FernGully: The Last Rainforest is a 1992 animated musical fantasy film, directed by Bill Kroyer and scripted by Jim Cox. Adapted from the book of the same name by Diana Young, the film is an Australian and American venture produced by Kroyer Films, Inc., Youngheart Productions, FAI Films and 20th Century Fox.
The film features the voices of Jonathan Ward, Samantha Mathis, Tim Curry, Christian Slater, and Robin Williams. FernGully is set in an Australian rainforest inhabited by fairies including Crysta, who accidentally shrinks a young logger named Zak to the size of a fairy. Together, they rally the fairies and the animals of the rainforest to protect their home from the loggers and a malevolent pollution entity, Hexxus.
The film was released to mainly positive reviews, and was also generally considered a moderate financial success at both the box office and in home video sales. In 1998, it was followed by a direct-to-video sequel FernGully 2: The Magical Rescue, though none of the original voice cast reprised their roles.
Crysta is a fairy of curious nature who lives in FernGully, a pristine rainforest free from human intervention. The fairies of FernGully once lived in harmony with humans, but believe them to have gone extinct after having been driven away by a dark spirit named Hexxus. Crysta is the apprentice of Magi, a motherly-figure fairy who imprisoned Hexxus in a tree. One day Crysta explores a new part of the forest and meets Batty, a bat who claims to have been experimented on by humans, giving him a cocky and unstable personality. However, fairies refuse to believe him, except for Crysta, who volunteers to investigate the situation. She sees Zak, a young lumberjack whom Crysta accidentally shrinks when she tries to save him from being crushed by a falling tree, though does not know how to restore him to normal size.
The tree that Hexxus is imprisoned in is cut down by Tony and Ralph, Zak's superiors. Hexxus quickly begins to regain his powers by feeding on pollution. He manipulates humans to drive to FernGully. In FernGully, Zak meets Pips, a fairy envious of Zak's relationship with Crysta. Zak begins to fall in love with Crysta, but hides the true reason that the humans had returned. When the signs of Hexxus's resurrection begin to manifest themselves in poisoned trees and rivers, he finally admits that humans are destroying the forest. The fairies mount an attempt to defend their homes, but knowing their fight is hopeless, Zak convinces Batty to aid him in stopping the machine before it destroys them. When Zak makes his presence known to Tony and Ralph, Hexxus takes over the machine and begins to wildly destroy the forest.
Magi sacrifices herself to give the fairies a chance, and she tells Crysta to remember everything she's learned. Zak manages to stop the machine, depriving Hexxus the source of his power, but he manifests himself within the oil in the machine and begins to ignite the forest ablaze. Crysta seemingly sacrifices herself by allowing herself to be devoured by Hexxus and all seems lost until he begins to sprout limbs and leaves like a tree. Pips and the rest of the fairies rally to the powers they have been given, which causes the seed that Crysta fed him to start growing wildly. Hexxus and the machine are both simultaneously imprisoned by the newly grown tree at the very border of FernGully which bursts into bloom. Crysta appears after the fight, having survived her ordeal and successfully succeeded Magi as a magical fairy. She gives Zak a seed, begging him to remember everything that has transpired and she sadly restores him to his human size. Remembering the seed in his hand, Zak promises to remember his adventure, and buries the seed in the soil before telling Tony and Ralph that things need to change as they leave the forest behind. The seed sprouts new growth for FernGully, as Crysta follows Pips with Batty behind her.
- Samantha Mathis as Crysta
- Jonathan Ward as Zak Young
- Tim Curry as Hexxus
- Christian Slater as Pips
- Robin Williams as Batty Koda
- Grace Zabriskie as Narrator/Magi Lune
- Geoffrey Blake as Ralph
- Robert Pastorelli as Tony
- Cheech Marin as Stump
- Tommy Chong as Root
- Tone Loc as Goanna
- Townsend Coleman as Knotty
- Neil Ross as Crysta's father
- Kathleen Freeman as Elder #1
In the book Disney, Pixar, and the Hidden Messages of Children's Films, M. Keith Booker states that FernGully "focuses on the theme of the destruction of the Earth’s rainforests. In this case the rainforest is located near Mount Warning, on the eastern coast of Australia, but the theme is global and the specific location is not particularly emphasized". Despite the environmental theme Booker stated the film was "somewhat vague in its explanation of the dire consequences of rainforest destruction and it addresses the economic impetus behind this destruction hardly at all"; the fact that the rainforest was saved at the end of the film "diminishes the urgency of its environmentalist message" and that the character of Hexxus "displaces the real blame for environmental destruction from its real perpetrators onto nonexistent supernatural perpetrators, further diluting the political message." The character of Batty was said to introduce "the secondary theme of animal experimentation, though with a light touch that presents this potentially horrifying motif as essentially humorous."
In the book Eco-Impacts and the Greening of Postmodernity, Tom Jagtenberg and David McKie comment that radical views of ecology flourished in the film, perhaps because it was "aimed at a younger generation ... and belong[s] to relatively discredited genres". As Zak is shrunk to fairy size and integrated into the fairy world, more similarities rather than differences are implied with the nonhuman characters. Crysta is said to defeat the evil Hexxus "in the manner of classic western genre heroes", though with the key difference that her weapon is a seed rather than a revolver, allowing the produce of nature to share the heroic role with her.
