Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest is one of those films that I must have seen when I was younger. I was smack in the middle of the target audience at the time and I definitely did see Aladdin when it came out mere months before/after.
Yet I had forgotten about it for years until last week when I was at Wal-Mart. Having picked up a bicycle seat (as you do), I strolled past the DVD section. Lo and behold! There was a $5 bin stuffed to the gills with DVDs.
Since I like animation in all shapes and forms, I have become accustomed to rummaging through such bins because you never know what you’ll find. Naturally I came across Fern Gully. For $5? How could I not! So I did, and the other night, I watched it.
What can I say? It’s a decent enough film that left me pleasantly surprised. The animation is superb with plenty of lovely traditional animation and hand-painted backgrounds. There’s also some 3-D CGI that is as good as anything Disney put out at the time. Hans Perk (of A. Film L.A.) did some animation, as did Ralph Eggleston. So it seems that at least a few famous folks were involved in making this film as beautiful as it is.
The plot is fine, if somewhat generic. Sure, it plays on the whole ‘environmentalism’ fad that was happening at the time (remember this was the early 90s) although it is quite believable in the context of the setting. The script itself is slow. A large portion of the movie is devoted to the main characters travelling around the world they live in. It may be a side effect of the short running time (80 mins) that leaves the actual plot to do with Hexus as something of an afterthought.
The music (as excellently composed by Alan Silvestri as it is) is now rather dated, as is the film itself. Besides the music, the big giveaway is the language. “Tubular” and “bodacious” are just two and are far from the only examples. Yes, this film is very much from the late 80s/early 90s.
Indeed, Fern Gully has company in this regard. Tangled walks the very same, fine line that divides a film between being timeless and being time-framed. I have no doubt that in ten years, Tangled will look much the same age as Fern Gully looks today, unfortunately.
As for the characters, they are certainly likeable. There’s nothing wrong with that except that their development is cut short by the running time. They are the usual motley crew that inhabited animated films before Pixar came along. I.e. the smart one, the good-looking dumb one. the hangers-on, the hero, the villain. Nothing makes most of them stand out from the crowd. Having said that, I did find two characters who did.
Crysta, our protagonist, is by far the most interesting of all the characters. There is a lot on her shoulders (as we learn throughout the film) that weighs upon her mind. She is strong character that is determined in her ways while at the same time caring for the bewildered human (Zak) who has literally fallen into her life.
She has that happy-go-lucky charm that imbues all the virtues of a good female character while being assertive enough in her ways to avoid being labelled a pushover. Look at the screencap below.
Now there’s a great shot. The crossed arms, the lip-bite and the dozens of eyes staring out just scream the inquisitive nature of our heroine. How about another one:
I’ve seen that face literally dozens of times. She does exactly that with my face as well and every time it makes me wonder whether I’ve missed my calling as a clown.
Crysta is the most developed of all the characters, so much so, that without her, the film would be indubitably more boring.
The second characteris given some criminally short screen time. That would be Hexus, voiced by the one and only Tim Curry, who manages to bring out so much of the sleaze and evilness in the character, it makes you wonder how awesome the film would be if he’d been given more screen time.
Tim Curry provides a superb balance to Robin Williams who hams it up as Batty. Hexus is effortlessly sublime to Robbin’s lunacy, which is far more abrasive than his other performance of the year as the Genie in Aladdin. Of note is something Brad Bird posted over on Cartoon Brew a few years ago (how I manage to find these things I do not know):
Very few people remember that Williams was also the voice of a key character in FERNGULLY that same year and it didn’t help the film’s boxoffice.
Sadly it didn’t, although the film is no worse for it. Williams is given a wild script but it is clear that he was not given the same freedom that he was for Aladdin, where the character of the Genie was so dependent on him being who he is.
Interestingly enough, Fern Gully is set in Australia and was partially produced there. As such, I asked Australia’s favourite son and my good chum, Elliot Cowan what he thought of it:
Fern Gully is an enormous pile of shit that is about as Australian as Abraham Lincoln.
So The Secret of Kells it isn’t. That should not detract you from seeking Fern Gully out though. You will be rewarded by a lovely looking film with some very 90s songs that may provide a bit of a respite from all the CGI that is being thrown your way these days. Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest is available at Wal-Mart and Target for the low, low price of $5 (plus tax).