Friday, June 16, 2017

Twice Upon a Time

Twice Upon a Time
John Korty, Charles Swenson

In a black and white city lives a race of beings called the Rushers of Din (more commonly known as human beings). The Cosmic Clock is a device that stops the Rushers at night so they may sleep. During this time, the Figmen of Imagination deliver good dreams sent from Frivoli, while vultures deliver nightmares manufactured in the Murkworks. The head of the Murkworks, Synonamess Botch (Marshall Efron) looks to capture a spring from the Cosmic Clock and plunge the world into eternal nightmares. To do that, he needs to trick Ralph, the All-Purpose Animal (Lorezno Music) and Mumford, the non-Purpose Nothing into doing his bidding.

Twice Upon a Time could be looked at as the end of a cycle of counter culture animation on the big screen. Throughout the 1970s with the rise of underground comix from a decade prior, several animated films were released in the US and marketed at college age adults. They contained psychedelic sequences, and often featured drugs and violence in their narratives. This was something that was shocking to see in a ‘cartoon’ in the US. Later these films would fall by the wayside as Japanese anime grew more accessible, and the drug culture turned away from psychoactive substances and towards stimulants in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, at the White House...
Twice Upon a Time exists in two versions, one with some mild cursing and the other without. There are also rumors of slightly different edits that may or may not exist, mostly fueled by the film being difficult to find for a couple decades after its release. These versions highlight the inner struggle for this movie as it tries to decide what it wants to be. It is a whimsical kid’s movie or is it a subversive comedy? A story doesn’t necessarily need to conform itself to expectations of an audience, but often it feels like Twice Upon a Time can’t quite make up its mind on a direction.

The animation is composed of a mix of traditional drawing and paper-cut outs, often mixing in some live action sequences and stills. There is a wonderful jumbled aesthetic to the film, but it also retains a distinct feeling whether in Frivoli, the Murkworks, or Din. The standout sequence in the film centers around a nightmare bomb detonating inside an office building, turning commonplace objects like desk lamps and staple removers into monsters. The whole moment is animated against images in negative; it is weird and scary in best way possible.

Meanwhile, at the Vatican...
The voice acting is solid through the entire cast. The dialog is largely improvised. There are a number of clever asides and moments. Synonamess Botch gets all the best lines, but everyone gets some amusing moments. There are also a few montages set to mid-tier rock music, the sort of thing that died out some time in late 1980s. You may or may not enjoy these interludes depending on your need for the real underbelly of 1980s nostalgia.

Twice Upon a Time is a unique piece of film, it's funny, strange, and forges its own odd aesthetic. The story shows a breadth of imagination that is impressive, and the fact it managed to exist and not be based on an established property, or a fast food tie-in promotion is even more encouraging.

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