Pros: A genuinely amusing film that's fun to watch
Cons: The animation is somewhat crude and sloppy at times; obvious content issues for some viewers
Being the logical conclusion of what Ralph Bakshi started with his original X-rated cartoon Fritz the Cat, Don Jurwich's 1976 Once Upon a Girl... is the naughtiest cartoon of its day, filled with explicit sexual situations and bawdy humor. The film is the result of a collaboration of various animators from Disney and Hanna Barbera - Jurwich himself was an animator for Tom & Jerry, The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, and Josie & The Pussycats. Obviously, this production caused quite a stir in the mid 1970s, especially considering the people involved with the film's production.
As was usually the case with adult films of this era that weren't necessarily produced by the porn industry, Once Upon a Girl is full of rowdy situations and contains some genuinely funny moments but never approaches the level of graphic sexuality found in today's pornography. This makes this film quite entertaining as an example of the adult industry as it existed in its infancy, encapsulating a place completely different from today.
The film is set up as an anthology of three animated segments based on popular nursery rhymes. These segments are bookended by live-action sequences depicting the criminal trial of Mother Goose, who has been arrested on obscenity charges after revealing the true, i.e. sexually explicit, versions of the stories that she became famous for. As Mother Goose begins to tell the new versions of her stories, all present in the courtroom start to become aroused by the first tale and demand that she relate additional stories. These live-action scenes are pretty laughable, a somewhat poorly constructed framework for the main attraction of the film.
The first animated sequence is a demented version of "Jack and the Beanstalk." As depicted here, Jack is a perverted teenager with voyeuristic tendecies. He quenches his thirst by forcefully sucking on the udders of cows or breasts of women, and possesses a massive erection that has the potential to destroy whatever woman (or animal for that matter) he has sex with. Exchanging his faithful cow for a moment of passion with a gypsy woman, Jack eventually ends up with magic beans that grow into a beanstalk leading to a castle inhabited by horny giants. This story builds to a very outrageous conclusion as a female giant uses Jack as a, shall we say, "stimulation device," and he ends up inside her as her husband proceeds to play "hump the hostess."
Next, we are told the story of "Cinderella," who dreams of having the local prince become sexually enamored with her. Problem is, she is living in poverty, the servant of a selfish and haggard woman and her two daughters. After encountering her fairy godmother, Cinderella attends the prince's ball in a bikini top, which obviously sets her apart from the competition attempting to win the prince's heart.
Finally, we get the tale of "Little Red Riding Hood." As this shapely young woman journeys through the woods on her way to a wedding, she is approached by a trio of hunters who proceed to elicit sexual favors from her. Eventually, she ends up at the ceremony completely naked, which in turn causes a stir among the attendees.
I have to say that the first cartoon segment is the best of the three; as the film progresses, the novelty of the concept starts to wears off and the film's momentum seems to decrease over the duration.
These three cartoons are marked by naughty elements, such as the appearance of the eighth dwarf, Pimpy the "forest flasher," who peddles lascivious pictures of Snow White on the side, a witch who operates a small sex shop in the middle of the jungle replete with toys of all shapes and sizes, and a homosexual troll who guards a bridge Little Red Riding Hood must cross. While the sexual content present here is rather crude at times, it never really approaches the level of depravity that is seen in the modern adult industry. This film certainly is tasteless at times, but it seems to mostly be in good fun. There's nothing particularly off-putting here; much like as in films such as Bud Townsend's porno/musical version of Alice in Wonderland, the content here seems whimsical as opposed to disgusting.
The script here by director Jurwich and Joel Seibel is generally fun, providing appropriately warped twists on the classic tales. The movie is pretty consistently entertaining, going out of its way to try and provide laughs and outrageous moments along the way. It seemed to me that Jurwich and Seibel threw quite a bit of creativity in this production which is nice considering that the curiosity factor alone would have attracted viewers. That the script and therefore the film was actually well developed makes the entire production surprisingly agreeable to the viewer.
Voice work here is generally decent; the voice actors do a fine job of playing up the laughs and having fun with their roles. Perhaps the most amusing element of the film is the hilariously filthy narration provided by Hal Smith (from TV's "The Andy Griffith Show"). Smith, in drag, plays Mother Goose and narrates the stories, accentuating the sexual elements and injecting additional humor into the tales. The sound is accentuated by music by Martin Slavin, who seems to perfectly capture the type of light motifs that often punctuate animation. There are some stand-out parts of the score, including a melody played by a harp that causes all objects and people around to become sexually aroused. In the end, the music is pleasant and doesn't really draw much too attention to itself, about what you'd want music to do in an animated film.
The animation itself present in Once Upon a Girl is kind of a mixed bag. It definitely resembles the kids's cartoons of the day, with similar character design and background creation. At the same time, it seems that the overall quality of the animation is more crude than would be found in a major animation production. This sometimes results in moments that are sloppy or just seem to be produced in a rather lazy manner without much attention to detail. The character designs, particularly among the female characters seem identical. Many animated films seem to have taken quite a while to produce, and although I'm sure that this film took some time to make, it seems more hurried and less polished than other animation of its day. The chance to produce a XXX cartoon presented some unique opportunities for the animators, but I thought that the end result was kind of disappointing.
On the plus side, though, the animation is bright and colorful. Action is frequent and there's always something onscreen to draw one's eye. There are a few standout moments in the animation, probably the best example is the depiction of Red Riding Hood's sexual climaxes through use of almost expressionistic painting effects.
As should be obvious, this film is absolutely not for the kiddies or anyone who can't handle a lot of cartoon nudity, sex and outrageousness. The content here is nonstop and frequently graphic, although quite tame by today's standards.
The DVD of this film from the folks at Severin films contains a fine looking print of this obscure work. The colors are vibrant, and the sound sounds fine in this version. The film is complemented by a nine minute interview with executive producer William Silberkleit who discusses the nature of exploitation production in the 1970s and briefly talks about the production and release of Once Upon a Girl. I would have been interested in more information specifically on this rare film, but I would suspect that many people involved with it don't particularly want the recognition. I have to say that Severin deserves credit for even releasing this film, let alone cleaning up the print and making a nice DVD out of it.
Once Upon a Girl is a forgotten work that may be worth rediscovering. As a curio alone, this film is amusing and fun to watch. Connoisseurs of animation may be somewhat let down by the overall quality of the animation, but I still feel that this film is pretty decent. I would give this a moderate recommendation; while certainly not a masterpiece, Don Jurwich's film is an agreeable time-passer.