'Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest' routinely gets mistaken for being a Don Bluth film. The movie was actually directed by Bill Kroyer (who actually helped with visual effects on the original 'Tron'). However, this mistaken identity is easy to understand because the look and feel of 'Fern Gully' seems in line with the animation and themes that Bluth took on during his illustrious animation reign. Even without the influence of Bluth, Kroyer guides a film that holds up relatively well 20 years later.
This could be nostalgia talking, so I'm giving you a fair warning. Before I get into my review, you must know that I watched 'Fern Gully' with a couple of my cousins at least a dozen times a month when we were young. We got to the point where we could quote just about every line of dialogue. We got especially good at mimicking Robin Williams' voice, saying things like, "I'm blind! I can see again. It's a miracle!" and "Awesome use of the language, dude." Numerous times a day we'd recite the (in)famous dialogue between Batty and Zak:
Batty: Nobody cares about me.
Zak: I care about you, bat-man.
Batty: Only fools are positive.
Zak: Are you sure?
Batty: I'm positive...
Batty: I fell for it! I should have known!
Needless to say, we loved this movie. Like many cartoons from my younger years 'Fern Gully' is lodged directly into the nostalgia cortex of my brain. I remember it fondly. I remember not only loving the movie but loving the joy it inspired in me and my cousins. We're entering sappy territory, I know, but I feel that you should know of my undying love for the movie before we move on.
If it's been a little too long, here's a refresher on the plot. Crysta (Samantha Mathis) is a fairy who is learning the ways of her elder, Magi (Grace Zabriskie). Magi recounts a story to Crysta during the opening credits about an evil entity named Hexxus (Tim Curry) who terrorized the forest, laying waste to everything in his path. The humans fled the forest and are feared extinct by the fairies. Magi was able to trap Hexxus in a giant, magical tree where he remains today.
The story also involves a human named Zak (Jonathan Ward), a young boy who is out in the forest working a summer job cutting down trees. After a chance meeting with Crysta, Zak gets shrunk by Crysta's misguided fairy magic. Now, the size of Crysta, he's able to see the adverse effects of his logging on the rainforest.
If this movie came out nowadays, imagine the uproar. The movie makes no bones about being an environmental public service announcement aimed at younger audiences. Wrapped up in its fun and fancy animation is a message that says, "See kids! See what happens when we methodically destroy our rainforests?" Today 'Fern Gully' would be decried as a blatant attempt to brainwash our children into becoming nature-loving hippies. I tried to find any sort of controversy surrounding 'Fern Gully's release in 1992, but came up empty. On the other hand Googling 'The Muppets,' 'Wall-e' or 'Cars 2' brings up dozens upon dozens of web pages laying out the ways these movies and their messages are slyly indoctrinating our kids. Perhaps the world was simpler in 1992 or maybe we were all a little less cynical. Whatever the case may be, I'm glad 'Fern Gully' came out when it did, because it wouldn't have survived the vicious onslaught that it would've received today.
Adding to the unconcealed message of conservation is the depiction of Hexxus as a large, monstrous entity made of smoke and sludge who feeds on pollution. Yes, it's completely obvious what Kroyer and company are trying to accomplish with this movie. I always enjoyed Hexxus, who is another reason why this movie is so often confused as being Bluth work. Hexxus is scary, which is something of a taboo when we're talking about villains in children's films. Bluth routinely put villains in his films that felt scary and real, providing little to no intentional comedy associated with them in order to lighten the mood. Here Hexxus sometimes appears as a smoke monster, but other times as a creepy skeletal figure made of oozing sludge. It could be frightening for younger children but it drives home the purpose of the movie even further, giving a chilling face to pollution so kids can understand its destructive nature.
'Fern Gully' also has a cute little love story attached to it where Zak and Crysta become enamored with each other, but that isn't the real reason for its existence. When we come to the end and find that the movie has been dedicated to, "Our children and our children's children," we know for sure that this was mainly a propaganda film. It had an agenda that would've created serious waves had it been released today. Agree with its message or not, 'Fern Gully' is fearless in its convictions. You have to give it that.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a Fox release, which comes in a standard eco-friendly Blu-ray keepcase. The movie has been pressed onto a 50GB Blu-ray Disc. It's been coded for Region A use only.
As a note, I'd like to add that the cover art is simply horrendous. It makes the movie look like you're in for some terrible off-brand fairy movie. In no way does it capture the real look and feel of the movie.
Fox has provided 'Fern Gully' with a 1080p AVC-encoded transfer complete with a 1.85:1 frame. Like many older animated titles that aren't associated with the brilliant restoration minds of Disney, 'Fern Gully' features a rather hit-or-miss video presentation.
First, let me say that this presentation is much better than the look of the DVD. It's cleaner, brighter, and the colors are much more vivid this time around. The detail in the animation is clearly seen rather than hidden away in the murky DVD picture (when I was young I watched this over and over on VHS; I never knew what I was missing). The real winner here is the color. The DVD always looked too washed out, too bland. Here the color has a darker, more natural feel to it. The greens of the Australian rainforest are lush while the blackness of Hexxus' oozing sludge persona is deep and foreboding.
However, the movie does routinely run into problems. Color does flicker from time to time. Lines, spots, specks and dirt can be seen throughout the runtime. It isn't nearly as dirty or unwatchable as, say, 'All Dogs Go to Heaven,' but it is rather noticeable. With that said, I thought that this transfer, overall, looked much cleaner than the DVD. Yes, it has a ways to go in order to meet the high bar set by Disney's flawless restorations of its older animated titles, but there does seem to be some care put into this transfer. It doesn't seem simply slapped together.
Fox has produced a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track which really adds a much needed kick to the movie's presentation. Besides the dialogue being mixed a little too low, I was really impressed at the way this lossless mix integrated the movie's ambient sound, producing a very well-balanced and aggressive surround sound mix.
Let me tell you, you've never heard 'Fern Gully' with this much low-end bass. As the humans move through the forest demolishing everything in their path, the sub-woofer rumbles every time a large tree topples to the forest floor. Musical numbers, like Batty's rap, are given plenty of accompanying bass.
The rear speakers are full of forest life and Alan Silvestri's memorable score. As the trees begin to fall we hear birds and animals fleeing the scene as the rear speakers capture their movements. The rear channels are also alive with activity as Crysta outruns a swooping hawk and when Hexxus bellows and growls while destroying the forest. Fans of the movie will be very pleased with this newly updated lossless mix.
There aren't any new special features minted for this release. Although the list of features is extensive, it's simply just a porting over of features that were originally used for the DVD release.
'Fern Gully' remains one of my fondest childhood cartoon memories, even after revisiting it. Many times I revisit cartoons I used to watch as a kid and they simply don't hold up, 'Fern Gully' does. Sure, it has a thinly-veiled environmental message, but that's the point of the movie in the first place. It's a movie that I've been waiting for to come to Blu-ray and now we finally have it. I'd recommend it to anyone.