Saturday, October 18, 2014


RELEASE DATE: Friday 16th November 1990

The Rescuers Down Under is notable for a number of reasons, the first being that it was the first animated feature to be completely composed in C.A.P.S. (the computer-based scanning and colouring system created by Pixar) and the very first animated film to be created entirely in a computer.

The other notable point about this film is that compared to the other Disney animated features around the same era, it was an absolute bomb at the box-office. It was released in between juggernauts The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. So what happened?

First of all, the movie is not terrible. It should have performed much better than it did. Disney made the silly mistake of releasing it on the same day as Home Alone, the highest grossing film of 1990, which was also a family film. Since most families would likely only choose one film to see in the holiday season, the popular choice was clearly not Disney's film.

When studio boss Jeffrey Katzenberg saw how badly it performed on its opening weekend, he instantly pulled all of the advertising, to save any more money being wasted on what he perceived as a big fat bomb. This broke the heart of the film-makers who had spent years of their life creating this movie, but Katzenberg was only thinking of the dollars.

Another point of note is that this was the first time Disney had done an official sequel to one of its animated classics. (All of that direct-to-video rubbish DOES NOT count, but everyone knows that, right?) Other sequels would be Fantasia 2000 and Winnie The Pooh. One could also argue that The Three Caballeros is a sequel to Saludos Amigos, but... Well, who can say for sure?

The Rescuers Down Under opens with a big "Wow!" shot. Before the audience even sees the movie's title, they are shown what the new C.A.P.S. system would mean for animation from this point on. This was Walt's old multiplane camera times one thousand!

Before long we're introduced to our child protagonist, a boy named Cody who lives somewhere in the Australian outback, in a fictional region called "Mugwomp Flats." For some bizarre, unexplained reason, Cody has an American accent. Perhaps his father was American and he's just recently come to live in the outback? We're never told.

Cody has the gift of talking to animals. (Again, not explained, although in the original Rescuers movie Penny could talk to animals, so perhaps it's just a child thing) A few Aussie natives inform him that an eagle has been trapped. Cody races to the rescue.

The eagle is a giant golden bird called Marahute. It's not clear exactly what kind of mythical species she is, but considering that Australia's largest bird is the Wedge-Tailed Eagle...

Marahute's size seems a bit well... HUGE.

After Cody releases her from her bonds, Marahute flies him back to her nest to see her eggs. Like the first Rescuers, there is an inconsistency in which animals talk and which don't. Marahute doesn't speak English, but she does seem to understand Cody.

On his way home, Cody gets caught in an animal trap. The poacher, thinking he is coming to collect a prize, only finds a little boy. This man, McLeach, also has an oddly American accent (in fact, a somewhat Southern American accent) and he is always followed by his faithful goanna Joanna. McLeach was the one who captured Marahute, who he sees as his ultimate prize. Once he realises that Cody knows where she is, he kidnaps the boy.
Luckily for Cody, a little Australian mouse sees the whole scene and sends and urgent request for help to the Rescue Aid Society in New York! Of course, being on the other side of the planet, this message takes a while to get through and has to go through a number of detours on the way...

When the R.A.S. hear about Cody's plight, they decide to send their strongest two members, Miss Bianca and Bernard. Unfortunately, they are not at the meeting. They are having a beautiful dinner, and poor nervy Bernard is trying to pluck up the courage to propose to his lovely lady.

After a few amusing misunderstandings, the two are sent to Australia to find Cody and rescue him. They set out to find Orville, their albatross pilot from the first movie, but instead find the company being run by his brother Wilbur. (Note: Orville and Wilbur were the real-life names of the Wright Brothers) Wilbur is played by comedy legend John Candy, who passed away three years after the film's release.

After some convincing, the rescuers and their transport head off for Australia. (Wilbur cheats somewhat to cover the large distance, but he gets points for using his head!) Before they know it, they're touching down in Australia, and on their way to Mugwomp Flats. As they arrive, a local known as Jake (an Australian hopping mouse) does his best to salvage Wilbur's awful landing.

Unfortunately for Wilbur, the landing puts his back out, and he is sent to a terrifying outback hospital while Bernard and Bianca set out to find Cody.

Jake, who seems to have taken a particularly friendly interest in Miss Bianca, agrees to be the rescuers' guide, leading them to where he thinks the boy might be. Bernard is none too impressed with Jake's rugged manliness, even when he demonstrates how to tame wild animals in the outback.

