“Avatar” vs. “FernGully: The Last Rainforest” – A Case of Plagiarism?

 

Although there has been a number of comparisons done recently between ‘Avatar’ (2009) and ‘FernGully’ (1992) (also ‘Pocahontas’ (1995) and ‘Dances with Wolves’ (1990)), I, nevertheless, have decided to take my own turn on the topic and ascertain the similarities between the two movies. In this piece, I will provide some evidence that demonstrate that ‘Avatar’ and ‘FernGully’ are so similar – both in plot lines and style (more so than many other films/stories), that, in my opinion, it was nearly impossible (for James Cameron) not to have in mind ‘FernGully’ when writing ‘Avatar’.

In this review I will assume that the reader has already seen both ‘Avatar’ and ‘FernGully’. The similarities between the two films are striking and are as follows:

Environmental/Colonialism theme – Both films emphasize nature being beautiful and orderly, to be protected, cared for and “listened to”, and human activities and technology being evil. Both films also involve the clash of two different “cultures”, with one race/culture oppressing the other, trying to invade its world – planet Pandora’s tribe vs humans in ‘Avatar’; and fairies vs humans in ‘FernGully’.

The place – FernGully, the last rainforest of ‘FernGully’ can be compared to the planet Pandora. As is Pandora, FernGully is a beautiful “paradise-like” place, previously untouched by humans. The population of this place lives in peace with nature. The fauna and flora in both films are also similar – beautiful green plants and many animals.

Sanctity of nature – In both films forest is regarded as being almost a holy place, populated by invisible “spirits” of nature, which are also responsible for carrying the energy around.

The arrival of the main character – from another “world”; the main character is a human and a male – It is clear that Zak from ‘FernGully’, a human, can be “equated” with ‘Avatar’s character Jake Sully. In fact, the character basis is the same here. Both Zak and Jake can be described as funny, “not-too-serious” kind of guys, who are very much “down-to-earth” and adventurous; both of them are viewed as “child-like” by their love interests. Both Zak and Jake also work for “evil” people who are on the side of technology. Zak and Jake are “recruited” by them to harm, or take advantage of, the beautiful world of nature.

Recognition by folks from another “world” that the protagonist is not like others of his kind –  Both Zak in ‘FernGully’ and Jake in ‘Avatar’ appear to have a “big” heart and are willing to learn the secrets of nature.

The enemy is essentially a human in both films – Although Hexxus, the spirit of destruction and death, can be regarded as the “main” enemy in ‘FernGully’, it is humans who set Hexxus free and promote his evil aim. The source of evil also seems human technology in both films. Hexxus could as well be “equated” with Tim Curry in ‘Avatar’. Materialistic gain is primarily what motivates the “evil” in both films: in ‘Avatar’ it is valuable stones, in ‘FernGully’ is it wood/space.

The main heroine of the story saves the life of the protagonist. She protects and defends him in front of her “tribe”. She later befriends the main character and puts a lot of trust in him, hoping that he will do something about the upcoming destruction of her world by “his” people –  In ‘Avatar’ the beautiful heroine is Neytiri, the daughter of the leader Omaticaya, the Na’vi clan. In ‘FernGully’, she is clearly Crysta, a fairy girl of FernGully.

The protagonist acquires “first-hand” knowledge of the other “world” – Both Zak and Jake are taught some of the basic principles and laws of the nature world. They are introduced to the skill of “feeling” and “hearing” the beautiful environment around them.

The protagonist falls in love with the “princess” of a tribe – In both ‘Avatar’ and ‘FernGully’ the romantic relationship is formed between the protagonist and the main heroine.

The protagonist undergoes personal change – Clearly, both Jake and Zak change their points of view regarding the nature world. They become “enlightened”, and, in some way, start to associate themselves with the world of nature.

The protagonist lies to his love interest regarding the imminent danger to her tribe, resulting in her being “cross with him”. Jake in ‘Avatar’ does not tell the real reason to Neytiri as to why he is on the planet. He is also initially silent on the topic that his people are planning to invade it. In ‘FernGully’ Zak lies to Crysta, telling her that he has nothing to do with the terrible machines which destroy the forest.

