncle Greenie”.

It’s mind-boggling to
consider what this film accomplished years before the dark and quirky (as well
as heartfelt) productions of Tim Burton, Laika and others. It was also an early
triumph for the likes of Harley Jessup (Return
to Oz, The Hunt for Red October, Hook, Up
) and Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and
the Giant Peach
), both of whom who are present on the commentary.


The “Lumage” process set a
precedent for visionary, risk-taking features. Korty explains it on the

I made the name up to combine “luminous” and “image’
because one aspect of my cut-outs is their glowing, stained glass look, which
comes from animating translucent artwork. Underlighting is simple, although
doing it evenly on a large scale—like three by five feet—takes some doing. The
translucent material is a special paper, coated with liquid dyes. We used a
brand called “Luma-Dyes”.

The stereo DVD soundtrack sounds
superb. It makes the most of the musical score and songs (Korty credits the
music choices to Couturié), which, to my knowledge, is not available on vinyl
or CD. However, Maureen McDonald’s single version of the title song can be
heard here.

The transfer seems fine,
though it would be nice to see Twice Upon
a Time
in Blu-ray (or, more appropriately, on a big theater screen. By its
nature, the Lumage process creates a contrasty look, but having not seen it in
a theater, I cannot vouch for how it might have been brighter. I had the
View-Master reels, which are still extremely cool and look great.

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