THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER – (1990)
Director: Hendel Butoy, Mike Gabriel
Starring: Bob Newhart, Eva Gabor, George C. Scott, John Candy
Screenplay by: Jim Cox, Karey Kirkpatrick, Byron Simpson, Joe Ranft
The mice so nice that they’re doing it twice: Bernard and Miss Bianca return to the big screen after thirteen years out the rescuing game, this time down under in that wacky country/continent Australia. The Rescuers Down Under was Disney’s second movie in what is usually known as the Disney Renaissance era, beginning with The Little Mermaid and ending with Tarzan. It was also the only one to flop, only making 27 million in the box office. (I can’t seem to find a definitive budget on this film, but it seems to be 20 million according to Wikipedia, if you subtract the box office gross from the total revenue.)
Why? Well, at the time, Americans were obsessed with Macaulay Culkin and children seemed to delight in fighting off criminal scumbags; i.e., it was released along side Home Alone (future Childhood Revisited feature). Disney utilized a new digital animation process, called CAPS, and sent animators and researchers down to Australia to accurately portray the landscape. But it didn’t seem to matter all that much. While the 80s and 70s much enjoyed the success of little animal critters saving the day, the 90s and 00s preferred the appeal of “sexually” appealing princess alongside goofy sidekicks and handsome heroes. Which would certainly explain the success of Disney’s ‘Princess’ line; little preteen girls and their obsessions with shallow, mindless royal figures meeting prince charming and living happily ever after with absolutely no sense of self-preservation. Am I bitter? Damn right I am, because this movie was great!
NOSTALGIC LENS: Majestic. Of all the Disney animated films I’ve seen, this was the only one that I remember where the animation actually impressed me. Sure, I couldn’t actually put it into words at the time, but at some aesthetic level I knew that a lot of work was put into this movie. It’s obvious, even to an 8-year old, that drawing multiple angles and dynamics of a giant bird must have been hard as shit; too bad very few people actually take in the substance of the animated form.
DOES IT HOLD UP: By god, does it ever! But there are some awkward moments here and there, though.
I hope at some point this gets released on Blu-ray, because then one could really get to see the incredible animation at work. This movie is beautiful in ways I can’t even say. It’s so amazing, in fact, that I couldn’t help but think the animators were actually showing off. I’m not exactly joking here.
The early opening scene is clearly designed to be a jaw-dropping opus of animated glory, as Cody, our young protagonist, rescues the golden eagle Marahute and then goes on a four-minute thrill ride with her through the sky, across a river, through mountains and valleys, and just pretty much have all the fun a boy and his bird can have. (Sorry, Team Ico; Disney was doing this shit way before you thought it was cool.) But, as incredible as the sequence is, you really can’t help but think how unnecessary it is at the same time.
Part of the problem, I think, is we’re introduced way too early to this. In fact, a lot of stuff is awkwardly introduced way too fast. For example, Cody is immediately shown as some animal-savior, which is not exactly a mentality that kids can relate to. Also, while Penny’s ability to talk with animals was a perfect reflection of a lonely, friendless, orphan girl, Cody’s ability seems random, thrown in just to push the plot along. (They tried to emphasize his loneliness by mentioning his dead father, but considering he seems to be fine living at home with his mom, well-fed and well-taken care of, it’s really just a moot point).
And… uh, that boy can climb the shit out some wall-cliffs. What the hell?
Anyway, evil poacher Percival C. McLeach ends up capturing him to try and get him to divulge the location of Marahute. His capture gets relayed via computer-savvy mice to the Rescue Aid Society, where they’re like, “Oh, whatever, let’s just send Bernard and Miss Bianca after them, cause we got other stuff to do.” Oh, apparently going from janitor to USA representative requires the rescue of at least one (1) child. And Bernard has to interrupt his wedding proposal on Miss Bianca to fly all the way down under to save him.
It’s nice to hear John Candy’s voice again as Orville’s seagull brother Wilbur, who does a damn good job. All the really fun sequences involve him in some way or another. I’m very happy that I managed to find this clip, which shows a majority of the best scenes in the movie, and really awesome, detailed, close-up expressions of the talking mice, bird, and the kangaroo rat Aussie, Jake.
Man. That is beautiful. You really have to take it all in.
As far as villains go, McLeach (really? Mc-LEACH?) is probably the most underrated badass in villain history. Excellently voiced by George C. Scott, McLeach really displays a psychopathic disregard for everyone around him combined with a inflated view of himself. Subtle great moments include him singing a ditty as he prepares to toss Cody into a crocodile-filled river; talking to the radio about how smart he is; and my favorite, his bizarre need for proteins from eggs. The latter is particularly great since it comes from absolutely nowhere.
There’s an interesting subplot that includes Jake trying to muscle in on Miss Bianca, creating some jealous friction between Jake and Bernard. (Too bad this doesn’t go anywhere. We see scenes where Bernard shows his smarts, quick thinking, and balls, but the jealousy stuff is wrapped up too nicely. But hey, it’s Disney.) There’s also another nice but pointless set of scene where a trapped Cody befriend some other captive animals, and they have goofy asides to each other, and Frank the frilled-lizard acts straight-up retarded in an insane escape attempt/conflict between him and Joanna, Mcleach’s evil pet goanna lizard. It fails miserably, doesn’t incite much laughter, and worse of all, they’re completely forgotten about by the end of the film. Were they rescued too? The world may never know.
Also, one other thing I noticed about this movie: Bianca doesn’t do ANYTHING. She belittles Bernard a lot, much like the first movie, but at least in the first one she managed do actually do some work. Here, she’s completely worthless, leaving Jake and Bernard to do most of the difficult stuff as she’s strung along. She was a trick in the first movie, but here, she’s a trick squared.
All that aside, though, this movie was a lot of fun. While The Rescuers played perfectly into the seventies styles of cinematic aesthetics, The Rescuers Down Under worked perfectly towards nineties filmic sensibilities, with a slightly tighter screenplay and an animation style that works wonderfully for today.
IN A NUTSHELL: Like I mentioned in the previous entry, I don’t want people to think my nitpicks indicate any ill-will towards this movie. I loved this film a lot, and even early on, I started to tear up a little due to how stunning everything looked. Still, there are those slightly groan-inducing moments, but nothing mind-numbing. I truly wish that one day Disney would go back to exploring the world of the tiny animals.
June 29th: The Adventures of the American Rabbit
July 6th: The Great Mouse Detective