Producer Wayne Young said his passion for the environment was his motivation for making the film, saying the film was "blatantly environmental, although we have gone to a lot of trouble to avoid preaching. We also want it to be viewed as entertainment." The inspiration for FernGully came from stories written by his former wife, Diana Young. Diana first wrote the story of FernGully 15 years before the film's release. Wayne said the couple planned a film adaptation for five years, then spent "seven years of dreaming and hustling, followed by another three years of production". Wayne stated their dream was not possible until the success of Walt Disney Feature Animation's 1989 film The Little Mermaid, which brought popularity back to animation. Hand drawn scenes in the film were complemented by computer animation, which was used to create elements such as flocks of birds that would have taken much longer to animate traditionally. Kroyer states 40,000 frames of computer-generated graphics were used in the film, and that the use of such animation halved the production time. Most of the film's $24 million budget was spent on the animation and the soundtrack.
The film marked Robin Williams's first animation role, with the character Batty Koda being created specifically for him. Williams provided 14 hours' worth of improvised lines for the part which had been originally conceived as an eight-minute role. Director Bill Kroyer was so impressed with the voice work he ended up tripling the screen time given to the character. Williams went on to provide the critically applauded voice of the Genie in Disney's Aladdin later the same year.
The voice cast of FernGully agreed with the film's message, and worked for scale wages. The film marked the first time that both members of Cheech & Chong had worked together in six years, with the two voicing beetle brothers Stump and Root. Cheech Marin said "It was just like old times, but we only worked for two or three hours, had a pizza and split."
FernGully was released in the United States on April 10, 1992 and in Australia on September 17. The film was shown at the United Nations General Assembly on Earth Day, April 22, 1992.
- Main article: Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (video)
Four months after the theatrical release, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, under its previous name "Fox Video", released FernGully on VHS and LaserDisc on August 26, 1992. Sales were strong, with approximately five million units sold by 1998, including 125,000 in Australia.
Fox re-released the film on DVD in 2001. Christopher Simons from DVD Talk gave the 2001 DVD three-and-a-half stars out of five for both audio and video, though only one star for special features, noting that the only extras included were trailers for other films. A "Family Fun Edition" DVD was released in 2005. Special features included commentary with director Bill Kroyer, art director Ralph Eggleston, and coordinating art director Susan Kroyer, several featurettes including the original featurette from 1992, the music video for If I'm Gonna Eat Somebody (It Might As Well Be You) by Tone Loc, as well as trailers and TV spots. Scott Weinberg from DVD Talk gave this version four stars out of five for both audio and video, and also four stars for special features.
For its 20th anniversary, FernGully was released on Blu-ray Disc on March 6, 2012, containing the same special features as the "Family Fun Edition". Aaron Peck from High Def Digest gave it three out of five stars for video quality, four stars for audio and three-and-a-half stars for extras. Brian Orndorf from Blu-ray.com gave the release three out of five stars for video quality, three-and-a-half stars for audio and four stars for special features.
FernGully grossed US$32,710,894 worldwide, including $24,650,296 from the United States, and A$3.4 million in Australia. The box office performance was described as a moderate success though it was considered to have done less well than expected, possibly due to its ecological message. Joseph Gelmis from Newsday, however, described FernGully's box office performance as "dismal", though noted it was the most successful recent non-Disney animated film. Co-executive producer Jaime Willett and Josh Baran who worked on the film's marketing both spoke of the difficulties of getting attention to an animated film that was not produced by Disney, with Willett stating box office revenue would have at least doubled by simply having the headline "Walt Disney presents" on the film. USA Today noted that the combined box office gross of FernGully and the five other non-Disney animated films released in 1992 did not even equal a third of the gross for Disney's 1991 film Beauty and the Beast.
FernGully received generally positive reviews. The film holds an approval rating of 63% at Rotten Tomatoes based on 16 reviews. Film critic Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars, saying the film was visually "very pleasing," told a "useful lesson", "and although the movie is not a masterpiece it's pleasant to watch for its humor and sweetness." Hollis Chacona from The Austin Chronicle added that the film was "funny, pretty, touching, scary, magical stuff." Janet Maslin of The New York Times had an unfavorable impression of the film, describing it as "[a]n uncertain blend of sanctimonious principles and Saturday-morning cartoon aesthetics". According to Wayne Young, Jeffrey Katzenberg, then-chairman of Walt Disney Studios, called the producers of FernGully to tell them that he loved the film. Metacritic gave the film a score of 67 based on 15 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Wayne Young stated that portions of the film's gross would be donated to Greenpeace, the Rainforest Foundation Fund, and the Sierra Club, as well as a special fund benefiting environmental projects worldwide that was administered by the Smithsonian Institution, though he did not disclose exact figures. The film also inspired a 1992 video game by Capstone Software and IntraCorp called The FernGully Computerized Coloring Book. In 1998 the film was followed by a direct-to-video sequel, FernGully 2: The Magical Rescue.
FAI Films, which only ever produced FernGully and its sequel, was acquired by HIH Insurance in 1998. HIH closed in 2001. In June 2012, administrators for HIH placed advertisements trying to sell the rights to both films.
Some reviewers have commented that the 2009 James Cameron film Avatar plagiarized thematic and plot elements from FernGully, though others have stated it is simply one of many films that Avatar is similar to, or have dismissed the comparison entirely.
- Main article: FernGully: The Last Rainforest (soundtrack)