Once Upon a Time starts with a prologue befitting its fairy tale title:
Someone told us a story the other day that sounded fantastic. But in a world that is so trouble today and where reality is so grim–fantasy was a welcome relief. Thinking you might feel the same way about it–we are passing this yarn on to you. Relax and pull up a chair. Once upon a time—
This intro succinctly sets the tone for this light movie, which is an early example of what today would be called a “family film.” The story opens with theater owner Jerry Flynn (Cary Grant), who has suffered flop after flop and suddenly in need of $100,000 dollars in order to save his theater. Throwing a coin over his shoulder for good luck, he meets the two boys who pick it up, and becomes the first person who actually listens to their claim to fame, namely that they have a caterpillar who dances to the tune of “Yes, Sir That’s My Baby.” Seeing dollar signs, Flynn forms a partnership with the boy, hoping to build a show around the bug and save his theater. Flynn and his right hand man Moke (character actor James Gleason in a bigger role than usual) call in the press corps who are at first unimpressed. But then a sentimental radio show on the bug touches a nerve with the greater public and then Curly the caterpillar becomes an overnight sensation and Walt Disney agrees to buy it for the 100 thou that Flynn needs for his theater. Meanwhile Flynn and the boy bond, fight, and reconcile, while his older sister (Janet Blair) serves as the romantic interest on the sidelines.
It is not really clear what Grant is doing in this film which seems to be have been made more with a kid audience in mind, but he might have simply wanted a break after the seriousness of Destination Tokyo (1943). As expected, Grant does a fine job playing an incurable optimist who can win anyone over to his point of view. The constant tugging at the heartstrings gets a bit tiring at times, but this is enjoyable for what it is–a little scoop of cinematic ice cream.