The villain in FernGully, sort of an undefined, mutating blob, doesn’t do anything. He never cuts down a tree, never leaves the comfy confines of the human controlled polluting tree muncher, and never so much as harms a single being. It begs the question of why he exists at all.
Maybe it’s a means of keeping the kids comfortable, so instead of sending them home believing they’ll grow up to become human tree poachers, they can instead be tree monster fighters… or something. The actual villain is a dopey looking machine with more claws and spikes than should be necessary. It’s begging to suck up a human in the world’s most graphic worker’s compensation lawsuit ever. Tim Curry’s work as the visual interpretation of evil is utterly wasted.
Then again, so is a lot of this film. With lethargic music, awkward animation, and stumbling dialogue, FernGully asks people to pay to watch a movie that tells them they’re awful as beings of this planet. It doesn’t have heart, just Robin Williams in his first, “Hey, I’m goofy!” animated role.
From the get go, FernGully feels forced, insinuating that the forest -and thus all of the critters- are racist against humans because a volcano erupted. The introduction, dark and dreary as it can be, never quite makes a note as to why people are at fault. Yet, every forested critter despises and fears people.
It’s one thing to rally around global warming as a cause. It’s another to directly blame the audience who is sitting in an energy-sucking theater eating the gifts of the Earth with masses of children whose birth that cause overpopulation and crowding. FernGully has no idea who the real villain is, and instead, finds a scapegoat.
Outside of the message, most of the antics, song placement, and clear fades made for eventual TV commercial breaks feel extraordinarily random. The film wanders, lost as to what it’s supposed to do next, so it inserts a clip of a zany bat doing something. After all, what’s better to keep a little one’s attention than Robin Williams? The score’s cheap synth blends with the routine, barely passable animation to create something destined for Saturday mornings, stretched to reach the bare minimum feature length. Even that feels overlong.
Fox dumps this early ’90s animated fare onto Blu-ray, utilizing a source that was never meant for HD consumption. Layers of damage and dirt can dot the print, while some judder infiltrates the credits. Resolution feels restrained, possibly upscaled from a lower res source. The level of visual information retained isn’t enough to feel satisfied.
That has nothing to do with the B-level animation. It wouldn’t be remotely fair to compare this to the likes of Disney and their restorative magic. Still, FernGully and other animation carries an expectation that this disc won’t reach. Backgrounds feel stunted by mildly elevated grain structure, possibly a hint of sharpening involved. With an AVC encode working overtime to handle it, the image carries a noisier quality than that of a disc with better compression.
Dating the scan is the color saturation, blowing out primaries to the point where they glow, and even bleed through. Crysta’s red outfit is obnoxiously saturated, while the same goes for Pips’ hair. Greens break from a pleasant, precise hue to appear at a level more akin to radiation on The Simpsons. This forest isn’t so much magical as it is deadly.
This first HD treatment isn’t a total wash, with passable black levels combining with the generated depth of the background plates for enough dimensionality. Despite the general softness, lines are defined and clean, certainly making it easier to appreciate the the work when it succeeds. Even if it never personally resonated, the film has a following, and there’s a generation who undoubtedly grew up with this nature puff piece. It deserves better.
On top of the dialogue aging itself with dimmed fidelity, it exists in an out of balance relationship. The action-oriented sounds bellow in comparison, dwarfing the quaint exchanges. From the tree murderer device to some of the forced danger elsewhere, FernGully is too overzealous.
The songs, oddly enough, fit in. They situate themselves in the middle, work their way into the low-end, and fill the surrounds. A slight elevation here is acceptable to give these droll works some pep. Better yet, at least the music does something, the foley effects barely registering in the rears. No matter how energetic the film is trying to be, the audio mix doesn’t coincide with the visuals.
Director Bill Kroyer, art director Ralph Eggleston, and coordinating art director Susan Kroyer deliver their musings via a commentary track, more words spilling over Seed of the Story, a script-to-screen comparison. From Paper to Tree is a half-hour, certainly late ’90s making of, but passable. Behind the Voice is a multi-angle feature that focuses on the villain’s solo song. An original featurette that was undoubtedly aired on network TV for promotional purposes puts a complete cap on things in conjunction with a music video.
On a side note, the cover art is abysmal. Zak looks more like an overeager pedophile than the sweet, charming lead.
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