30 years ago today, Disney's former CEO reportedly tried to sabotage Robin Williams' OTHER animated movie
The movie was released just a few months before Aladdin arrived on the big screen...
Released in cinemas in November 1992, Aladdin essentially changed the game in terms of animated movies, thanks to the casting of a high profile actor in a voice role - in this case, Robin Williams as the Genie - and that actor then running away with the entire movie.
It was a huge commercial and critical smash for Disney, who then continued to cast big Hollywood names in its next big movies:
The Lion King had Jeremy Irons and Matthew Broderick, Pocahontas had Mel Gibson, The Hunchback of Notre Dame had Demi Moore, Hercules had Danny DeVito and James Woods, and so on and so on.
However, seven months earlier, Williams' OTHER 1992 animated movie was released in cinemas.
FernGully: The Last Rainforest arrived on 10 April 1992 with an incredibly stacked voice cast including Williams, Christian Slater, Tim Curry and Samantha Mathis, as well as Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong.
It was a bit of a box office dud ($32.7 million worldwide from a $24 million production budget), given a mild response by critics (63% on Rotten Tomatoes), and was mostly forgotten about until Avatar arrived with essentially the exact same plot – human outsider goes "native" to help magical tree people from invading machinery army.
Well, mostly forgotten except for the reports that Disney actively tried to shut down the movie...
The central theme of FernGully is all about saving the environment, a message that the all-star cast agreed with, which is why they all agreed to work for scale on the project, with producer Wayne Young telling The Gazette at the time that portions of the film's gross would be donated to Greenpeace, the Rainforest Foundation Fund and other environmental charities.
During the making of the movie, the character of Batty Koda was created specifically for Robin Williams, and the movie's director Bill Kroyer was so impressed by Williams' 14 hours of improvised lines for the part that Batty's original screen time of eight minutes was tripled for the final cut.
However, in 2017, Vanity Fair did a deep dive on the movie and reported that Jeffrey Katzenberg, the then chairman of Walt Disney Studios, tried to force Williams off the movie as he didn't want the actor performing voice roles in another project the same year Aladdin was coming out.
The movie's writer Jim Cox said that Williams went against Katzenberg's request, saying:
"Robin was steaming, like, 'It's my voice! You can't stop me.'"
From there, producer Wayne Young talks about how Katzenberg made life very difficult for the production of the movie:
"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."
Of course, Disney won the battle in the end simply by having a better movie, but 30 years later, FernGully still has a special place in the hearts of Robin Williams' biggest fans.
Ferngully: The Last Rainforest is currently unavailable to stream, rent or buy on any digital platform, so for now, enjoy this scene with Williams firing on all cylinders as Batty.
Clips via JoBlo