With such a generic title, you might think this is just another fairy tale story; but it's really a very mature Shakespearean-style tragedy...with senseless warfare and death, and a flawed hero in need of redemption.
The peace-loving Valley Folk of Windaria live out their quiet lives in the glorious shadow of The Guardian Tree of Life, the symbol of their faith. Among the tree-huggers is a conceited blonde-haired vegetable hawker named Alan and his sweet-natured wife, Marie. Unlike her husband, Marie doesn't go around with a chip on her shoulder. She does, however, go around with a big-eared squirrel named "Chipper" on her shoulder. Unfortunately, their tranquil Valley is situated precariously between the stingy people of Lunaria and the treacherous inhabitants of the dreaded Shadowlands.
The Lunarians have long been hoarding all of Windaria's fresh water in an enormous canal, holding back the waves with a set of stone floodgates monitored by a somnolent old gentleman named Caleb. The tainted water of the dark and dismal Shadowlands is known to cause insanity when consumed, so the residents depend on Lunaria's generosity to quench their thirst. The Shadowlanders' warmongering ruler, King Draco, is sick and tired of the ever-increasing water bills, and is itching to wring the thick neck of the rotund Lunarian Empress...who just happens to be the mother of his son Roland's ravishing blue-eyed girlfriend, Princess Veronica.
When he's not reprimanding the lazy and incompetent soldiers of the Shadowlands' inexperienced army, the periwinkle-clad Prince Roland secretly likes to send mushy love letters to Lunaria's pacifist Princess via carrier pigeon, inviting her to meet him in the Haunted Woods for a late-night royal rendezvous...perhaps even a slow-motion chase amidst the gnarly gray trees. "I can't think of anything in the world that could convince me to fight you, Veronica," the regal romantic tells his presumed enemy, princess of a kingdom which is the object of his rampaging father's hatred, "I love you with all my heart and will until I die...and after."
Meanwhile, a mysterious black-robed agent of the Shadowlands has learned that Alan the braggadocios vegetable man desperately wants to prevent his Valley from being caught up in the imminent war, but even more importantly, he craves fame and fortune...and if you give him a shiny red hovercycle, he will do anything. Stubbornly ignoring Marie's warnings, the muscle-shirted gardener falls victim to his many vices--greed, pride, selfishness, etc.--and is easily duped into doing a terrible thing, the devastating consequences of which will haunt him the rest of his life. If he is to attain Enlightenment, Alan must struggle to make amends for his reckless actions, until he is finally ready to transform into a translucent pink bird and rise up to meet that long black flying submarine in the starry night sky.
"Once Upon a Time" is an Americanized retelling of the Japanese anime, Windaria, brought to you by Carl Macek of Robotech fame. The story is narrated throughout by Russell Johnson (the Professor from Gilligan's Island)...so much so, in fact, that it's like listening to an audio book while looking at pretty pictures. The animation is wonderful, but the colors look a bit faded and the audio sounds flat. Aside from the optional Spanish language track, the DVD is bare-bones, and the menu design is boringly basic. Even in this form, this is a beautiful film with a powerful moral message; but the real tragedy of Windaria is that the original, unaltered Japanese version is not yet available in the U.S. Hopefully, ADV will release it someday soon. In the meantime, you can watch this disc and listen to the Windaria theme song, "Beautiful Planet," on the "Best of Animé" CD.