The beginnings of the FernGully story all go back to the environment. Wayne and Diana Young had come up with stories that would eventually become FernGully, and come from their shared love for the environment. The couple had wanted to make a film adaption of FernGully for years, but it was the mid-80’s and animation wasn’t exactly in its hey-day. It wasn’t until Disney came out with The Little Mermaid in 1989 that interest in animation started up again and they were able to find a studio to help them make their film. Who they found was Bill Kroyer and Australian production company FAI. Jim Cox, who had written the first two drafts of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, wrote the screenplay for the film, with Kroyer directing and his company handling animation. To help cut down on time, CG was used to animated certain aspects of the film, including a flock of birds, something that would have taken a very long time to animate traditionally. Kroyer estimated that production was halved due to the use of CG. What benefited the film was its subject matter. It suddenly became popular in Hollywood to care about the environment, and this was the first film to try and tackle it and explain it to kids. The message of the film was enough to draw in some big names for the cast, including Robin Williams, Tim Curry, Christian Slater, and Cheech and Chong. Disney took notice of a small studio trying to muscle in on its territory and Jeffrey Katzenberg, still heading up Disney animation at the time, took pains to keep FernGully from happening.
Jim Cox took Wayne Young around Disney studios just so he could find young talent for FernGully, though he had another person’s name on his tag. Katzenberg was not happy when he found out and set out to stall FernGully. When they were trying to rent a facility, Disney kept buying it out from under them. They finally settled into an old brewery, though Disney tried to take that, too. The biggest sticking point for Katzenberg was Robin Williams. Jim Cox was a huge fan of Robin Williams and wrote the character, Batty, with Williams in mind. Williams loved the message of the film and agreed. Afterwards, Williams was asked by Disney to provide the voice for Genie in Aladdin. Katzenberg didn’t want Williams to be in FernGully, and tried to strong-arm him into quitting. This didn’t sit well with Williams, who refused to sever his ties with FernGully. The relationship between Disney and Williams would go further south when they specifically went against an agreement Williams made about promotions involving Genie, which led to him refusing to have anything to do with Disney for several years. That’s the reason he doesn’t voice Genie in Return of Jafar or the animated series. With Katzenberg gone, Williams and Disney came to an agreement and he came back to voice the Genie for the third Aladdin movie and in attractions at the various Disney Parks.
Disney couldn’t keep FernGully or Kroyer down, and the movie was eventually released in April 1992. The film did something that no other Disney competitor would do for some years: get good reviews. Thanks in part to the message, though some found it a little preachy, and the stellar cast, people generally liked FernGully. Wayne Young even claims that Katzenberg called him and told him how much he loved the film. Not sure what Disney was worried about, seeing how they were pulling in tons of money. FernGully had a few things going for it, but a big name studio was not one of them. People see the name Disney and think quality. Same goes for certain other studios. Sometimes if people don’t see a familiar studio behind a film, they won’t bother seeing it because they figure it’ll be bad. FernGully did reasonably well at the box office, grossing $32.7 million against a $24 million budget. It sold well with video sales on top of that, making it a serviceable hit for the studio. Kroyer wouldn’t do anymore movies through his studio from then on, though he was in talks to direct Quest for Camelot, though that didn’t work out due to creative differences. Bill Kroyer now teaches animation at Chapman University. FernGully was popular enough to get a sequel, but not made by any of the same people and with a different voice cast, called FernGully 2: The Magical Rescue. FernGully lives on through the kids who watched it and took to heart the themes of environmentalism. Watching this was my first experience learning about the effects we have on rain forests, wildlife, and the environment in general. We as a culture have become a lot better about taking the environment into consideration, but we have a long way to go.