Original Release: November 16,1990
Runtime: 77 Minutes
Directed By: Hendel Butoy and Mike Gabriel
Notable Actors: Bob Newhart, Eva Gabor and John Candy
Something I appreciate about Disney is that every film is unique and new. The fact that they always try to branch out with every project is exhilarating and the fact that they never do a sequel is…wait a moment. I’ve just been handed a note saying that the next film on our list is a sequel and that everything I’m saying right now is counter-productive to this article. Oh dear. Well, I suppose we’ll have to start from scratch. With the Disney renaissance in full swing, it only made sense to bring back one of the most successful teams of the last era and show them off to a new generation. With an all new way of digitally painting and an all new setting, this one was sure to be a hit. Right? It was a hit, right? Oh dear. I’ve just been handed another not telling me to stop trying and just get to the historical segment of this article. Yeesh, okay, let’s do that then.
The Rescuers Down Under is a lot of firsts for Disney. The film, based on the novels by Margery Sharp, was the first sequel to be released as part of the Disney Classics series. Coming off of the 1977 release of The Rescuers, there was a lot of hype riding around this movie. This was also the first film to completely utilize the new CAPS system for animation which basically meant that the artist’s work was scanned into a computer and then colored and put together in layers digitally. Cel animation and xerox was now a thing of the past. Since CAPS was developed by a little company called Pixar, this also meant the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership. The film also used more CGI than any other Disney film to date, creating the cityscapes of New York and Sydney. In fact, five of the artists actually traveled to Australia in order to take pictures and draw the scenery of the film.
While there were a lot of good things going into The Rescuer Down Under, the simple fact of the matter was that the film tanked at the Box Office. Set up against a little film called Home Alone, Rescuers did so poorly that my least favorite studio chief, Jeffrey Katzenberg pulled the advertisements for the film in order to save as much money as possible. The critical response to the film was also mixed from those who loved it to those who thought of it as one of Disney’s worst. Either way, it had the lowest profit of the renaissance period and was also the last film ever for actress Eva Gabor. But just how is this movie now that all that money making business is behind us? Let’s take a look.
The Rescuers Down Under follows the tale of Cody, a young boy in the Australian outback who communes with the animals and saves giant eagles in his spare time. He’s a daredevil of a kid to be sure, scaling rocky cliffs and riding eagles high in the sky. This all comes to a rough halt when he falls into a trap set by the poacher Percival McLeach. McLeach notices the eagle feather Cody keeps with him and kidnaps Cody as a way of catching the eagle. Of course, this all finds its way to New York and the Rescue Aid Society where Bernard and Miss Bianca must once again team up in order to save the boy. They are joined this time around by a new albatross by the name of Wilbur and Jake, a kangaroo mouse who is very reminiscent of the crocodile hunter. Together, they must save the eagle, save the boy and stop McLeach and his pet lizard Joanna.
This film is absolutely gorgeous. The jump in animation from The Little Mermaid is hugely noticeable and scenes involving riding on the eagle’s back really show off the new computer painting program. There’s a sense of grandeur here which we haven’t seen in a while and the film glows with amazing scenery and the sights and sounds of the outback. All the characters look great, move great and sound great. Even the music is fantastic. There are no musical numbers to speak of but a beautiful score underlines the wonderful visuals creating a sensory feast for our eyes and ears.
The problem with Rescuers is that the story is all over the place. The film starts out strong as a story of Cody and his plight with the eagle and McLeash but as soon as that gets started, we cut away to the Rescuers themselves who, sadly, don’t really need to be here. Don’t get me wrong. I love Bernard and Bianca and I love watching their love story and Bernard as he tries desperately to ask Bianca to marry him, but at the end of the day, they feel forced into this film that could have easily been fantastic without them. There are moments of greatness in this film, but more often than not, the slow scenes involving Bernard, Bianca and especially there companion Wilbur, bog the whole thing down and make us long for another soaring eagle flight.
I really like McLeash as a villain though. This isn’t the first Disney film to make the killer of nature the bad guy, but it works well to see him in the flesh. He has a very good reason for kidnapping Cody whereas the villain of the first Rescuers maybe had a thin reason for kidnapping Penny. Because she’s the right size to go into a cave? Really? McLeash’s pet lizard Joanna is actually quite hysterical. She makes odd noises and a scene in which she steals eggs one at a time from McLeash shows that she really is only out for herself. This makes them a fun pairing as they are both pretty sinister, but have no problem waving farewell if the other gets into trouble.
Wilbur is a sad case because I love John Candy and I really want to like this bird but let’s face it, he spends a good portion of the film in random scenes involving shots and painful procedures to correct his back. It’s barely entertaining and seems like a poor excuse to take him out of the action for a short while. Candy himself makes the character at least mildly amusing with witty one liners and funny banter, but I can’t shake the feeling that this character just doesn’t need to be here.
Indefinitely, the best parts of this film are the opening and the fast paced action filled conclusion. Everything else feels thrown together and wonky. The film is really at its best when it’s about Cody and McLeash. I love seeing Bianca and Bernard again and getting a proper end to their story, but they just seem so shoehorned in as if it was a last minute decision to put them in the film. They feel like guest stars here and its unfortunate because they still have a lot of charm on their own.
Many have criticized Katzenberg for throwing the film under the bus. They say he should have know that the film would fail against Home Alone, but I think sometimes things just don’t turn out the way they should and The Rescuers Down Under is one of those cases. While the film has its moments of greatness, there are too many thrown together pieces to make it one of the best. Still, perhaps the team behind Frozen can get these guys into the next film. I think they’d do well in the arctic and Bernard could really use a reminder to “Let it Go.”
Next Up: Beauty and the Beast
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NOTE: Obviously all the photos are courtesy of Disney Entertainment and I would never in a million years claim them as my own. That being said, all are actually taken with my phone during our viewing in order to capture the moment in a slightly different way than originally intended.
ALSO: My Fiancee has a blog too and he is talking about all the classics we are currently watching, which involves more than just Disney. Head over HERE and check it out!