Meanwhile, Cody has been locked up with a group of miscellaneous animals that have been captured by McLeach. Frank the Frill-Necked Lizard seems to have a plan for escape, but they are all being closely monitored by Joanna the goanna.

As Bernard, Bianca and Jake continue to make their way across the outback, McLeach hatches a plot. He lets Cody go, and tells him that Marahute has been killed. Knowing that the boy will head straight for the eagle's nest, McLeach craftily follows him there.

When Cody arrives at the nest, he (finally!) gets to meet his rescuers! Right now though, the things he is most keen on rescuing are the eggs that have now been orphaned. Just as Marahute turns up and Cody feels like everything is going to be all right, McLeach traps the eagle. Cody attempts a brave rescue, but in the process he is caught as well.

As McLeach leaves the scene (with Miss Bianca and Jake in the cage with Cody and Marahute) Bernard does a quick switch, hiding the eggs and placing rocks in their place. Joanna, planning to eat the eggs, soon realises that something is wrong.

Suddenly, who should appear but Wilbur, whose back has finally been fixed. Against his better judgement, he is convinced by Bernard to sit on the incubating eggs while the little mouse runs off to do what he does best - rescuing.

McLeach sets up an elaborate plot to drop Cody into a river of crocodiles. It's up to Bernard, Bianca and Jake to actually do some rescuing! As McLeach teeters over the cliff, Bernard proves that one little mouse CAN make a difference.

With the danger finally gone, the newly freed Marahute flies Cody and his rescuers into the night sky. Unable to wait another moment, Bernard asks Miss Bianca to marry him, and for now, it looks like everything is going to be all right.

IRVYNE: Everything in The Rescuers Down Under moves at a lightning pace. The story is very economically told, and the pacing is kept nice and exciting, with just a few deviations for a bit of fun comic relief.
The characters of Bernard and Miss Bianca - who were both wonderful characters in the original film - are here pretty much exactly as we remember them. Poor anxious, superstitious Bernard trying to impress adventurous, caring Miss Bianca. It's still endearing, and the relationship is still fun to watch. Having the character of Jake - a tough alpha male - thrown into the mix, forces Bernard to step outside of his comfort zone. Jake is a fun character, but he's not a major player in this story.
The strangest part about The Rescuers Down Under is that it's not really the rescuers' story at all. The movie largely focuses on Cody and McLeach. Bernard and Bianca don't even MEET Cody until right at the end of the movie! It almost feels as if they were shoehorned into a story that they weren't originally written for.
Having said that, the story in this film still works really well. There's a horrible loathsome villain, a plucky child in distress, and some endangered animals that need protecting. All of this against the vast expanses of the Australian outback. What's not to love?
Even though the final shot in The Little Mermaid was the first time the new C.A.P.S. colouring system had been used commercially, The Rescuers Down Under was the first time we saw an entire animated feature where not a single cel had been used in its creation. The drawings were still done on paper, but once these were cleaned up, they were scanned into computers and all of the colouring was done without any paint.

And I have to say, it was a rousing success! The film looks wonderful! C.A.P.S. allowed the animators to include a lot more shading and light sources on their characters with a lot less time required, and they could also do filmic effects like putting backgrounds slightly out-of-focus to give the impression of depth. It's hard to believe that this was released only two years after Oliver and Company. It looks vastly, VASTLY superior.
Like The Black Cauldron, The Rescuers Down Under is completely a non-musical. (It does, however, feature The Sparkletones' "Black Slacks" in the scene where Bernard and Bianca first meet Wilbur, so The Black Cauldron is still the only film with absolutely no songs)
The score for The Rescuers Down Under was written by Bruce Broughton, whose other scores include the wonderful "The Boy Who Could Fly," "Out of Africa" and - believe it or not - the theme song to "Tiny Toon Adventures!"
I do actually like this score quite a bit. Broughton really knows how to create tension and excitement in his orchestrations. The only problem is, without songs, it is not a particularly memorable soundtrack, and it's certainly not one that you'd find yourself humming afterwards. The score does what it needs to do well. But you couldn't really call this a classic Disney soundtrack.
I think The Rescuers Down Under is a very underrated movie. Because of its release alongside Home Alone, it performed terribly at the cinema box office, and has been largely forgotten since then. (Most people assume that Beauty and the Beast came straight after The Little Mermaid) While I would not say that Bernard and Bianca are anywhere near as timeless as Ariel or Belle, this is a really entertaining movie!
There are some rather grating annoyances, as we'll discuss below. Basically, if you are Australian (as I am) watching this American depiction of our country can be eye-rolling to say the least, and it's pretty apparent that the people writing this movie really knew nothing about Australia.
But overall, it's a fun, exciting and funny adventure romp that deserves to be watched more than it has been over the decades.
WENDY: I'm glad they got an actual Australian to voice Jake, at least.

