I guess I didn’t take a full week off of this series after all, but I’m still glad that I took a few days off at least, just to refresh myself a bit. Anyway, Disney’s 29th animated feature is also its first animated theatrical sequel, The Rescuers Down Under. It’s interesting that as of now, the second half of Disney’s animated features begins with a number of firsts, but we’ll get into that later.
Released in 1990, The Rescuers Down Under continues the story of Bernard and Miss Bianca, two mice who work for the Rescue Aid Society. The first movie was the first mission for both of them. Now, they’re both well respected in the organization, and they’ve also grown close as a couple. This also happens to be the final film role for Eva Gabor, Miss Bianca’s voice actress. Most of the other characters from the original aren’t in this movie, partly because most of their voice actors passed away in-between.
As stated earlier, The Rescuers Down Under is the first animated Disney movie for several things. It’s the first of Disney’s non-musical animated movies that succeeded in theatres. It wasn’t a huge success, in fact it’s the least successful of the Disney Renaissance movies, but it was profitable. It’s the first animated Disney movie where the crew travelled somewhere just to study the landscape in preparation for the movie’s main production.
But most importantly, The Rescuers Down Under is the first movie that’s inked entirely in digital (The Little Mermaid inked a few scenes digitally to test the process out). They did it using a method called CAPS, which was developed by a little company you may have heard of, Pixar. As a result, it’s the first ever animated film where there’s at least a little bit of digital in every single frame. The opening was done mostly in digital. Several environments were mostly done in digital. From that perspective, this movie was a giant leap forward for animation technology.
This also might have actually been the first Disney movie I ever saw. I’m not entirely sure mind you – my earliest movies kind of blend together, but I know I saw this at least a few years before I watched the original movie. I remember my mom occasionally quoting “oh no, not the rangers” every now and then, because she used to obnoxiously quote movies too much. She still does, but whatever. I really enjoyed The Rescuers Down Under as a kid. As such, I really looked forward to watching this movie again.
The Rescuers was a relatively small scale movie, mostly taking place in a swamp. It still felt like an adventure, but a character focused adventure with a lot of drama. The Rescuers Down Under does try to capture the dramatic feel, and in some ways it succeeds, but the tone is completely different. This is primarily a pure adventure film. Everything about it feels big. The animation shows off huge environments, like mountains, canyons and large desert landscapes. The soundtrack feels big and epic. The big sense of scale is both the movie’s biggest strength and its most noticeable weakness.
The strength comes into the adventure part of the movie. The landscapes of Australia already feel big enough as it is, but it’s insurmountably huge for a mouse. At times the sheer size of the environment directly affects the mice and their ability to travel, but they’re smart enough to figure it out. The huge feeling is fantastic for this kind of adventure movie and kids will love the visuals. The weakness is that it sometimes distracts from the story. There’s one particular scene where a giant eagle is flying around, carrying a kid who just rescued her. It’s three minutes or so of the eagle soaring through the sky, flying with birds, taking the kid waterskiing in a way. But it’s also three minutes that doesn’t add anything to the actual story. You could have summed up everything in the very next scene, where the eagle takes the kid to her nest, showing that she trusts him.
Now let’s talk about the story. It’s about a kid, Cody, who lives in a small house in the outback. His main hobby seems to be rescuing animals in trouble, and he’s got enough guts to stand up to a poacher. Said poacher ends up kidnapping Cody, trying to find the eagle that Cody’s golden feather belonged to. He’s a likeable enough kid, and the poacher is a decent villain. As with the first movie, messages are sent out to alert the Rescue Aid Society, and Bernard and Miss Bianca jump on the case.
The messaging scene is yet another sequence that, while it looks neat, slows down the movie’s pacing. You spend several minutes watching a series of mice intercepting the message in different ways, intercut with the globe turning around with arrows that remind me of the plane ride montages from the Indiana Jones movies. Eventually it reaches the Rescue Aid Society headquarters, but it could have easily been summed up in less than half the time.
The two mice end up getting a ride from an Albatross, voiced by John Candy. On the one hand, John Candy is entertaining as usual. On the other hand, there are several scenes just watching him dangling in a mouse run hospital for a bad back that aren’t as funny as he is. They also waste a bit of time.
That’s the second main problem with this movie. There are a number of scenes that, while they’re usually entertaining, they take attention away from the main story. The main story deserves more focus than it gets. It’s a tense, kind of dramatic story about a kid in a potentially deadly situation, just because he won’t tell a poacher where a rare eagle is. It distracts from Bernard’s amusing attempts to propose to Bianca, just to constantly get interrupted by something.
As a whole, The Rescuers Down Under is a fun movie. The comedy hits more than it misses, all the main characters are likeable and when there is drama, it works very well. That said, it suffers from a lack of focus. It’s also weird how both Cody and the poacher have American accents, even though they both seem to live in Australia. At least Bernard and Bianca’s kangaroo mouse guide, Jake, is voiced by an Australian. The visuals were great for their time and they still looks fine now, but that’s not enough to mask the movie’s focus problems. By no means am I disappointed, but I guess there’s a reason I barely remembered the story when my brain is usually an encyclopedic mind for the movies I enjoy. If you’re interested in a family friendly adventure movie in Australia, this is a good choice, but there are better Disney adventure movies out there.
So the two Rescuer movies have opposite problems. The original’s main weakness is a bunch of forgettable side characters, music that hasn’t aged well and a villain that’s not bad, but nothing special either. It also suffered from a lower budget, but the animators made up for it with brilliant use of shot angles and atmospheric backgrounds. However it’s a very focused movie that works extremely well on the dramatic level. Down Under features more memorable side characters, a great villain and fantastic visuals, but the story lacks focus and the tone isn’t as consistent. I’d say that in the end, they’re about the same in terms of quality, but for different reasons. Which one you prefer mostly depends on which tone you prefer. I’m split somewhere down the middle.
After this, it’s the triple threat of three brilliant movies in a row, with Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. I’ll also likely post a The Little Mermaid vs. Beauty and the Beast at some point. This week is going to be awesome.