The protagonist “turns away” from his “roots” and fights against the ideas of his own people (tribal unity against the common enemy) – In ‘Avatar’ Jake sides with Na’vi and is eventually involved in the war against humans. In ‘FernGully’ Zak unites with fairies to fight Hexxus.

Nature wins and humanity loses the battle

More particularly:

The father – In ‘Avatar’, Neytiri’s father is the leader of the clan of Na’vi. In ‘FernGully’ Crysta’s father appears to be an important man among other fairies, with Crysta being very popular.

The main heroine’s friend – Crysta’s closest friend in ‘FernGully’, Pips, is almost like a Neytiri’s fiancée Tsu’tey in ‘Avatar’. Both of them become increasingly jealous of the main heroine’s growing interest in the “foreigner”, and there is a rivalry developed. At the end of the film Pips and Tsu’tey seem to accept the protagonist and they even become friends.

Motherly figure/Mentor – In ‘Avatar’ Dr Grace Augustine is an expert on Na’vi. She wrote books on Na’vi and set up a school for them. She mentors Jake Sully. In ‘FernGully’ this mentor of the main heroine is Magi, a much older fairy who acts as a teacher to young Crysta. Interestingly, both Grace and Magi “die” as a result of their involvement to save the nature from destruction.

The Tree – for Na’vi and fairies trees are very important, but they consider one tree to be of particular importance – the holy tree (‘Avatar’), or the home tree (‘FernGully’). Both of these trees are what the “evil” in the respective films targets as the very “heart” of the tribe to be destroyed. Both trees in the films become the last refuge of the tribe.

Some scenes in ‘Avatar’ and ‘FernGully’ are remarkably similar, for example, as other critics also noted, Crysta and Zak’s jumping in puddles which then “light up” upon touch is similar to Neytiri and Jake’s running through plants that also “light up” upon touch. The bulldozer scenes are also remarkably similar and that technology seems to be prominent in both films.

Interestingly, ‘Avatar’ is also similar to ‘Noon Universe’ books of 1960s written by Russian brothers Strugatsky. The Planet Pandora of ‘Noon Universe’ series is a holiday resort planet, covered with jungle where young people just love to hunt. The planet Pandora in ‘Noon Universe’ is populated by indigenous Navi people.

White Avatar took much of the “nature” plot lines from ‘FernGully’, it is clear that the “human” world in ‘Avatar’ is based on the book ‘Call Me Joe’ (1957) written by  Poul Anderson. ‘Call Me Joe’ plot revolves around a man, Anglesey, who connects telepathically with an artificially created life form in order to explore the harsh environment of Jupiter. Anglesey fights predators on Jupiter and gradually becomes native.

James Cameron claims to have written the story to ‘Avatar’ in 1995 and ‘FernGully’ was released just 3 years before that, in 1992. It is not impossible that Cameron awaited the moment when ‘FernGully’ becomes a long-forgotten children’s cartoon to make his own “break” and tell the story anew, but now using the stunning visionary. Clever? Only as far as the 3D technologies go, for there is very little originality here.

Overall, given the sheer number of similarities between ‘Avatar’ and ‘FernGully, it is very hard to believe that Cameron simply “borrowed” something from the film, and this does look like an outright plagiarism. Cameron may have “borrowed” from ‘Dances with Wolves’, ‘Pocahontas’ and Poul Anderson’s 1957 short story ‘Call me Joe’, but he essentially “stole” the very essence of ‘FernGully’. Moreover, although Cameron acknowledged the influence of many films and books on ‘Avatar’, including ‘The Emerald Forest’ and ‘Princess Mononoke’, he is more silent when it comes to the main film in question – ‘FernGully’.

And here is some bonus material:

Curious? These are 1970s artworks of a very talented artist, Roger Dean. Not surprisingly, Cameron forgot to mention any influence of Dean on his film.

50 thoughts on ““Avatar” vs. “FernGully: The Last Rainforest” – A Case of Plagiarism?

  1. Great article! This is pretty damning – I don’t think it can be denied that Cameron used Ferngully for more than inspiration when he was making Avatar.

