Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Reel Facts & Opinions: The Curious Case of TWICE UPON A TIME

This week, Lucasfilm pulled a minor surprise when they announced that their new animated film, STRANGE MAGIC, will be released by Touchstone Pictures in January 2015. The film, which is set up as a fairy tale inspired by William Shakespeare’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, is a musical using popular songs from the past six decades to help tell the adventures of goblins, elves, fairies and imps. Lucasfilm Animation and Industrial Light and Magic, which created the CGI animation for 2011’s Best Animated Picture RANGO, brings life to the project. 

While the screenplay is credited to three different writers, the story itself is being credited to George Lucas, who has been out of the public eye since retiring in 2012. Lucas, who is mostly known for his STAR WARS saga of films, is serving as Executive Producer. With this being only the second animated film that Lucas has had an active hand in, it seems like a good time to look at his first; the obscure TWICE UPON A TIME from 1983.

TWICE UPON A TIME was a film saturated in fantasy. An evil outfit called the Murkworks wants to replace the world’s sweet dreams with nightmares, which are delivered as bomb-like eardrops by legions of winged creatures. Standing in their way is Ralph, an all-purpose creature who can change into any animal at will. 

George Lucas, whose first student film at USC was an animated short, would serve as Producer in the 1983 film, which would eventually be called one of the most important movies in the history of stop-motion animation. The technique, called cutout animation, was new and groundbreaking. The images were prefabricated plastic pieces which were cut out and lit from below, which gave the characters and the surroundings a unique and special glow. Background photographs of cityscapes were added into the frame to create a surrealistic quality, and the overall result was a stunning picture which would hold up even today. 

TWICE UPON A TIME would generate some controversy because of its boldness. The dialogue was unconventional as it was loaded with raunchy humor and foul language. Many of the jokes sailed right over the heads of the kiddos, and eventually two different versions of the film (PG and PG13) would see a home release. Controversy erupted in the late 1980’s when the PG13 version aired on HBO, and programmers pulled the film until they could receive the more kid-friendly version, and Showtime would have a similar issue. 

The legacy of TWICE UPON A TIME, despite the controversy, remains intact. Its new form of animation would inspire animators to think outside the box, and the adult-themed humor would be reflected in animated films in the next few decades. In 2012, the DreamWorks film RISE OF THE GUARDIANS shared some of the same plot. But perhaps the film’s biggest legacy is that it is currently an unreachable film. It has not seen a proper DVD or Blu-Ray release, and its last television broadcast was in 1998. The fate of TWICE UPON A TIME is unclear, but it will always be an interesting and colorful footnote in not only George Lucas’ career but animated movies in general.

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