If you’ve ever wondered what a Pixar film for adults would look like, you couldn’t go wrong with Twice Upon A Time (1983), which airs tonight/tomorrow morning on TCM at 4:30 AM EST (3:30 CST). This fractured fairy tale of good versus evil follows the exploits of Ralph, the All-Purpose Animal and his buddy Mum as they lead an assault on the sinister Murkworks, the source of all nightmares, and its megalomaniacal dictator, the mad Synonamess Botch, who intends to seize control of the Cosmic Clock so that the Rushers of Din — human mortals, in other words — will spend the rest of their lives in an endless bad dream. Directed by Sesame Street vet John Korty, the film utilizes “Lumage” animation, with bits of translucent paper (including photographic elements) moved very slowly and meticulously around illuminated boards and photographed. (If it reminds you of South Park — and Botch bears a very strong resemblance to a certain Eric Cartman — that’s because the show used more or less the same technique before going all-digital.) Many of the animators involved on the film would go on to bigger and better things, including future Pixar animator Harley Jessup, Henry Selick, and a nineteen-year-old David Fincher.
Independently produced in the Bay Area with a little help from George Lucas and Alan Ladd, Twice Upon A Time received only a very limited theatrical release before finding a larger audience through cable and VHS. It was reissued by Warner Archives on DVD last month, with both the “family friendly” version that omits some PG-rated profanity and the original dialogue track preserved on the disc for posterity. The cast is a who’s who of ‘70s and ‘80s voiceover talent, including the great Lorenzo Music as Ralph, Paul Frees (in multiple roles), and Marshall Efron as Botch. There’s also a ton of references to popular culture and current events, which was unusual for an animated film in the ‘80s.
There aren’t many clips available on the Intertubes, but here’s the title sequence, which should give you an idea of what you’re in for (with music by the then-unknown Bruce Hornsby). It’s obviously a rip from an old VHS tape, so the picture quality is a little fuzzy (trust me, it looks a lot better than this):
I watched the movie on DVD just a week ago — I’m a big fan, if you couldn’t tell — and found that it had held up pretty well. If you like weird, surreal comedy in which horror and cuteness are mingled, then Twice Upon A Time is definitely worth a look. If nothing else, it should provide an excellent cure for your Halloween/Daylight Saving Time hangover. And TCM is also showing all of David Lynch’s incredibly disturbing 2002 webtoon series DumbLand as a lead-in (basically, imagine The Simpsons as reimagined by Cormac McCarthy). It feels like a Murkworks production, so it should put you in the right frame of mind.