    By the way, thanks for liking my recent post on James Cameron! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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      1. FernGully is NOT Disney; It was produced by FAI Films, Kroyer Films &
        Youngheart Productions, and only distributed by 20th Century Fox; and yes, you can plagiarise from your parent company – IF that was the case here; and stop spamming my blog with your stupid comments. Do your research first.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Omg i knew they had alot in common but it never occurred to me that much! I would say ferngully is better as all originals are better than remakes.

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    1. Totally. I absolutely agree that all originals are better than remakes. I try to stay as objective as possible here, but Ferngully is also a cartoon of my childhood, which, needless to say, I value high in terms of message the picture conveys, etc., that makes it for me double-hard to see such rip offs as that. Thanks a lot for reading! 😉

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      1. You forgot something else–

        The protagonist rides on the back of a flying animal much larger than he is. Contrast the ikran in Avatar with Batty in Fern Gully.

        It was one of my childhood faves too. 🙂

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  3. Thanks for this amazing article. Literally watched FernGully for 30 minutes and I thought Avatar it’s a great movie and as I type I’m in the process of watching FernGully 2. Interested to watch as I’d like to see what Avatar 2 pulls out of FernGully 2 in order to make it another multi million pound box office. Cheers for the article again. I look forward to seeing a FernGully 2 and Avatar 2 comparison.

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    1. Thank you, and I am glad you enjoyed reading it. Ferngully 2? I haven’t seen it, and it’s unlikely that I would. I don’t usually like sequels, unless they are very well made, and few of them are, especially animated films. Lion King 2,3 and Aladdin 2,3 come to mind. It would be interesting to see Avatar 2, and, of course, I will keep my eyes open for any similarities.

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  4. Oh good…it’s not just me! Complete steal and noticed it almost immediately. And both movies generally steal from Dune. Good work. I’m in complete agreement

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  5. I am sorry but you could have compared Pocahontas in the exact same way. all of these movies are rip offs. Fern gully included.

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    1. Well, I am sorry too but Pocahontas and Dances with Wolves may NOT be considered rip offs at all: if you haven’t noticed – many people have – they contain fewer similarities with Avatar than Ferngully.

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  6. Even some of the lines used in the movie Avatar are the same as in FernGully. For example the most important line in my opion. Used at the end of the FernGully: ‘for our childrens children’. This sentence is also used by Jake when they are trying to convince the other clans to fight. And there really isnt any reason for using this sentence at this point in the movie exept repeating the same message as FernGully wants to give. Maiby even a hint??? Real fans know without a doubt that the story is practically the same. Both movies are great, just a bit of a pitty that there is no acknowledgement…

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  7. Where does Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2009) fit into all this? The landscape in Avatar, including the flying creatures is very similar, some of the lines of dialog are identical, and so are some of the characters (e.g., the black haired mechanic girl = Trudy).

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah, it’s quite crazy. Ashley is a big fan of Nadia and he knows a ton about that controversy. His analysis was great when comparing and contrasting both animation projects. The Review Heap is also a great blog in general and I swear Ashley and I have eerily similar tastes in anime.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. You have definitely given me enough reading material to occupy all my weekends this and next month, which I am grateful for 🙂

            For awhile now actually I am mulling over the alleged similarities between “Coco” (2017) and “The Book of Life” (2014). I loved “Coco”, and maybe that is the reason I have not yet seen “The Book of Life” , though I do want to. Something tells me that my view of “Coco” would never be the same again after that viewing.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Thank you so much! Hahaha! I hope you enjoy the material. Also, thanks for checking out my Fantastic Planet review and for liking my Iridium Eye blog.

              That’s another thing I wondered. I haven’t seen either movie. When I saw the trailer for Coco back then, I was like “Didn’t Book of Life do the whole Day of the Dead stuff first?”. It would be interesting to see both in the near future. I’m sure the concept would be way more common in Latin America cinema, but this is too obvious when it comes to American movies. I can understand the feeling.

              Liked by 1 person

  8. Watching Fern Gully right now, and on Pandora.. Humans can’t breathe the air.. And Hexxus wants to poison the air so noone can breathe. How did I miss this before?!?

