“There are worlds within worlds, Chrysta. Everything in our world is connected by the delicate strands of the web of life, which is a balance between the forces of destruction and the magical forces of creation.”
There was a period in my childhood where I feel like all I wanted to watch was this movie. It honestly may have only lasted a week, but as I look back on it, it seemed like months. If anyone knows me, my obsession with this movie would make perfect sense. Love of animals and the nature/the environment are ingrained in my bones, and this movie has everything to satisfy that. Well, I did eventually grow out of my “must see ferngully” phase, and I didn’t see this movie for a long while, until after college. I was at an internship at an Outdoor Education Center with 11 other interns. This movie so happened to be in one of the residence houses, so we put it on. It was just as good as an adult, so of course I figured it just had to be one I needed to buy. I feel to our generation, it’s a classic. But does it deserve that label?
In a short answer, Yes, it does. Despite its flaws and its incredibly dated feel, it is a good movie. It teaches a good lesson but isn’t in your face about it, compared to some other movies. It’s smart about how it goes about telling it’s environmentally minded story, mixing in the good with the bad. Kids don’t have to sit there and get eco-phobia from this one movie. It doesn’t scare kids into doing what’s best for the environment. It has its moments of being preachy, but in a good way, and in a subtle way. If that makes any sense.
I find it interesting and funny that this little movie made by an Australian film company and only grossed 32 million worldwide became such a household name. I felt like everyone saw this movie. I feel like everyone still knows this movie. People compare every single other environmental movie that comes out to this one all the time (we got a lot of that when Avatar came out). How did this little movie become the pillar to measure up to? It certainly wasn’t the first, I’m sure, but it’s good.
If you don’t know the story here’s a very quick rundown: in Australia there’s a rainforest called Ferngully that’s inhabited by fairies who take care of the forest. One fairy, Crysta, an apprentice to the shawoman Mage, is interested in their folktales and longs to see a human. She sees smoke rising in the distance one day and heads that direction, finding humans and a giant machine that eats trees. To save the life of one of the kids marking the trees to be cut down, she accidentally shrinks him to her size. He learns about the forest and about respect of the trees, and together they must stop the leveler from destroying Ferngully, which is now being run by an evil spirit, Hexxus.
You can tell the development team thought a lot about the storyline and dialogue in this movie. It has some of the best for a kids movie. It has very thoughtful lines, very good exchanges between characters, and the humor is spot on for kids (I even still find myself laughing extremely hard at some places). They knew what they wanted to convey in their story and the way in which they wanted to do it. They succeeded.
Where they didn’t succeed, however, is in the characters. I have complained about characters a lot in my reviews. That’s kinda because I guess you could call me a character snob. I LOVE characters. You can give me a really crappy movie with a crappy or extremely horrible plot, and I will still love it. Why? If the characters are good and interesting, I’ll deal with pretty much anything. My mind is immediately drawn to good characters, complex characters, and characters with good backstories. That’s why I find myself sucked into complicated shows and movies half the time that have amazing characters but the plot lines tend to be cliche, boring, or flat out ridiculous (I’m one of the few people who really understands LOST and is not pissed off by the end – I loved it actually).
The characters are very one dimensional. They spent all this time on the plot and seemed to just pick the most common characters they could find. We have the old wise lady who seems to know everything and gives advice in riddles. Our protagonist Crysta is very Ariel from the little mermaid with a bit less attitude: she’s curious and naive but has a good heart. Zak is a clueless guy who must be taught the ways of the forest. He’s a bit bland, but at least you can tell the difference in his character in the beginning and the end. At least he really does learn something.
The only other sort of character they spend any time on developing even a little bit is Batty. Oh yes, we have to talk about him. Batty is a fruit bat that escaped from a lab where he was a test animal. He’s voiced by Robin Williams, pre-genie days. The voices for this were recorded in 1991, so it was literally right before Aladdin. Thank GOD it was before Aladdin. I can only guess what it would have been like if it had been after, and it would have been awful. In this movie, Robin Williams is actually funny!** Batty has the best lines, and yeah, he’s in there for comic relief, but it’s actually funny without going crazy pop-culture-y. If anything, he actually teaches us stuff; things I never caught as a kid. He actually gives us what a bat is (“I’m a placental flying mammal; if you can’t tell, I’m a bat!”) and even at one point gives us the family name (Pteropodidae) as a joke. This writing is awesome. I remember laughing my butt of at Batty, and I still do.
