Fairy magic & fruit batty

Aussie-inspired eco-toon a treat

Published: Jul 20 2014, 08:05:pm

Friday, April 17, 1992.
FERNGULLY: THE LAST RAINFOREST. Written by Jim Cox. Based on the FernGully stories by Diana Young. Music by Alan Silvestri. Directed by Bill Kroyer. Running time: 76 minutes. Rated General.
POLITICALLY CORRECT, artistically on-track and entertainingly energetic — it's hard to find fault with FernGully: The Last Rainforest.
    A green-themed eco-toon, the animated feature aims to do well by doing good. Instead of selling action figures, it's pitching environmental awareness to pre-teens.
    Based on Australian author Diana Young's FernGully stories, it promotes individual responsibility as well as an actively feminist mythology. Crysta (her voice supplied by Samantha Mathis), the tale's teen heroine, is no Tinkerbell.
    Admittedly, she bears some superficial resemblance to Peter Pan's faithful fairy companion. Leggy and under-dressed, she's a large-eyed, pointy-eared sprite with delicate, dragonfly wings.
    Unlike Tink, she's a New Age pixie. In FernGully, fairies are "guardians and healers of the forest."
    Here, magic is matrilineal. Despite some natural teeny-bopper flightiness, Crysta is designated heir to the responsibilities of forest mother Magi Lune (Grace Zabriskie).
    A distant plume of smoke spells trouble in this primeval paradise. The arrival of flying rodent Batty Koda (Robin Williams) confirms that Man is in the forest, and he has with him a malevolent machine called "the Leveler," that is literally eating trees.
     When it chomps into one particular trunk, it releases the evil spirit Hexxus (Tim Curry), sworn enemy of the FernGully fairies.
    Caught in the middle is student logger Zak Young (Jonathan Ward), a blonde hunk from Byron Bay, Australia. Accidentally reduced to thumb size by Crysta, he experiences some unexpected consciousness-raising.
    Jim Cox, a writer with Disney cartoon features Oliver & Company (1988) and The Rescuers Down Under (1990) to his credit, is responsible for the screen story. Though he's removed any distinct Aussie  accent  from the tale,  Cox's  adaptation delivers its message with lightness and wit.
    Director Bill Kroyer is another Disney-trained artist. With FernGully, he establishes himself as dynamic new force in the animation community. From his Los Angeles home base, Kroyer supervised the work of Canadian, Danish, Korean, and English studio artists. The finished package is a credit to them all.
    Composer Alan Silvestri's original score is supplemented by a dozen well-chosen songs. Among them are a pair of hilarious Thomas Dolby novelty numbers: Batty Rap (sung by Robin Williams)  and Toxic Love (Tim Curry) .
    Indeed, the picture is worth seeing for Williams's performance alone. One of the funniest men alive, his vocal virtuosity turns Batty into a great cartoon character. "Truth," he tells us in one memorably manic moment, "doesn't always win friends. But it influences people."
    FernGully contains enough truth to make all its family-oriented fun worthwhile.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1992. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Although he's most famous for providing the voice of the big blue Genie in Disneys Aladdin (1992), Robin Williams made his feature cartoon debut six months earlier in Ferngully. Williams was to have an on-again, off-again relationship with Disney as regimes changed and disputes flared. In the on moments, he would reprise his Genie role in the TV movie Aladdin on Ice (1995), the direct-to-video Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996), and in 12 episodes of the TV cartoon series Great Minds Think for Themselves (1997). Ferngully was a 20th Century Fox release, as were his later cartoon appearances: as Fender in 2005's Robots, and as the penguins Ramon and Lovelace in Happy Feet (2006) and Happy Feet 2  (2011). He is beloved in Vancouver for his performances as Teddy Roosevelt in the three filmed-in B.C. live-action Night at the Museum features, (2006, 2009 and one scheduled for Christmas 2014 release).