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Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: March 12?, 1983
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Cité en vol © Procidis‘Cité en vol’ is the third of six episodes, which form the finale of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’.

This episode starts with Pierrot and Murdock flying to the hostile planet of Yama. Yama is overtly similar to Mos Eisley from ‘Star Wars’ (1977), and Pierrot and Murdock walk around like jedis. At Yama they ally with a rebel group, and together they try to enter the center of the city, which is pure robot territorium. Unfortunately, the robot city is well-guarded…

Meanwhile the humanoids try to get to the secrets of Psi’s psychic powers. As Pierrot reveals to Murdock, if they’ll succeed nothing will be able to stop them. At one point they get help from a Cassiopeian telepath, and he and Psi have a telepathic mind battle, which is a nightmarish variation on the battle between Merlin and Madam Mim in ‘The Sword in the Stone’ (1963). This scene, with its continuous metamorphosis, arguably is the most impressive piece of animation of the entire series, even if it’s still nowhere near the Disney animation that might have inspired it.

Although most of this episode is about Pierrot trying to get inside the robot city, it also hints at the real dangers the humanoids form. They call ambassador Le Nabot (Dwarf) a fool behind his back, and continuously refer to a secret plan. At the end of the episode the robot city takes flight, giving the episode its name. This concept Barillé undoubtedly borrowed from James Blish’s science fiction book series ‘Cities in flight’, which appeared between 1955 and 1962.

The importance of this event will only be revealed later, but it’s clear that Pierrot made it inside just in time. Unfortunately, it does kill Murdock, the only human being killed on screen in the entire series, a death that made a strong impression on me when I was a kid.

Watch ‘Cité en vol’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 23rd episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 22nd episode: Un monde hostile (A Hostile World)
To the 24th episode: Le grand ordinateur (The Great Computer)

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Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: February 5?, 1983
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

L'Atlantide © Procidis‘L’Atlantide’ is the second episode that takes place on earth, after ‘Terre!‘.

It starts with Petit Gros’s departure. Old Maestro and Pierrot go visit some underwater cities, where they meet a strange captain, who appears to be from Atlantis. When confronted with Psi, whom he knows as his mother in a former life, he tells our heroes the story of Atlantis. This is another example of Barillé’s fondness of Erich von Däniken’s “the gods were cosmonauts” ideas, after ‘Les Cro-Magnons‘, ‘La planète Mytho‘ and ‘Les Incas‘.

Unfortunately, this episode is rather boring, except for the Atlantean’s account, which is a classic story of greed, strive and doom.

Watch ‘L’Atlantide’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 18th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 17th episode: Terre! (Earth)
To the 19th episode: L’étrange retour vers Oméga (The Strange Return to Omega)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: January 15?, 1983
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Les anneaux de Saturne © Procidis‘Les anneaux de Saturne’ follows three boring episodes that rather stood on their own.

How different this episode is! Like ‘La révolte des robots‘, ‘Les anneaux de Saturne’ is no less than a key episode. With this episode starts the finale of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’, the long continuous saga that makes the series such a remakable effort.

Because Pierrot has to recover from his injuries he got on the Jurassic planet in ‘Chez les dinosaures‘, Psi is allowed to go on a holiday – alone. Together with Metro she wants to explore the asteroid belt of our own solar system, but near Mimas, one of Saturn’s moons, she’s intercepted by unknown spaceships. These appear to be from a secret society of humanoid robots, and General Le Teigneux’s mysterious allies. Psi and Metro are thus the first to encounter this new threat, which will dominate the episodes 19 to 26. In an attempt to escape, Psi and Metro crash on an asteroid, leaving Metro in shambles. Luckily, Pierrot and Petit Gros come to the rescue…

This episode is not only mysterious and exciting, but also educational on Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter and the asteroid belt.

Watch ‘Les anneaux de Saturne’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 15th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 14th episode: Chez les dinosaures (In the Land of the Dinosaurs)
To the 16th episode: L’imparable menace (The Unstoppable Menace)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: January 8?, 1983
Rating: ★
Review:

Ches les dinosaures © Procidis‘Chez les dinosaures’ is the last of three vaguely educational episodes. It’s also one of the weakest episodes in the series.

Pierrot, Psi and Metro now visit a planet inhabited by dinosaurs from the Jurassic period. Its educational value, however, is doubtful: Barillé’s theories on the end of the dinosaurs are no less than ridiculous, and the dinosaurs are designed and animated terribly.

