Based on the book by Diana Young, this small Australian and American venture became a core part of many childhoods, alongside Don Bluth classics and Richard Rich’s The Swan Princess.
In the Australian rainforest lives a small but thriving fairy colony, aware and considerate of nature. Crysta (Samantha Mathis) is a fairy learning to be the next Magi, learning her own powers and their importance. Zak (Jonathan Ward) is a human city kid with a summer job marking trees to be chopped down. By accident, Zak is shrunk and becomes part of the fairy world, where he must join forces with Crysta to defeat an evil spirit unknowingly released by the human interference.
The production design, from the start, is an aesthetically-pleasing combination of reality and magic. Every piece was based on real locations within the Australian rainforest, giving the imbued magic a sturdy foundation. The character animation, though well-done and enjoyable, sometimes pops out obviously against the more artistic backgrounds. However, the digital involvement, used both for characters and props through the film, is blended effectively, keeping the feel of traditional animation.
Even though the plot is solid and maintains a certain flow, the story itself is loose around the characters, becoming a showcase of characters in a collection of scenes. There is a force behind the environmental message, but there is also a saturation of unrelated humor, jaunty music sequences, and a bit of confusion around who the real villain is.
Crysta is set up as the protagonist but is also young and not very focused on her magical studies. Her curiosity leads her to humans at the edge of the forest and to Zak, a kid who doesn’t care much about trees or the environment in general. The two are odd but fast friends, with the unnecessary but somehow obligatory notion of romance, mostly from Zak’s side. They are both two-dimensional in some ways, but they both achieve some character development, with Crysta growing up into her destined role and Zak getting perspective on humans’ damage to the environment. Despite what a few of the trailers promoted, Crysta is the hero of the story, not Zak. If anything, he’s supportive, but he’s still just along for the ride.
Two major voice legends, Robin Williams and Tim Curry, crash into FernGully with interesting characters. Williams voices the experimented-on bat named Batty Koda, who literally crashes into a tree and brings tales of humans, along with sporadic jokes and a questionable rap song. Robin Williams is amazing, and Batty is humorous in his own right, but he is largely unnecessary outside of giving Zak some flight power and some sympathy. A similar issue is found with Curry’s character, the slimy destructive spirit known as Hexxus. Although Hexxus’ villain song is an on-point showcase of Curry’s talents, Hexxus mostly serves to confuse where the blame lies.
Humans brought the tree-chopper machine and, unintentionally, freed Hexxus, who immerses himself into the machine. Here is where the message gets a bit muddled. With an environmental theme, most audiences are aware a lot of the blame will be pointed at humans—chopping down trees, littering, polluting the water and air—but introducing and involving Hexxus gives humanity a bit of an out. Suddenly, there is an evil spirit driving humankind to be destructive, an evil spirit making us pollute and litter and generally destroy nature. Suddenly, humankind isn’t really to blame because, who could really resist those seductive tones of this villainous spirit? Do we blame man, then, or myth? How can we hope to solve things if we will always be lured and directed by an evil spirit anyway? Hexxus is a strong villain, but he mucks up the message and leaves more questions than answers.
The film’s music is fun and rhythmic, playing in most ways to what feels like natural and jungle-esque sounds. That said, there are a few incursions of randomness. Batty’s rap is one, but there is also the iguana rap. Born from a real-life incident with an iguana eating crew members’ chicken, somehow this became an entire sequence in the film and hardly a memorable one, past some recollection of lyrics about eating Zak. The music during Zak and Crysta’s night time exploration has a similar forgettable presence; it’s pretty in the moment and clearly attempts to show more of their romantic connection, but that romance doesn’t carry any further through the film.
FernGully is an enjoyable film and full of nostalgia for anyone who grew up in the nineties. Despite some flaws in story and message, the film still lasts as an encouraging environmental stand, urging those who watch to remember the destructive side of both humanity and nature itself. As a human audience, we can all do our part to spread awareness and make a difference—but maybe not with animal raps or anyone having to be shrunk.
What do you think of FernGully: The Last Rainforest?
Edited by: Kelly Conley