There are a few random details with the story that honestly I would have changed. They really try to force a whole romance thing on Crysta and Zak, and they even try to throw in a triangle with this other fairy Pip who I guess likes her too? But there’s literally no build up, and honestly it seems out of left field; there were no romantic feelings, then all of a sudden… wow! We’re in an underwater cave and staring into each others eyes! It would have been much better if they had just let Crysta be a friend and teacher, and maybe they should have made Pip a brother or something. I don’t know, just not what they did.
Ok, let’s talk about the villain, voiced by the ever awesome Tim Curry. Hexxus, as I understand it, is an evil spirit that rose up from the bowels of the earth long ago, bringing destruction on the forest. He was sealed inside a tree that the leveler eats and is released. When I was a kid I thought this monster was pollution (which I guess means they hit it right – I know what the bad guy to the environment is), but as an adult I’m seeing it a bit more complicated than that. If he came into being long ago, he can’t be pollution, he has to be something more sinister. Did a volcano erupt and cause destruction on the rainforest and this thing is like that spirit? And why is he so keen to destroy the forest? Maybe these things are answered and I’m not paying attention, but I would have liked a lot more depth in the mythology of this whole land and the fairies. It would have been cool.
The only other thing I do want to talk about at a bit of length is the end. Mage (the old shawoman/fairy) sacrifices herself and disappears and turns into glowing light that gets transferred to each of the fairies. I’m guessing this is giving them the power to understand the forest? It’s not quite clear. Anyway, Crysta, Zak and Batty go to fight the leveler and Hexxus and Zak succeeds in… turning off the machine. yeah. Apparently it was that easy. Hexxus gets sucked back into the leveler (there’s no more pollution for him to feed on) and it seems all is good. Really?!? Is that really how they’re going to defeat…. HOLY CRAP THAT THING IS BACK!!!!
Anyone remember this? After everything seems all well and good, Hexxus somehow manages to come back to life even though the machine is off and not only does he come back as a weird cloud/oil monster thing, but a SKELETON DRIPPING WITH FIRE AND OOZE!! That is freaking scary!! How did this not scar me as a child? After everyone is done picking their jaws up off the floor and calming the tears of young children, Crysta defeats him by taking a tree seed and he eats her. The tree starts to sprout out of Hexxus, and the rest of the fairies help it grow and the scary monster spirit thing turns into a tree.
So wait… they already took away all the energy that Hexxus needed by turning off the leveler, it comes back, and it’s a TREE that stops this thing? I mean I know they’re trying to make a point, but really?? This thing seems super powerful once it gets to full power, and a TREE stops it? Yeah. Am I the only one not ok with this plot point? It confuses me.
Other thoughts on the movie that are super random and don’t require an entire paragraph each:
~ This movie is REALLY dated. Like, early 90s tubular dude cool dated. They quite literally use that phrasology.
~ The animation for a little indie Australian movie is really impressive. It’s colorful and it made me want to go there. I’ve heard the crew spent time in the Australian rainforest, so I say good job, it was money well spent (even the bit of CGI isn’t bad!)
~ The songs are super-forgettable. I’m a bit sad I never remembered them, because you’d think Robin Williams rapping would have been memorable.
~ Ralph Eggleston was a storyboard artist! I actually watched the credits and saw his name! If you don’t know who that is, he is a big Pixar guy. This was apparently his first job. He’s worked on tons of pixar movies.
~ I actually kinda like that even though this story is the Pocahontas/white guy comes in and saves the day movie, it doesn’t really happen like that. Yeah, Zak helps and turns off the leveler, but in the end it was Crysta and the fairies who ultimately defeated Hexxus.
Ferngully is all in all a great movie. I’m not really a big fan of the characters, but I feel I would have absolutely LOVED this movie had they developed them and the mythology of the place a bit more. It could have been so much more. There was so much more potential than they did, which is actually saying a lot. I would recommend it most definitely. It’s a good environmental and educational movie.
I give Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1992) 3.75 stars out of 5.
Up next: let’s continue with environmental movies and watch Happy Feet (2006). These will be fun to compare…
**in case you can’t tell, I’m not a fan of the Genie. But we’ll get to him…