Furthermore, one grows tired of all these earth-like planets, populated by the same creatures that have roamed the earth, too (such planets occur also in ‘La Planète verte‘, ‘Les Cro-Magnons‘, ‘La planète Mytho‘, ‘Les géants‘ and ‘Les Incas‘). As if everywhere in space the same history occurs over and over again.

Luckily, this was the last so-called ‘educational’ episode. With the next episode, Barillé would go back to the main story without leaving it again. Indeed, even ‘Chez les dinosaures’ contributes to it, as Pierrot gets injured during this episode, leaving Psi on her own in the next one, with dramatic results…

Watch ‘Chez les dinosaures’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 14th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 13th episode: Les Incas (The Incas)
To the 15th episode: Les anneaux de Saturne (The Rings of Saturn)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: December 18?, 1982
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Les naufragés de l’espace © ProcidisThis episode starts immediately where ‘La planète déchiquetée‘ has left off: the space vessel ‘Ursus’ has crashed on, luckily, an earth-like planet.

Unfortunately, its captain is ill, and our heroes have difficulties with the second in command, the skeptical and cowardly lieutenant Sanders. While Metro is used for all kinds of reparations, Pierrot and Psi go on two expeditions.

On the first they encounter strange lifeforms, like walking trees, spider-like aliens, green gorillas, and friendly little black people called Ptax. Like the lizards in ‘Les Sauriens‘, the Ptax are telepathic and they help our heroes against the green gorilla creatures.

On the second expedition, our heroes go searching for metal, but what they find is a military ship from Cassiopeia… Aware of the threat, Pierrot and Psi hurry back to the camp, only to learn the captain has died. Only when a riot breaks out between Pierrot and Sanders, Omega comes to the rescue.

The animation is painstakingly slow in this episode, and there’s more urge in the dialogue than in the action. Because of these shortcomings the episode is only half as captivating as it could have been.

Watch ‘Les naufragés de l’espace’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 11th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 10th episode: La planète déchiquetée (A Planet Blown to Pieces)
To the 12th episode: Les géants (The Giants)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: November 27?, 1982
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Le long voyage © Procidis‘Le long voyage’ is a nice episode about space travel.

Star of the episode is an ancient forefather of Maestro who, after a journey of more than a 1,000 years, awakes near Omega, only to be greeted by descendants of humans who had made the trip after him, with better, larger and faster spaceships.

This episode excels in beautiful backgrounds and designs, especially of the spaceships. Highlight, however, are the ancient Maestro’s fantasies about extraterrestrial life, just before he encounters the all too familiar inhabitants of Omega.

With ‘Le long voyage’ we firmly return to the main story of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’. The strange incident from episode 1 is mentioned again, and in this episode we learn that earth still exists, ultimately leading to our heroes visiting their mother planet in episode 17. It also contains an unclear mystery about a hijacked ‘train’, indicating more troubles to come. Moreover, this episode shows Psi’s psychic powers in full, saving Pierrot who has become adrift in space.

Maestro’s ancestor is a great character and he would return to the screen in episodes 17 (‘Terre!‘) and 18 (‘L’Atlantide‘).

Watch ‘Le long voyage’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 8th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 7th episode: La planète Mytho (The Planet Mytho)
To the 9th episode: À Cassiopée (In Cassiopeia)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: November 20?, 1982
Rating: ★★
Review:

La planète Mytho © ProcidisIn this seventh episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ our heroes Pierrot, Psi and Metro land on a planet, where the survivors of a stranded spaceship play Gods.

This episode toys with Erich von Däniken’s ideas about the gods having been astronauts (Barillé would revisit that idea in ‘Les Incas‘). The stranded people are like the gods of the ancient Greek, sharing their names and habits.

The commander of the ship, Zeus, is a strong and valiant man, but he is also selfish, autocratic, and paternalistic. He keeps the mortals, the original humans populating the planet, ignorant and miserable. Pierrot and Psi disagree with the commander’s choice, and secretly give the humans bricks, the wheel, the sail, music and fire, thus turning them into some Prometheus and Athena, and showing Barillé’s personal political view.

Unlike its predecessor, ‘La révolte de robots‘, ‘La planète Mytho’ is more or less a stand-alone episode. It is also vaguely educational, telling kids a little about Greek mythology, although this is much easier to understand and to enjoy by the educated viewer than by the intended audience.

Apart from the Gods, Barillé shows us three Greek myths: Peleus and Thetys, Pan and Syrinx, and Eris’s apple of discord. The bronze giant Talos is transformed into a robot.

Because of the use of Greek mythology, the overall episode is inconsistent, hard to follow and slow. One wonders what Barillé’s aim was with this entry: did he want to educate or did he want to tell about political ethics?