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Some think that Avatar is based on The Word for World is Forest” by Ursula Le Guin or “Midworld” by Alan Dean Foster. Additionally, Roger Dean thought he saw enough similarities to his artwork in Avatar that he sued Cameron for $50 million in 2013. The case was dismissed a year later. At the time, the Hollywood Reporter noted that Cameron has won several cases focusing on theft of ideas for Avatar.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. My partner and I stumbled over here coming from a different web address and thought I should check things out. I like what I see so now i am following you. Look forward to checking out your web page again.

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  11. Great post. I didn’t think Avatar was as great as so many people seemed to think it was. I liked it, but thought it was the “Cameron” name that got it such great reviews. I liked the tech part as well. The truth is, many scripts/films “borrow” from others. I remember reading once where someone had broken down all the films that had “shared” content. Some were modernized. Variations of Cinderella, Snow White, Robin Hood are the most common. Many old films and stories are nothing more than “patterns” for new ones. It’s just how ingeniously or creatively you can manipulate them and pull it off..

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    1. Thanks for your comment. Exactly. It was Cameron and all the other hype which promoted this film to the state it is now – all the “digital” progress was emphasised in the hope that this unoriginal story would gain massive approval.

      I am aware that there is nothing original under the sun and that many stories copy threads from each other – the main patterns, but there is this realisation that there should be a certain limit to such copying. The problem is where to draw the line between innocent inspiration and copying of a main idea only – the main thread, and indecent and actually blatant and outrageous copying violations? As I pointed out above, when a movie starts to copy small details of another movie or just has too much copied – it is very obvious to an impartial observer that the two are essentially the same – then the problem should arise, I believe.

      You also reference Cinderella, Robin Hood and alike, but this argument is not applicable here – to Avatar and Ferngully. The stories such as Cinderella and Snowhite are legends – folklore – which are freely available for copying because they are part of the world’s oral tradition now – and are too ancient to be used as copyright claims. Problems arise when there are more niche stories.

      To be honest, Avatar may have drawn inspiration and the main idea from Pocahontas and Dances with Wolves (part of some modern man vs man of nature folklore) – I have no problem with that AT ALL. However, when it comes to Ferngully in particular, I firmly believe that Avatar is a shameful movie because it went far and beyond what can be considered proper, AND Cameron gave 0 credit to the animation.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have always bristled at Cameron’s persistent claim that the Avatar story came to him in a dream, and continues to pretend that no one knows where he got the ideas for it.
        I was actually researching another film called Mac and Me, a blatant copy of ET, when i came across your Ferngully analysis and to my amazement the thread remains alive after all these years! So here’s my two cents:

        My son and daughter grew up watching and loving Ferngully, as did I. I still have the tape.
        When Avatar was released in I-Max my daughter went to see it in the theater. When she came home and I asked her about it, her very first comment was “it’s Fergully!”

        It wasn’t long after that that I saw it myself on DVD and i certainly agreed with my daughter. It was indeed Ferngully!

        Larry King announced one day that he would be interviewing Cameron the next day about Avatar. I immediately emailed King that night and asked him to ask Cameron about Ferngully. I didn’t make any accusations or go into any detail of why I made the request. Needless to say, he didn’t. I’m sure he must’ve known why I asked him to do that, otherwise, why wouldn’t he? He just simply allowed Cameron to lie about where he got his inspiration for the film.

        Here’s A couple of other blatant Avatar thefts from Ferngully no one has so far mentioned: riding the dragons, holding onto their “antennae” (If I remember correctly) is just like the Ferngully fairies riding the beetles, holding onto their antennae. And the Ferngully scene in which Zack gets on the giant logging machine and through the windshield tries to signal the pilot to stop is recreated in Avatar when Sully jumps on the flying tank and tries to kill Tim Curry through the windshield! Amazing!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks very much for your great comment, and I am glad there is yet another person who is not indifferent to this Ferngully issue. Ferngully is a wonderful animation and should NEVER be buried under this “more popular and “relatively” recent” Avatar.

          Other similarities that you noticed are all valid and eye-opening, thanks – especially action behind the windshield – Cameron borrowed particular scenes from Ferngully, which is unbelievable. Actually, I do would like to say something about “the riding of dragons” – the animation of my childhood was also “The Flight of the Dragons” (1982), which I came across again only recently – and this also gave me an idea of a person riding dragons/flying creatures in a certain way – that animation also had wonderful ideas which may have had influence on numerous fantasy films.

          Like

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