We all have that movie that was shoved into the VCR during times when we needed a pick-me-up. When we were sick, by a mother desperate to stifle our whiny moans of a sore tummy, or after eating too much junk food, or to cleanse our viewing palette after Saturday morning cartoons. For me, that movie was Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest.
Just to refresh your memory, the story follows a curious little fairy called Crysta (Samantha Mathis), who is part of Fern Gully, a rainforest devoid of human life. The fairies in her community think that humans are extinct thanks to a devilish creature called Hexxus who had gotten rid of them years before.
After exploring an area she hadn’t been to before, Crysta comes across a human called Zak (Jonathan Ward) who is about to be crushed by a tree and so she shrinks him to fairy-size in order to keep him safe. Then, with the help of Batty Koda, a fruit bat played by Robin Williams, she escapes from the clutches of a spider’s web. She then has to find Magi (Grace Zabriskie), a motherly-figure fairy, who can help restore Zak to his original size. Zak’s arrival sets off a chain of events that results in a magical battle between fairy-folk, the humans trying to destroy their land and the malevolent Hexxus (Tim Curry).
When I watched The Last Rainforest as a kid, I had no idea that it was Australian-made, or that it had a real message behind it about the environment, or even that the main character Crysta looks an awful lot like Courtney Cox; I just remember always being content watching it in the big armchair by the fire, how funny Batty Koda was (which sparked my great love affair with all of Robin William’s work) and that it had lots of pretty colours. That’s pretty much it when it comes to my attachment to it, and it may seem superficial, but when you’re a kid you can latch on to the most stupid film of all time and still love it years later. Then, when you have the time to sit down and watch the pinnacle of cinema that is your childhood favourite, you realise how unbelievably stupid it is. Thankfully, The Last Rainforest has a talented voice acting cast, beautiful animation and a solid plot to keep me happy as an adult.
There are few films where you can experience the genius of Tim Curry and the late, great Robin Williams in the same movie. The Last Rainforest is one such film. Unfortunately, I had no idea what I was experiencing at the time. In fact, there are many impressive aspects of The Last Rainforest that 8 year old me didn’t notice; like how great the animation was and still is, or the jokes that clearly went over my head as a young girl. Now that I’m a big grown up, I can finally appreciate all of the work that went into it, and I can lament at the tragic quality of some similar animations today.
The movie was meant to be released in 1991 but had to be pushed back until the following year to avoid competition with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. The film was still well received in its own right, with a current 71% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I checked out the rating before re-watching it, just in case I was in for a rough ride. I always had a vague recollection of a part near the middle where I became a little bored, but after viewing it now, many years later, I can’t imagine where I got that notion. I loved the re-watch and it certainly has a place in my personal favourites hall of fame.
The voice actors fit the characters really well, particularly Samantha Mathis as Crysta, along with Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong as the memorable Stump and Root.
The real stars of the movie, however, were the comic relief character, Batty Koda, and the villain, Hexxus. The movie marked Robin Williams’ first animation role, which lead to him tackling the part of the enigmatic Genie in Disney’s Aladdin that same year. Tim Curry has had a career that’s spanned many genres, from Stephen King’s IT, to The Rocky Horror Picture Show to Muppet Treasure Island, and his role as the scary Hexxus was one of his best.
One of the things I noticed about the story is that it seemed very similar to James Cameron’s Avatar. “A human man is transformed into one of the locals and has to help them save their world from a group of bad guys. And of course the man used to be one of the bad guys too, but changed his views once meeting a pretty girl.” – it sounds familiar doesn’t it? In the same vein of familiarity, Batty Koda’s look was rather like Rasputen’s tiny minion in Anastasia but, then again, how many different ways are there to draw a bat?
Although at the time I didn’t realise the environmental significance of this movie, re-watching it struck a cord with me. I found it both admirable and desperately sad that the movie was trying to teach young people about the dangers and evils of pollution; on the one hand, fair play to them for trying, and on the other I feel guilty because when I was a child the intentions of the movie didn’t translate to me at all.
Ultimately, a movie doesn’t have to be rife with propaganda in order to be good, in fact the opposite should be encouraged, but even trying to teach children about the world through animation deserves a participation medal. Overall, I enjoyed this first instalment with its fantastic one liners, colourful characters and good-natured agenda; so much so that I’m going to watch the sequel; here’s hoping the quality is as impressive!
Have you watched Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest? Let us know in the comments!