Watch ‘La planète Mytho’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 7th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 6th episode: La révolte des robots (The Revolt of the Robots)
To the 8th episode: Le long voyage (The Long Voyage)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: October 30?, 1982
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Du côté d’Andromède © Procidis‘Du côte d’Andromède’ is the first episode of Il était une fois… l’espace in which Pierrot, his love Psi, and the little robot Metro are presented as a team.

Psi replaces Pierrot’s former co-pilot, Petit Gros, whose star would soon fade away. The trio’s routine inspection flight turns into a disaster when they crash into the planet Clarus, which orbits a dying star. In search of fresh air, our heroes meet a people called Terks, who are outcasts from Andromeda.

They also discover that the Terks are secretly armed by the evil constellation of Cassiopeia in order to invade Andromeda, making Clarus the third of four planets in the Andromeda Galaxy Cassiopeia is trying to use for an invasion. Naturally, the Terks aren’t fond of spies, and our heroes are about to get executed, when their friends from Omega come to the rescue.

Like ‘La planète verte‘, ‘Du côte d’Andromède’ shows Barillé’s love to show and explain political manipulations to children. This episode also introduces the vague, angel-like creature who visits Psi and tells her that evil will never win.

Watch ‘Du côté d’Andromède’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 4th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 3rd episode: La planète verte (The Green Planet)
To the 5th episode: Les Cro-Magnons (The Cro-Magnons)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: October 9, 1982
Rating: ★★½
Review:

La planète Omega © ProcidisAfter the success of ‘Il était une fois… l’homme’ (Once upon a Time… Man) Albert Barillé returned with the boldest and most artistic children series of his entire career.

Largely abandoning education, the raison d’être of his last series, he embarked on a fictional and after a while remarkably integrated story, set in the far future, telling about a United Nations-like intergalactic union, and its problems.

Even more than the previous series, ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once upon a Time… Space) is a vehicle of Barillé’s highly personal views on the world and mankind. The series expresses a strong love for nature and mutual understanding, and an aversion to imperialism, war and, to a certain extent, technology.

New is a strong spirituality, embodied by the mild, and vaguely South American-looking girl Psi, who possesses psychic powers. Unlike the other main characters, she had not been in the original series, and she is less stereotypical than the rest of the cast. Her role in this first episode (in which she’s introduced as ‘Mercedes’, but everyone calls her ‘Psi’) is still minor, but soon she would become as important as Pierrot (Peter), the series’ main hero.

Pierrot, like all other good guys from ‘Il était une fois… l’homme’ has been redesigned and fixed into a single role. Pierrot now is a guy in his early twenties. Petit Gros (Jumbo), too, has changed. He is less dim, less strong and less obese than in the original series. In fact, he’s only recognizable by his red hair. His dad is equally slender and has grown a blonde mustache, while a stern-looking Pierre, head of the intergalactic police, is fixed at an older age (say 50).

The most surprising transformation may be that of Pierrette, who is head of the Union, and who has received a modern hairdo and some fancy glasses. By placing her as head of the union Barillé makes a strong feminist statement that was still pretty bold in the early 1980s. The only characters to remain the same are Maestro, and the two villains Le Nabot (The Dwarf) and Le Teigneux (The Pest). Remarkably, children are totally absent from the series.

In this first episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ Maestro conceives the little robot Metro, who would play a major part in the series, eclipsing his master, while Le Teigneux and le Nabot are introduced as the ambassador and general of Cassiopeia, a galaxy with militaristic ambitions, but which is part of the Union nonetheless. Taking time in introducing all these characters, there is very little action in ‘La planète Omega’. Nevertheless, the stage is set when the Union is confronted by an unknown spaceship of some supreme alien race…

Apart from Barillé’s original story and its classic characters, ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ is a highlight of television animation because of its great music by Michel Legrand and its superb backgrounds by Philippe Bouchet, Manchu and Afrula Hadjiyanakis. This trio clearly draws inspiration from contemporary science fiction illustrators like Lukas Foss, Colin Hay, Angus McKie and Tony Roberts.

The animation itself, by the Japanese Eiken studio, is better than in ‘Il était une fois… l’homme’, but it’s still mediocre and uneven, and especially the designs of Psi are far from consistent. This would remain a problem throughout the series, together with a sometimes terribly slow narration. These drawbacks, however, do not overcome the series’ merits, and ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ may be praised as Barillé’s masterpiece.

Watch an excerpt from ‘La planète Omega’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 1st episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 2nd episode: Les Sauriens (The Saurians)

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