Things keep disappearing mysteriously from the house where Penny (voiced by Noelle North), a bright young girl addicted to adventure novels, lives with her four younger siblings. Mostly toys and comic books. At first nobody believes middle sister Pamela (Marissa Mendenhall), a wannabe actress with an overactive imagination, when she spies a strange little green man lurking in the front yard. Until baby Pollywog (Julie Mcwhirter), the world's youngest escape artist, is kidnapped along with Earless the family cat (Peter Cullen, Optimus Prime himself)! This leads to the discovery of a secret door hidden at the base of their tree-house. And so Penny, Pamela, kid brother Peter (Josh Rodine), rambunctious reptile-loving youngest sister Patsy (Brittany Wilson), faithful dog Yukie (also Peter Cullen) and Snively the snake (whom Patsy dubs 'the best snake in the world') venture into a wondrous underground kingdom populated by little green people with an oddly familiar-seeming culture and a language consisting of one word: "Og."
Pierre Berton's 1961 novel, winningly illustrated by his daughter Patsy, is a children's classic much beloved in the author's native Canada. At one point it was reported Berton received a dozen fan letters a week for a book that, of the forty-seven he wrote, was his personal favourite. Partly because the characters were inspired by his own children. Over the years The Secret World of Og was adapted into a 2006 animated series along with no less than two opera productions, one in Canada the other in the USA. However the 1983 television special remains the gold standard that captured the imagination of a generation of kids. Animated for the small screen by Hanna-Barbera's Australian division from a script penned by Marvel Comics scribe Mark Evanier (who did some of his best work for Sergio Aragones' hilarious sword and sorcery parody title 'Groo the Wanderer') it is a quirky fantasy with an ingenious premise, interestingly flawed child heroes and a winning sense of humour. While not quite up to feature film standard the animation is superior to the glorified toy commercials that dominated children's entertainment at the time, crafting a unique and evocative fantasy world.
The central conceit is something one cannot discuss without spoiling the plot's big twist. Suffice to say the child heroes discover the diminutive residents of Og have an unusual interest, one might say obsession, with pop culture. Specifically adventure novels and comic books. Berton infuses the story with heartening life lessons about togetherness, responsibility and how imagination can sustain family and community. Evanier's own background undoubtedly factors into scenes where comic books inspire the children to think of fresh ways to escape their latest predicament. Yet these are counterbalanced with a warning about the dangers of taking fantasy too literally. For a bright, resolutely wholesome and funny children's cartoon The Secret World of Og features some moments that are pretty dark on a conceptual level. As when the town Sheriff (Hamilton Camp) threatens to "string up them varmints" because that is what Wyatt Earp would do; an Og butcher tries to chop poor Earless into mincemeat (the cat's snarky facial expressions throughout the movie are truly priceless); and poor Peter gets accused of imaginary murder.
An appealing voice cast bring the siblings to vivid life. Each of the child heroes exhibit distinct personalities along with individual character arcs that pay off. Transcending its limitations as a very brief made-for-TV special (aired originally as an ABC Weekend Special - an anthology series that ran from 1977-97 with both animated and live-action adaptations of children's books), the film is suspenseful and exciting. Its most memorable sequence being a shootout where the characters point finger-guns and yell "bang!" - a gag later refined by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg in their sitcom Spaced. Another terrific asset is synth score by Ian Mason that melds perfectly with the story and art design proving evocative and magical.