Monday, December 31, 2012

The Rescuers Down Under (1990) - The Disney Movie With Heart - and Mice

The Rescuers Down Under: Can Bob Newhart Do it Again?

McLeach close-up The Rescuers Down Under 1990
"The Rescuers Down Under" cover.
"The Rescuers" was a surprise hit, a throwback to the days of "Lady and the Tramp" and "One Hundred and One Dalmations," when the Disney juggernaut could take an unknown story and make it into an "all Disney" movie, complete with Disney villain, Disney heroes, and a warm, fuzzy conclusion. The two leads from "The Rescuers," Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor, return in "The Rescuers Down Under" (1990), directed by Hendel Butoy and Mike Gabriel, as Bernard and Miss Bianca, respectively.

McLeach close-up The Rescuers Down Under 1990

While it did not perform spectacularly at the box office, it has found its audience over the years and has become something of a cult classic. The Disney animators also went to work improving the technology, using the computerized CAPS animation process developed by then-unknown graphics company Pixar for the first time, along with CGI elements in many scenes. Whatever you make think of the overuse of CGI in the years since it does have its place when used properly, so this was a true break-through film.

Bianca Bernard dinner Disney movie The Rescuers Down Under 1990
Enjoying a leisurely dinner when...
Spectacular scenes such as Wilbur the albatross flying over Sydney Harbor still look good today, and, in a practice that would later become common but was still new at the time, the Disney animators visited the Australian Outback to refine their visuals. This is one of only three Disney movie sequels (the others being "Fantasia 2000" and "Winnie the Pooh") that are included within the Disney movie canon of animated features and the very first animated sequel to any Disney movie. It also helped solidify the Disney Renaissance which had begun the year before with "The Little Mermaid" and, some would argue, continues to this day.

Cody on Marahute Disney movie The Rescuers Down Under 1990

Cody (Adam Ryen) is a young boy living "Down Under" in the Australian Outback who has a golden eagle named Marahute (Frank Welker) as a friend. Marahute trusts him enough to show him her nest and eggs, but a poacher named Percival C. McLeach (George C. Scott) wants the valuable rare bird and its offspring. McLeach sees a feather from the bird on Cody's backpack and imprisons him until he will reveal the location of the golden eagle's nest. A mouse sees this and runs off to inform the United Nations Rescue Aid Society in New York via the global animal communications network.

Bianca, Bernard, Jack Disney movie The Rescuers Down Under 1990
Jack is a great take-off on Crocodile Dundee.
Bernard and Miss Bianca, the title rescuers from "The Rescuers," are given the mission just as Bernard is preparing to propose marriage to Miss Bianca. They enlist Wilbur the albatross (John Candy), the brother of Orville from "The Rescuers," to fly them Down Under to Australia so that they can help out Cody. There, they meet friendly kangaroo mouse Jake (Tristan Rogers), who serves as their tour guide and also, much to Bernard's annoyance, hits on Miss Bianca. Wilbur has some problems with his back which are "straightened out" at the local mouse hospital.

Cody Faloo Disney movie The Rescuers Down Under 1990
Cody talking to Faloo the red kangaroo (Carla Meyer)
McLeach, meanwhile, tricks Cody into thinking that someone has shot Marahute, causing the boy to visit the nest with McLeach surreptitiously following. Bernard and Miss Bianca follow in McLeach's giant half-track, where they try to warn Cody, but McLeach arrives and captures the bird, Cody, Jake, and Miss Bianca. Joanna, McLeach's pet goanna (a monitor lizard voiced by Frank Welker), tries to eat the bird's eggs, but Bernard foils that plan by replacing them with similarly-shaped rocks. The rescuers do a lot of rescuing in this Disney movie.

Bernard Jack Disney movie The Rescuers Down Under 1990
"I think we take one from column A and one from Column B..."
Wilbur, recovered, arrives and, at Bernard's request, sits on the eagle eggs to keep them warm so that they will be all right while Bernard searches for McLeach and the captives. They all wind up at Crocodile Falls, and McLeach intends to dangle Cody over the Falls in order to feed him to them. Bernard, riding a razorback, gets there in time to foil the plan by disabling McLeach's vehicle. Bernard then tricks Joanna into running into McLeach, sending them both down into the crocodile-infested waters.

The Rescuers Down Under 1990

Cody falls into the water, and Bernard tries to save him but can't. It is up to Marahute, freed by Jake and Miss Bianca, to swoop down and save both Bernard and Cody from going over a waterfall as McLeach has just done. Happy at last, Bernard then returns to his original intention, proposing marriage to Miss Bianca.

Jack Disney movie The Rescuers Down Under 1990
"Take that, Jeffrey Katzenberg, for ruining my film's release!"
Most would agree that, despite the fact that "The Rescuers" did strikingly well at the Box Office, while "The Rescuers Down Under" did not, that this is the more enjoyable of the two animated Disney movies. "The Rescuers" and "The Rescuers Down Under" both feature Miss Bianca, Bernard and the charlmouse (Bernard Fox) who chairs the Rescue Aid Society. "The Rescuers Down Under" has some similarities to the  "Crocodile Dundee" movies.

