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MOVIE REVIEWS : 'FernGully' Delivers Ecology Message

April 10, 1992|CHARLES SOLOMON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With its bright colors, upbeat rock soundtrack and strong ecological message, "FernGully . . . The Last Rainforest" (citywide) should delight children and amuse their older siblings and parents. This modest but promising animated film is the first feature from Kroyer Films, the studio that produced the titles for "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" and the Oscar-nominated short "Technological Threat."

An unspoiled tract of Australian rain forest guarded by a tribe of tiny fairies, FernGully was created by Diane Young in a series of children's stories. A handsome prelude that evokes the look of Aboriginal art explains how the fairies imprisoned Hexxus, an evil spirit that tried to destroy the jungle, in an enchanted tree. Centuries later, the tale is repeated to Crysta (voice by Samantha Mathis), a fairy wise-woman-in-training, by Magi Lune (Grace Zabriski), "the wise forest mother."

When Crysta investigates a disturbance at the edge of the forest, she inadvertently shrinks Zak (Jonathan Ward), a young human logger, down to her minuscule size. Zak learns the ecological consequences of logging through a series of misadventures involving Pips (Christian Slater), Crysta's boyfriend; a ravenous blue goanna lizard (Tone Loc) and Batty Koda (Robin Williams), an addled bat who escaped from a research lab.

Zak's crew has inadvertently freed Hexxus (Tim Curry) by felling his tree-prison. Nourished by the logging machine's foul exhaust, Hexxus grows from an amorphous blob into a towering, armored skeleton that threatens to destroy FernGully. When Magi mysteriously disappears, Crysta must lead the fairies in a battle that pits the power of nature against Hexxus' menacing strength.

The animation itself compares favorably with a prime-time TV special: The movements look fluid, although the characters really don't do much acting. Computer-generated images of the logging machines contrast nicely with the more organic-looking drawn characters. But the most striking animation occurs during Hexxus' final transformation into a skeletal apparition that recalls the stop-motion monster in the first "Terminator" film: He's a genuinely frightening presence.

In his feature debut, director Bill Kroyer manages to keep the action moving, although he's saddled with Jim Cox's very talky script. Too much of the film is devoted to the star-crossed, Valley boy and girl romance between Zak and Crysta, at the expense of the central conflict with Hexxus.

The musical numbers range from Tone Loc's comic rap number, "If I'm Goanna Eat Somebody (It Might as Well Be You)" to the saccharine and unnecessary ballad "A Dream Worth Keeping," performed by Sheena Easton.

The real weakness in "FernGully" lies in the original story: By making Hexxus the villain, Young's "modern myth" fails to connect the threat to the environment with the audience's actions. The rain forest isn't being cut down to appease a malevolent demon. The threat to the environment, like its solution, comes from within--a point the talented and well-intentioned crew of "FernGully" fails to make.

'FernGully . . . The Last Rainforest'

Tim Curry: Hexxus

Samantha Mathis: Crysta

Christian Slater: Pips

Jonathan Ward: Zak

Robin William: Batty Koda

Grace Zabriski: Magi Lune

An FAI Films in association with Youngheart Productions presentation of a Young and Faiman production, released by 20th Century Fox. Director Bill Kroyer. Producers Peter Faiman, Wayne Young, Jim Cox, Brian Rosen, Richard Harper. Executive producers Ted Field, Robert W. Cort, Jeff Dowd, William F. Willett. Screenplay by Jim Cox. Editor Gillian Hutshing. Music supervision Tim Sexton, Becky Mancuso. Running time: 1 hour, 16 minutes.

MPAA-rated G.

20th Century Fox

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