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Ahhh...a kids film with a message. I'm not sure if any other seemingly innocent string of six words can make me wrinkle my brow as quickly. Toss Robin Williams into the mix and I will take it as a stern suggestion that you want me to avoid the theater.
That is exactly what has been attempted in Ferngully: The Last Rainforest.
Based on the children's novel by Diana Young, Ferngully introduces us to Ferngully, an enchanted rainforest deep in the jungles of somewhere that has rainforests. Inhabited by the usual assortment of animals, reptiles, and exotic flora, Ferngully is also host to a tribe of tiny fairies. One of these fairies, Crysta, harbors a fascination with the "human tales" told to her by Magi, the spiritual leader of the bunch. Magi has also managed to rid Ferngully of evil by imprisoning the evil black cloud thing named Hexxus within a tree.
Crysta succumbs to her curiosity regarding the outside world, and she discovers humans clearcutting the jungle near Ferngully. After accidentally shrinking the hunky human Zak down to fairy-form, she returns to Ferngully, Zak in tow.
Un-fairy-fortunately the humans, in their ultimate stupidity, have managed to free Hexxus by slashing his sycamore cell. Hexxus immediately realizes that these bumbling humans and their tree-cutting-down machine are exactly what he needs to finalize the fates of the fairies of Ferngully.
Of course, Crysta and the now-ecologically aware Zak have a decidedly different view.
Here's what I don't get: if you are going to make a film for children about the mass destruction of the rainforests, why not stick to that? I suppose it is an important enough topic to paint a picture around, and it isn't that obtuse of a subject for young'uns to grasp. But do they need a love story shoehorned into it? Is there any logic behind the multiple musical numbers (performed by the likes of Sheena Easton, Tone-Loc, and Elton John) aside from the Disney thing? I thought the meat of the story was well conceived, and Hexxus (voiced by Tim "I-could-do-this-in-my-sleep-and-just-might-have" Curry) could have been a truly memorable villain, but the film seemed more concerned with nailing its conventions (thus pleasing everyone) than following its soul.
I can't say I really took anything home with me after watching Ferngully. In fact, I can't even say I liked or disliked it. It was there. I watched it. It ended.
The parts of this film that did make an impression were the parts my children enjoyed: the idea driving the plot and the scares Nexxus brought. I will add that my six-year old fell asleep and my four-year old decided to have a Rescue Hero hoedown before the halfway point (although he did pause long enough to listen to the Tone-Loc number).
I have not touched on the Robin Williams-voiced character, Batty. I will say this: we didn't laugh.
Fox has again come through with a very fine transfer for a family film. Presented in both Anamorphic widescreen and full-frame (on opposite sides of the disc--the way it should be done), Ferngully looks far better than I've ever seen it look (but my judgment is based on quick televised glimpses, so...). Some scenes seemed to have excessive amounts of dust haunting the backgrounds, but I. There were a few brief spots of color shifting, but this is more than likely apparent on the master as well. Overall, Ferngully is an a-ok looking disc.
I will take a sentence to thank the folks at Fox for not releasing separate OAR and full-screen discs. That is all.
You have your choice of English 5.1, English Surround, and French Surround. The 5.1 track is quite good. If I was a fan of a single song in the film, I'd have liked it even more. The score is decent, however, and the natural sounds of the rainforest are well represented in the mix. The surrounds are used mainly for ambiance, and seemed modest enough.
Where to begin? Well, how about with the five Fox Family trailers that make up the extras section...
I don't have much to say about Ferngully. It was too bland to hate, and too contrived to raise any real interest. Thus, I will honor the reactions of my wee folk. My daughter (once she managed to watch a majority of the picture) had a few rainforest-oriented questions raised by the film, but my son remained uninterested. I'd have to give Ferngully an across-the-board "rent".