The Rescuers Down Under 1990

The rescuers once again form a nice, tightly bonded team, though they don't appear until the lengthy set-up in Australia has concluded. The Disney villain, McLeach, is fully realized, with a delightfully morbid sense of humor. He even is somewhat believable, unlike many other Disney villains, and you will understand McLeach and the killer that he is as you cheer as he goes over the Falls.

Marahute the golden eagle  Disney movie The Rescuers Down Under 1990
"Did they really put me on a coin? A gold coin? Cool!"
The Disney movie animation is superb. "The Rescuers Down Under" flight sequences both in New York and Down Under still are amazing, and the action scenes are visually exciting. You get a view of Cody clinging to the back of a soaring eagle and dazzling overhead views of the Sydney Opera House, the harbor, and the United Nations building in New York. The visuals are so good that you might want to have some Dramamine handy. "The Rescuers Down Under" animated characters are well-developed, especially if you take the time to watch both Disney movies "The Rescuers" and "The Rescuers Down Under." The albatross once again provides the Disney movie comic relief, and nobody could do that better than John Candy. Animators never get enough credit, so, for once, let's thank those who worked on "The Rescuers Down Under:" Mark Henn for drawing Bernard and Miss Bianca; Nik Ranieri for doing Wilbur; Russ Edmonds for Cody; Duncan Majoribanks for McLeach; and Glen Keane for animating Marahute.

Wilbur Disney movie The Rescuers Down Under 1990
An interesting animation artifact of Wilbur.
If "The Rescuers Down Under" has any problems, it may be a little too short, and some of the action scenes are a tad too intense for the youngest viewers, especially a few "The Rescuers Down Under" scenes set in the mouse hospital. "The Rescuers" and "The Rescuers Down Under" have vastly different animation styles, with "The Rescuers Down Under" brighter and less forbidding. Most would probably say that the animation of "The Rescuers Down Under" is superior and breathtaking to that of "The Rescuers," though that of "The Rescuers" has its admirers, too. "The Rescuers Down Under" also doesn't have any musical numbers (though there are eccentric and humorous renditions of "Home on the Range" and "Black Slacks"), which makes "The Rescuers Down Under" a true rarity among Disney animated features - some might consider that an advantage. With the dramatic action/adventure plot of this Disney movie, it's difficult to see how they could have stopped the action and have "The Rescuers Down Under" characters burst into song.

 Disney movie The Rescuers Down Under 1990
Polly the Platypus, after being captured by McLeach.
The most damaging thing you can say about this Disney movie aside from debatable matters such as whether the writing by  (based on the characters) properly uses the characters, is that it did not make a lot of money upon the first release (though, like all Disney animated Features, it undoubtedly has earned the Disney team money over time with re-releases and home video sales). The story is that the film did not perform as expected over its initial weekend of release (facing stiff competition indeed from "Home Alone"), causing Disney movie boss Jeffrey Katzenberg to panic and pull all of "The Rescuers Down Under" advertising. The trend of Australian-based films had bypassed "The Rescuers Down Under" by a couple of years, so what may have seemed like a good idea at the time, wasn't at the time of release. Those things, though, don't make it a bad Disney movie, just a Disney movie that had bad timing. Fortunately, Disney markets its animated films in terms of decades, not weekends, so "The Rescuers Down Under" has gone on to have a wonderful post-release life anyway.

The Rescuers Down Under 1990
A good version to get includes "The Rescuers" and  "The Rescuers Down Under."
Disney movies usually are terrific, but, in general, Disney movie sequels are so-so. "The Rescuers Down Under" is one of the best sequels among all Disney movies, with top animation and classic voice actors who had personality and style and had spent decades becoming familiar with audiences. This is a terrific Disney movie, especially if you take the time to see both "The Rescuers" and "The Rescuers Down Under" in sequence and become friends with the characters. One might even call them - combined - a "lost Disney classic" and perhaps the most underrated Disney movies ever made.

McLeach close-up The Rescuers Down Under 1990
McLeach has a certain charm for a Disney villain.
The 35th Anniversary Blu ray Edition has some fun special features. Two songs, "Peoplitis" and sing-along "Someone's Waiting for You" make the cut this time. For Disney devotees who are into mice, there is the Silly Symphony short "The Three Blind Mouseketeers." An obligatory "The Making of The Rescuers Down Under" and "The Water Birds Disney True Life Adventure" allow you to spend some more time with Eva and her "dahlings." The 35th Anniversary Edition of The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under on Blu-ray has three discs full of material, with two unfortunately forgotten films and more than enough bonus material in one package to satisfy most fans.

Cody falling The Rescuers Down Under 1990
The climax has lots of nice thrills.
It is well worth your time to re-visit your friends from "The Rescuers" and "The Rescuers Down Under." The Blu-ray "2-Movie Collection" of "The Rescuers" and "The Rescuers Down Under" came out in August 2012 and is a real visual treat, but you never know how long Disney will keep this on the shelves - it has a nasty habit of suddenly pulling titles and putting them back in the vault for a decade or two when demand starts to wane..Someday, who knows, "The Rescuers" and "The Rescuers Down Under" may get the 3D theatrical and 3D Blu-ray release that they deserve, but for now, this is a pretty spectacular presentation.

The Rescuers Down Under 1990


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