I really need to know what is going on with FernGully these days. Because the only time I ever hear this movie mentioned is when everyone suddenly becomes outraged that someone’s come along and ripped-off its plot. It happened in 2009 with the release of James Cameron’s Avatar where it found itself name-dropped along with what I would term “legitimate movies”: Oscar-winning Dances with Wolves and Disney canon classic Pocahontas. Then came this week’s release of 20th Century Fox animation Epic. I couldn’t believe it. My brain had gone straight back to FernGully. I found myself watching the trailer and actually feeling the human emotion of anger at the thought that this movie had dared to utilise a plot similar to a movie I hadn’t watched since I was a child. And looking at the Youtube comments, I clearly wasn’t the only who made the connection.
Hey, Clarisse, why are you so concerned with people’s opinions on a cartoon from the early 90s? Well, the problem is these kinds of claims would imply that FernGully is some kind of revolutionary masterpiece that changed the very face of movies which unabashedly tell us to be nice to the environment. And my question to you, world, is this: does anyone actually like FernGully? And I don’t mean in the kind of protective nostalgic sense in which you view the movies from your childhood through rose-tinted glasses. Because children are very forgiving when it comes to plot structure and character development.
So, I undertook the task of removing those rose-tinted glasses and re-evaluating FernGully through the cynical and emotionally-dead eyes of an adult. And you know what I discovered? Yeah, FernGully isn’t very good. The comparisons with Avatar are pretty solid here, with the children-movie label allowing them to turn the preachy-ness up to 11. We’ve essentially got a bunch of hippie fairies, humans too stupid to function, and an enemy who is literally just oil anthropomorphised. The forces of creation and the forces of destruction fighting it out over the rainforest. All interacting in exactly the way we’d expect. It’s also a movie which almost entirely consists of totally meaningless dialogue like: “everyone can call on the magic powers of the web of life. You have to find it in yourself.” I don’t even want to start de-constructing that crap.
To be honest, I don’t really understand why I even would have enjoyed this movie that much as a kid. There’s not that much really beyond the moralising, except if you worship the very ground that Robin Williams walks on, which I think is a very small and now largely defunct group of people. At one point they let/make him rap and it’s pretty terrible; there simply does not exist a place in children’s animation for rap of any form. At least that’s what Titanic: The Animated Movie taught me (if you’ve never heard it of, I’d start explaining but then I might never stop).
So this is where we come to. Why is everyone so weirdly obsessed with FernGully when there’s absolutely nothing remarkable about this movie? It was at this point in my thinking process when I started getting conspiracy levels of obsessive in my search for answers. I was tempted to play the movie backwards to see if the message “James Cameron will make a movie about man vs. nature. You must stop him.” came flashing up. Then I learnt that FernGully was the first film to ever be shown at the United Nations General Assembly Hall and my conspiracy theory peaked to climax. Not An Inconvenient Truth or Born Free. Not even a decent Ghibli animation like Princess Mononoke or Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Nope. The movie where a bat raps about animal experimentation. I was pretty much prepped to whack on a black hood and start screaming about Hollywood brainwashing our kids.
But then it dawned on me. There’s no subconscious infiltration in FernGully. It’s the opposite: we remember this dumb movie because it took the environment mallet and smacked our impressionable young brains with it. It’s possibly one of the least subtle movies ever to have been made, with the old Magi telling our fairy protagonist: “for just as every seed holds the power and magic of creation so do you and EVERY other creature in this world”. DO YOU THINK BY “EVERY OTHER CREATURE” SHE POSSIBLY MEANS HUMANS? DO YOU? And taking a moment to collect what I could actually remember about watching FernGully as a child, it came down to two things: the ominious red Xs painted on trees about to be cut down and the slightly traumatising image of villain Hexus transforming into a giant skeleton of poisonous smoke. I’m pretty sure FernGully only exists to scream the words “FernGully” and “environment” into your brain enough times that it lodges there for eternity like a stubborn spider living in the corner of a ceiling. Probably for the purposes of making us care about recycling and renewable energy by forever linking the destruction of the rainforest with cute fairies, but also meaning every-time we watch a movie about the “environment”, “FernGully” is the immediate response of brain makes. Which horrifically makes it sound like I’m defending accusations that Avatar‘s plot is lazy. I’m not. That movie is horrible.