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FernGully: The Last Rainforest - Family Fun Edition

Fox // G // October 18, 2005
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Scott Weinberg | posted October 20, 2005 | E-mail the Author
The Movie

FernGully: The Last Rainforest is an Australia-born animted film from 1992 that features some solid, if unspectacular, animation, a rather impressive cast of voice-actors, a mildly intriguing adventure plot, and a whole lot of really earnest environmental messages.

The story is pretty simple stuff: Adorable female fairy Crysta enjoys her heavenly home deep in FernGully Rainforest. She's got a teacher to ignore, a boyfriend to tease, and a whole lot of legends about trees and spirits to remember. But with the appearance of a thick stream of smoke far in the distance, Crysta gets a little curious and sets out to seek its source.

She comes across a bunch of "humans," goofy and clueless creatures charged with bringing down a section of Crysta's beloved home. So she (accidentally) shrinks one of the destructioneers down to spritely size, and takes him on a tour of FernGully's most wonderful shopping malls forests and canopies and lagoons and whatnot. Not at all surprisingly, newcomer Zak grows a change of heart right quick, and then its up to him (and Crysta) (and lots of crazy talking animals) to save FernGully from becoming Bulldozer Central.

Plot-wise, FernGully isn't deep. The flick wears its "omg save the rainforest!" attitude clearly on its sleeve, which makes for a somewhat over-earnest display here and there ... but so what, really? So a seven-year-old kid might actually walk away from the movie with the words "rainforst" and "conservation" wedged into his ever-expanding vocabulary. Hey, if the Veggie Tales folks can sell religion in this fashion, then I say the environmental lobby deserves their fair shot as well.

But it comes down to the issue of entertainment. You can make the most well-intentioned piece of family filmmaking in the world, but if you don't entertain those families, they probably won't much care for your environmentally-friendly subtext.

Fortunately, FernGully works in a cute and quaint fashion, and in many ways it reminded me of Don Bluth's B+ efforts. The hand-drawn animation certainly isn't flawless, but the animators do a fine job of giving their colorful characters a nice dose of personality. The plot is formulaic and entirely predictable, but that won't matter much to a giggling seven-year-old who hasn't seen all that many movies. Plus there's a half-dozen musical numbers, which are goofy (for the kids) and short (for the adults).

If FernGully has one strong and unexpected asset, it'd have to lie in the voice cast. As the strangely alluring Crysta, Samantha Mathis does some very lovely voicework here, and Christian Slater plays semi-jilted man-fairy "Pips" with some rascally charm. And as is often the case in any sort of animated feature, the supporting cast is a truly eclectic group of performers: Robin Williams (in his first animated gig), Tim Curry (as the enjoyably evil slimebeast known as Nexxus), Grace Zabriskie, Robert Pastorelli, Tone Loc, and Cheech & Chong. Even if you only spend FernGully's 70-some minutes playing "name that voice," you could have a pretty good time.

As a longtime animation buff, I can appreciate the hard work and good intentions that went into a film like FernGully, which helps me to overlook the fact that the actual plot of the movie is pretty darn flimsy.


Video: A virtual handshake is due to Fox for releasing a "family favorite" movie in its original Widescreen (1.85:1) aspect ratio. True, the disc does come with a Full Frame option, but who'd want to raise their children with so little respect for animated cinema?

Anyway, the Widescreen transfer is pretty darn solid. The animation is bold and bright and comes through crystal-clear. So clear, in fact, that it might just draw attention to the intermittent glitches in the animation processing. They're minor flaws regardless, and I'm of the opinion that a few "glitches" in hand-drawn animation only adds to the charm of the art form.

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, DD 2.0 Spanish, and French Dolby Surround are your listed options, and the English track sounds just dandy. Optional subtitles are available in English or Spanish.


A 2-disc Special Edition for ... FernGully? Sure, why not? Disney does it with all their titles -- several of which are pretty darn awful. So why not FernGully?

On disc 1 you'll find a pair of special features. First is a feature-length audio commentary with director Bill Kroyer, art director Ralph Eggleston, and coordinating art director Susan Kroyer, which covers all the bases and shows a still-strong affection for the film from its creators. I can't imagine anyone besides hardcore animation buffs giving this track a full listen, but that's precisely the audience that'll dig it.

Seed of the Story: Script to Story Comparison is viewable in chapters or in an eight-minute block (and with or without audio commentary by screenwriter Jim Cox). Here we get six FernGully sequences, from script to storyboard to rough animation to final product.

Moving on to the second platter, we're greeted with three headings, so let's break the goodies down as such:


From Paper to Tree (29:54) is a "making of" retrospective that features input (both new and old) from "Ferngully" author Diana Young, producer Wayne Young, director Bill Kroyer, actresses Samantha Mathis & Grace Zabriskie, animation director Tony Fucile, character animator Chrystal Klabunde, animator Steve Markowski, art director Ralph Eggleston, and several others. Fans will get insights on the movie's ecological inspirations, pre-production art conception, peeks at the animation process, and a few looks at the actors as they record their dialogue. This is a solid little featurette, although (obviously) its appeal is limited to the hardcore Ferngully fanatics.

Behind the Voice: Toxic Love (2:29) is a multi-angle look at Tim Curry's big musical number. Flick through the multiple angles to see early sketchwork, finished animation, Mr. Curry crooning into a microphone, or all three at once (via splitscreen).

The original featurette (5:53) is a fluffy little promo piece from 1992 that covers the concept, the cast, and the creation of the flick. Again, fans will be happy to see this piece included, but it's not something you'll watch more than once ... if that.

Rounding out section one is a music video (4:12) for the Tone Loc song "If I'm Gonna Eat Somebody (It Might as Well Be You)," which was recorded for a kid's movie, so stop your giggling right now. Actually, feel free to giggle away, because this might be one of the silliest music videos recorded since man first drew breath.

Set Top Games is our second section, and it's a veritable arcade of FernGully goodness! No less than eight different clicky games are included for the kids to enjoy: "Creatures of the Rainforest," "Sound Pools," "Save Batty!," "Grow a Tree," "Capture Hexxus," "Sounds of the Rainforest," "Pips' Pan Pipe," and "Out of the Forest." I'd review each clicky game individually, but c'mon. I have other reviews to write tonight! Joking aside, Fox has done a nice job with these little games; if your kids are into these sorts of educational clicky games, well, here's eight of 'em!

The last section is Theatrical Trailers and TV Spots, and it's here you'll find, yep, three different theatrical trailers and a trio of old TV spots.

Final Thoughts

Fox tries to go the "Disney DVD" route with this rather packed 2-disc FernGully release, and you know what? It's actually quite a strong little package. Perhaps FernGully is one of your most fondly remembered "nostalgia movies," and you just love the goofy little thing. (Hey, I grew up loving Robert Altman's Popeye, and therefore I cast no stones where "nostalgia favorites" are concerned.)

So if you do have fond recollections of this environmentally-minded animated adventure, you should consider this release Highly Recommended. Newcomers might want to give the flick a rental first, just to see if the kiddies care for it.

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Highly Recommended

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