MALEFICENT: Yeah, it's a shame that the Australian boy and the Australian poacher had to have American voices. That doesn't make any sense.

IRVYNE: They really didn't do their research. I gag every time I hear McLeach say that Joanna's "always burying squirrels." THERE ARE NO SQUIRRELS IN AUSTRALIA, DISNEY!! NONE! They don't exist here! *facepalm*

SHENZI: I find it hilarious how tiny Australia seems to be! Americans really don't get it, do they? From Sydney to Uluru in like, an hour? That's like doing a quick skip from New York to the Grand Canyon!

PASCAL: And gee, that distress message got sent around the world quick!

IRVYNE: It does seem a bit excessive to send mice all the way from New York. I mean, surely they could just set up a Rescue Aid Society outpost somewhere in Australia?

MUSHU: I like Bernard. He's the coolest... because he's really not cool.

MALEFICENT: Miss Bianca has a hot voice. Eva Gabor once again.
MICHAEL DARLING: Wilbur is a weirdo!

WENDY: He has a cool voice though!

MICHAEL DARLING: It's funny when he's in hospital and he doesn't want to get shot in the butt with the needle!

PASCAL: The scene where he first lands in the outback is really funny too.
IRVYNE: I like all the little moments of visual humour, especially with Joanna. For a character who doesn't speak, she sure makes an impression!

WENDY: I was really impressed with the chandelier restaurant at the start. I'd like to get a reservation there!

MALEFICENT: You might be a bit big...

PASCAL: It's so funny when poor Bernard is trying to propose, and he gets very confused when Miss Bianca says, "We'll have to do it tonight!" That's a great scene.

HAKU: Does anyone else think it was a strange decision for McLeach to hang Cody up by a rope and then shoot the rope to make him drop into a river of crocodiles? Isn't that a little complicated? Couldn't he just shoot him?

IRVYNE: Family movie!

WENDY: No, he'd already thrown his backpacks to the crocodiles, so he had to finish the job and make it look genuine.

IRVYNE: Well at least it's a very nice-looking film, especially for a "first try." The use of colour is excellent.

WENDY: The new animation system looks fantastic! They could do lots of cool stuff with the computer.

MALEFICENT: I love the flying sequence where Cody and Marahute are soaring through the clouds. It's beautiful.

HAKU: Some of the scenery doesn't look like Australia at all though. A couple of scenes look like they're set in Africa!

MALEFICENT: It seems a bit strange to me that - until the very end - Bernard and Bianca don't actually do much in this movie. They really don't do much "rescuing."

IRVYNE: Overall though, I think this works better as a movie than the first Rescuers. It's got better pacing, better timing, better comedy.

PASCAL: I like the music better in the first one though. This one doesn't have any songs!

NALA: The only song is when Wilbur sings along with the radio.

MALEFICENT: And McLeach sing "Home On The Range" at one point.
IRVYNE: Heh. A little foreshadowing to the future of Disney animation...? But anyway, I think this is definitely an under-appreciated classic.

MALEFICENT: It doesn't deserve more appreciation. I don't think it's as good as you think it is. This is just medium-range Disney.

PASCAL: It doesn't come close to Little Mermaid.

IRVYNE: Of course not. I'm not comparing it to Little Mermaid. But on its own merits it's very entertaining.

WENDY: It's better than a lot of the earlier ones.

MALEFICENT: The Great Mouse Detective is better than this.

IRVYNE: Nah, I'd have to disagree there. I think this is a better film than Basil.

MALEFICENT: No. And I don't think this is better than the original Rescuers either.

IRVYNE: Really? I think this is an improvement in almost every department! Except for the villain, I'd grant you Madame Medusa is pretty awesome. But I'd take this over the original any day.

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