‘FernGully: The Last Rainforest’ director Bill Kroyer releases 30th anniversary Blu-Ray

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes the 30th anny Blu Ray of 'Fern Gully' (Part 1)

Thirty years go, “FernGully: The Last Rainforest” (1992) became one of the last gems of hand-drawn animation. On Tuesday, fans can pick up the 30th anniversary Blu-Ray.

“I did the master transfer of the Blu Ray from the original negative,” Director Bill Kroyer told WTOP. “It was one of the last non-digital films, so the artwork, the paintings and the cels were resolution independent. … When you take a high-resolution 4K ultra high-dynamic-range scan, it’s absolutely amazing, it’s like holding the artwork in your hand.”

Kroyer began as an animator on Disney’s “The Fox and the Hood” (1981) and did CGI for “Tron” (1982) but left the company to avoid working on “The Black Cauldron” (1985), which tanked and caused a pivot to animated musicals for the Disney Renaissance of 1989.

“We were like the ‘non-Disney’ Disney group,” Kroyer said. “I did ‘Tron’ in ’82, the first computer animation. Disney rejected that idea of doing computers. [Pixar founder] John Lasseter sat in my room, watched me do ‘Tron,’ then did a ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ test and they fired him. … I attracted a lot of the people that were Disney-quality artists.”

Indeed, the “FernGully” team included future titans: art director Ralph Eggleston (“Toy Story,” “The Incredibles”), character designer Tony Fucile (“The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “The Iron Giant”) and storyboard artist Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo,” “WALL-E”).

Co-produced by the U.S. and Australia, the story follows the magical inhabitants of a rainforest as they fight to save their home from the logging and polluting force, Hexxus.

“It’s universally applicable — and never more so than right now,” Kroyer said. “‘FernGully’ was a really simple idea; it was about the web of life, that simple principle that even if you don’t realize it, you’re connected to everything. … It’s such a perfect metaphor for the reality that we’re facing now, the fact that we’re seeing things go awry in the environment.”

The star-studded cast included Samatha Mathis as Crysta, Jonathan Ward as Zak, Tim Curry as Hexxus, Christian Slater as Pips, Tone Loc as Goanna and Cheech & Chong as Stump & Root. Still, the biggest standout was the hilarious Robin Williams as the hay-wired Batty Koda the same year as his iconic voice work as The Genie in “Aladdin” (1992).

“We got him first. It was his first animated voice,” Kroyer said. “He signed on because he loved the project and the message. If there’s one character that symbolizes the whole point of the movie, it’s Batty. . … The toughest thing for me was picking the best Robin Williams take because he would do 10 improvisations, and they’d all be brilliant.”

To this day, Kroyer finds parallels to “FernGully” in newer movies like “Avatar” (2009), so you could say that his creation inspired one of the biggest global blockbusters ever.

“Much like a character in ‘Avatar,’ [Zak] discovers the natural world is one that must be protected,” Kroyer said. “When they started doing the mashups online of the ‘FernGully’ and ‘Avatar’ trailers, it was pretty funny how many things were matching. … I would never accuse [James Cameron] of totally ripping us off, but I’m told his kids were watching it.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes the 30th anny Blu Ray of 'Fern Gully' (Part 2)

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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