Earth Day 2020 has made its appearance this April and per usual TV ads and social media posts made us aware of how we may better the planet for ourselves and for those to come in the near future. Thankfully, I don't need a reminder thanks to one of my favorite animated features as a child, FernGully: The Last Rainforest.
In 1992 FernGully made its debut and my mother gave me a bootleg copy of it on a VHS cassette (with other dubbed films like Sleeping Beauty and Peter Pan), thinking it was like a Disney film — but it very much was not a Disney movie.
FernGully follows a young inquisitive forest fairy named Crysta, who is in training to be the next great protector of the forest. However, instead of honing her craft, she spends her time daydreaming about human life. She gets her chance to learn about humans when she encounters Zak, a teen taking a summer job helping to cut down the FernGully forest. At first, Crysta is eager to learn about Zak, but she soon realizes humans are not what she imagined, and it's Zak who learns to be compassionate to the feelings of the forest.
The film touches on very poignant themes such as the effect of capitalism on the environment, the cruelty of animal testing, the beauty of nature, and the circle of life (and not in the way The Lion King does) in a pretty heavy-handed way. I admit I didn't really pay attention to that at the time, but little did I know I was subconsciously becoming aware of the evils of mankind.
Several of the movie's songs aim to bring awareness while making it lighthearted and fun — not an easy task, but definitely well executed. One of my favorite songs, "Batty Rap," is an uptempo jam my sisters and I would dance to every single time it played. Sometimes we'd stop the movie just to rewind it because it's so funky.
While the song serves as an introduction for the character Batty Koda (as voiced by the late, great Robin Williams), it's a harrowing account of trauma Batty endured while being tested on in the biology lab he escaped from. The song is a dig at product testing and even ends with a plain warning: "So hear my funky words and exercise a little prudence, we're dealing with … humans."
My second favorite song, "Toxic Love," is a jazzy ballad glorifying the ills of pollution sung by the villain Hexxus (voiced by Tim Curry). One of the lines, "Even greedy human beings will always lend a hand to the destruction of this worthless jungle land," sticks out in my mind, with its accompanying image of the murky shadow slapping stacks of coins in the air.
Other instances in the film showing the devastation of humans on the forest include Crysta's physical anguish upon feeling the "hurt" of a cut tree, her exasperation when she sees the stumps left behind as her forest is being harvested, and the heartbreaking scene when Zak tells Crysta everyone must leave FernGully. Crysta replies they have nowhere else to go because it's their only "home."
As a child, I would associate dark clouds of smoke with Hexxus, becoming aware of pollution in the air and cringing at the sight of oily water. With my mom being a natural green thumb, I was surrounded by flora thriving in the home, and when I was outdoors I'd touch trees to gauge if they were happy or "in pain." And when it came to animals, I'd have a sense of sympathy for those who were being treated cruelly.
FernGully had its intended effect on me, and I'd like to think I'm a better person for it. Despite having a love of the beauty of nature, I am also aware of the impact humans have on any given environment, and I do my best to reduce my footprint. And when I have a seed in my possession, whenever I can, I toss it on some soil and silently say, "Help it grow, Crysta."