Why Disney Was Annoyed About Ferngully: The Last Rainforest

robin williams in ferngully

Twenty-five years ago, a group of Australian animators finally got to make an environmentally focused kids flick that had been in gestation for a long time. That movie was Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, a flick now known for its lush setting and the inclusion of Robin Williams as a zany bat named Batty Koda. While it would seem strange that a rival animation studio might care about a movie being made by other studios, Ferngully's director Bill Kroyer, a Disney alum himself, recently explained that the studio was not happy when it found out Ferngully was being made. Kroyer elaborated about why then studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg was displeased about the turn of events, saying:

Jim [Cox] took me on a tour at Disney with someone else's name on my tag and pointed out the young guns to hire for FernGully. Katzenberg wasn't happy when he found out. He was behind all the aggravation that Disney caused us: twice we rented facilities, and they gazumped us by paying more. When we found space in the brewery, Disney tried to buy it. One day Katzenberg and eight or so others marched through to inspect the premises--we scrambled to cover everything up! But it was also really about Robin.

Clearly, Bill Kroyer was not totally blameless when it came to the rift between him and the Disney head. Obviously, he did poach some of Disney's prime animators, but according to his comments to Vanity Fair, Katzenburg responded swiftly. The reason he thinks the studio was most annoyed was not even because Ferngully: The Last Rainforest had enticed some people to move over. According to Bill Kroyer, it all had to do with Aladdin and Ferngully both featuring Robin Williams.

At the time these two movies were coming together at their respective studios, it became clear that Robin Williams would be doing voice acting for both films, which supposedly didn't make the House of Mouse all that happy. The issue was that Ferngully: The Last Rainforest had signed on Robin Williams first, so there wasn't much that Disney could do about Robin Williams doing two animated movies at once, except berate the popular actor.

Jim Cox said that Williams took the attitude that he wanted to do both movies and if Disney wanted him to stay on Aladdin, he would do both movies. Per Cox:

Katzenberg did not want him voicing two animated characters in two animated movies at the same time, and tried to force Robin not to do it. Robin was steaming, like, 'It's my voice! You can't stop me.'

The two characters and movies are very different, ultimately. It's also hard to imagine a studio getting mad because an actor has decided to take two similar projects. If studios and the heads of projects were still constantly freaking out about this sort of thing, it's unlikely that we would ever have gotten Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool or Josh Brolin as multiple comic book characters. There are likely still behind-the-scenes things like this happening on occasion, but I doubt anyone is getting flack for doing two dissimilar animated movies in a year.

At the end of the day, Aladdin has lived on as a wildly popular Disney hit and a live-action version is even being made. Fergully: The Last Rainforest also still has a bit of a cult audience. Both movies are better because Robin Williams took on roles, even if it was aggravating.

Jessica Rawden
Managing Editor

Jessica Rawden is Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. She’s been kicking out news stories since 2007 and joined the full-time staff in 2014. She oversees news content, hiring and training for the site, and her areas of expertise include theme parks, rom-coms, Hallmark (particularly Christmas movie season), reality TV, celebrity interviews and primetime. She loves a good animated movie. Jessica has a Masters in Library Science degree from Indiana University, and used to be found behind a reference desk most definitely not shushing people. She now uses those skills in researching and tracking down information in very different ways.