FERNGULLY: THE LAST RAINFOREST – (1992)
Director: Bill Kroyer
Starring: Jonathan Ward, Samantha Mathis, Robin Williams, Tim Curry, Christian Slater
Screenplay by: Jim Cox
Before driving hybrid cars, going green, and buying “carbon offsets” were cool—and let’s be honest, are they really?—the on-again, off-again environmental movement would sometimes pop into the limelight with some sort of life-changing book, eye-opening documentary, or in the case of FernGully, a harmless but thought-provoking film. Heavy-handed, opinionated cinema is certainly no new thing: see John Q, The China Syndrome, The Life and Times of David Gale. Unlike those, however, this one clearly is aimed at the younger crowd.
Here’s a little interesting trivia: Jim Cox, the screenwriter, also wrote for The Rescuers Down Under. Sounds to me like someone has an obsession with Australia! Shrimp on the Barbie! Fosters! Former British prison colony! Well, that’s certainly the perfect country/continent to depict the best that our planet has to offer. By the way… does Australia even have rainforests? I thought the literal definitely of rainforests defined them as being only located along the tropical regions.
NOSTALGIC LENS: Even though I saw this movie several times, I don’t remember a lot about it. I’m not a hundred percent that I ever just sat down and watched the movie all the way through. Like so many movies, I most likely watched parts of it here and there, and ended up piecing the film together. Did I like it, though? I don’t think I did. It’s certainly not in the region of my brain that hosts my most cherished memories.
DOES IT HOLD UP: And I can see why. I had to get up halfway through the movie to do something else; that’s how much this movie grated on me. I haven’t felt such a “moronic pandering” feeling since watching Happy Feet (which, by the way, is a good-looking yet horrible film). By that, I mean that not only is the movie’s message blatantly obvious, but it tries so hard that it’s embarrassing.
The 90s, as I mentioned in my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles post, was shameless in its desire to pander to teenagers, and this one is no exception. The, uh, region (district?) of FernGully hosts a rich cornucopia of flora and fauna—also, magic fairies. Specifically, half-naked fairy Crysta is our star; she shirks her magic lessons with the old and wise Magi Lune to do what I assume is the “going to third base” version of the fairy world with hunk o’ magic meat Pips.
During your typical early-90s, “look at how amazing our animation is” intro sequences, Crysta orgasmically explodes out past the canopy of the trees, which is forbidden, and sees smoke. (She doesn’t know what smoke or fire is. Damn fur’ners.) What’s causing the smoke? Why, it’s the MAN-made machine, the evil Leveler, that’s just cutting down trees for, I guess, shits and giggles. Curious, as fairies are wont to be, she goes exploring.
The Leveler is an absolutely ridiculous mechanical vehicle; if something like that actually did exist, I’d be more impressed by that than the supposedly natural beauty of the rainforest. It would be badass if it wasn’t wholly impractical. It cuts trees, picks them up with ease, chops them up AND trims them into plywood boards, and stacks them on a table. A TABLE! Inside the machine. I assume the entire thing is attached to Wal-Mart, where people also can walk into this thing and buy the pieces.
The Leveler’s only flaw seems to be it can only cut the trees marked with a red X, and Zak, who I assume is the same Zak from “Saved by the Bell,” is “dat city boi” charged with the task. Crysta inadvertently saves him from a falling tree by shrinking him, and after some clarification and goofy banter, the two are off on a tiny adventure.
I should mention the typical comedy sidekick (ugh) is a bat named Batty (Ugh!) voiced by Robin Williams (UGH!!!). An escaped winged mammal from some scientific experiment, he loathes humans because they tortured him and gave his brain basic cable. He fills the movie with his typical annoying quips (although I will admit that one or two of them made me chuckle). And he busts out a mean freestyle.
Tone Loc, however, schools Batty without even trying in a delicious Big-Lipped Alligator moment.
But the winner, hands down, is Tim Curry as the evil Hexxus, singing Toxic Love in such an over-the-top way that it’s actually goddamn excellent:
Oh, Hexxus is an escaped monster that was trapped in a tree but was released when the Leveler cut it. He took over the machine to attack FernGully. Magi dies to give all the fairies some power they hardly use. Zak and Christy and Batty get together and solve personal conflicts to beat it. I mean, all that is metaphoric filler, really, since the main message is clearly a pseudo-spiritual mantra for kids, that they too “have the power within” to save their environment.
It’s not that effective though. The animation isn’t quite solid, especially compared to the previous Disney films I’ve featured. It’s good at some spots, but god-awful in others. I also like how in some scenes, fairies just appear out of nowhere. Zak also doesn’t seem to mind too much that he’s been shrunk. He does for a little, but he shrugs it off in an attempt to get some fairy tang. If it’s slender and has boobs, guys will go for it.
The line readings are the worse, though. Williams is probably one of the better ones, if only because he sounds like a cartoon character anyway. Ward is forgettable, and Mathis is just worthless. How worthless? She also played the ranger in Broken Arrow (a stupid but at least decent-actiony film) and, worse, Princess Daisy in the Super Mario Bros. movie (a future Childhood Revisited feature, one I’m eager to attack viciously). The winner here is Tim Curry, if because he voices Hexxus with such a devil-may-care, just-for-the-paycheck attitude that it’s actually incredible.
And now, because I loved it so much in the movie, here is my attempt to mimic Tim Curry’s laugh as Hexxus:
It’s the third best laugh in the world, behind Mark Hamill’s The Joker laugh and Tex Avery’s laugh in such cartoons as “Bad Luck Blackie.”
IN A NUTSHELL: It’s silly, although it never seems to push into the territory of absolute revulsion. While I had to step out the room—I’m rather sensitive to overt-message movies—I think a lot of people would probably be able to stomach it and find something enjoyable here. Not to say I didn’t find some good moments: Tim Curry and a few zingers on occasion made me smile. (If you want a solid, less overt environmental message movie, watch Over the Hedge.)
PLEASE NOTE: THERE’S A CHANGE UP ON THE SCHEDULE DUE TO ME WANTING TO WATCH CORALINE AND WATCHMEN, WHICH WERE RELEASED ON DVD LAST WEEK!!
August 3rd: The Adventures of Little Nemo
August 10th: Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Summer Vacation