Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Disney Discussion - The Rescuers Down Under

Over the course of the year, we'll be spending our Wednesdays with Walt, having a discussion about each of Disney's animated films...

Movie #29 of The Disney Discussion
The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
Featuring the voice talents of Bob Newhart, Eva Gabor, John Candy, Tristan Rogers, Adam Ryen, and George C. Scott
Directed by Hendel Butoy and Mike Gabriel
Summary (in 150 words or less):
Bernard and Bianca are back as the trusted mice from the Rescue Aid Society return to help a kidnapped boy in Australia.  Remember The Rescuers?  Yeah, this is pretty much the same thing.  Poacher Percival McLeach kidnaps young Cody since the boy has knowledge as to the whereabouts of the majestically large eagle named Marahute that lives in the cliffs of the Outback.  McLeach keeps Cody captive until the kid will reveal the location of the eagle and her offspring.  Naturally, Bernard and Bianca try to foil McLeach's plan and save Cody.

Facts and Figures
The Rescuers Down Under is the Walt Disney Company's 29th full-length animated feature film and was released on November 16, 1990.

The film opened with the 24-minute featurette The Prince and the Pauper starring Mickey Mouse.  Unfortunately, despite that addition, The Rescuers Down Under was a disappointment with the film opening in fourth place with only $3.5 million.  While the film eventually went on to make over $27 million, it is the least successful film of the Disney Renaissance era of the late 80s/90s.

The Rescuers Down Under was the first film to utilize the CAPS system by Disney in which artists would hand-draw animated cels which would then be placed into a computer.  They would then utilize digital inking and painting in order to color the cels.  The Rescuers Down Under was also the first film to be entirely finalized on computers -- meaning prior to releasing it to the public, all of the film's elements were digitized.

Let the Discussion Begin...
I discovered on this Disney Discussion journey that I've undertaken that I am a big fan of The Rescuers.  As we head into film #30 next week, The Rescuers, in fact, ranks #3 on my list thus far (of course, subject to change). There was something innocently charming about the film that just clicked for me.  Unfortunately, this sequel -- the first ever commissioned by the feature film division of Disney -- fails to deliver the goods of the original.  In fact, I have to wonder why this film was even created as it is essentially a rehash of the first film almost step-for-step.

First, let's change the setting from a muggy swamp to the dry, arid Australian Outback.  Instead of a young girl being kidnapped, let's replace her with a young boy named Cody.  Let's make the villain a guy this time rather than a woman, but we'll still let him have a reptile as a henchman, however we'll drop the alligators and make it a goanna -- a large lizard native to Australia.  You know, unfortunately, the guy who played the albatross Orville passed away, so let's get John Candy to voice an exact replica of him and name him clever we are with that Orville and Wilbur Wright in-joke.  We'll still have him act the same way and be a bit of a dunce at flying because there's no need to stretch creatively, right?  And of course we'll bring back Bernard and Bianca, the former of whom will still be a bumbling nervous wreck and the latter of whom will still be an elegant Hungarian rodent.  
"Did we change things up enough," I can imagine the animators asking themselves.  The answer is definitively, "No."  Everything about The Rescuers Down Under (with the exception of certainly better animation techniques) pales in comparison to the original.  The character of Cody is much less cute than the lovable Penny and the screenwriters don't create enough of a backstory to allow us to connect and feel for his plight.  Of course it's awful that a young boy was kidnapped, but we know next to nothing about this kid before he's snatched up.  Similarly, Bernard and Bianca share very few scenes with Cody so even they seem to lack the oomph and drive to save the kid like they had in the original.
Of course, I enjoy Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor's take on Bernard and Bianca, but the two were wasted here.  Their characters take a backseat to Cody and McLeach whereas in the original, it seemed as if both sides of the story -- the human and mouse aspects -- were handled with equality which worked in its favor.  Here, the mice are kind of worthless.  Sure, they save the day, but by that point, I didn't really care.  The animators attempt to throw in a new love interest for Bianca in the dashing outback mouse Jake who aids the Rescue Aid Society workers, but he's not given much to do either and with the exception of a moment or two when Bernard's jealousy rears its ugly head for admittedly charming comedic purposes, the Jake character isn't really necessary.
A minor bright spot in the film is the villain.  Voiced rather hammily (in a good way) by George C. Scott, Percival McLeach is a jerk of a guy, given no redeeming qualities whatsoever.  However, he at least provides some tension in the film along with a few laughs with his hickish tendencies.  While I'd take the original's Medusa over McLeach any day, McLeach does seem a little more based in reality than his villainous predecessor.  I think he's significantly more dangerous too if his final act of deviousness in which he's essentially willing to murder Cody is any indication.
Admittedly, the animation in The Rescuers Down Under is superior to its predecessor, but that's what a decade will do for you in the animation world at that time.  Things look crisper, more colorful, and much more flowing.  The opening shot -- a speedy pan across the Outback -- is glorious and had me utterly excited for the film to kick into high gear.  It never did.

Random Thoughts
...while watching the film...
  • The initial reaction I had when a kangaroo starts to talk to Cody was that of oddness.  I realize that the mice in the original Rescuers talked to Penny, but here the story hasn't really established the human/animal connection yet.  Then, rather oddly, when Cody meets Marahute, the eagle doesn't talk, yet completely understands Cody's dialog.
  • I can't understand why Marahute and Joanna (McLeach's pet goanna) can't speak while all the other animals in the film can.  Can someone explain this hierarchy to me?
  • I miss the original Rescuers.  
  • This made me want to watch Ducktales: Treasure of the Lost Lamp for some reason.  (Yes, these last two random ideas popped into my head whilst watching this one.)
  • My brother calls McLeach an evil-looking Ernest from the Ernest movies of the 80s...I'll never look at McLeach the same way again.
Final Analysis
(Does It Belong in the Revered Disney Pantheon and How Does It Stack Up to Past Films?)
Perhaps it's just anticipation for the 30th film in the Disney Canon, but this 29th film didn't live up to my expectations.  I remembered enjoying it as a kid, but as an adult -- and watching it so closely after the significantly better The Rescuers -- The Rescuers Down Under is just a rehash of its more creative predecessor.  While I certainly welcomed the notion of inviting Bernard and Bianca back to the big screen, it didn't work in the way I thought it would in part because I feel like they pushed those charming mice to the outskirts of the story.  Perhaps better screenwriting would've solved the problem, but in the end, I think our title characters are limited in what they can do whilst saving people -- they're mice, let's not forget.  Unfortunately, this tale doesn't earn a place in the revered Disney Pantheon of animated films.

The RyMickey Rating: C

Join us next Wednesday for Beauty and the Beast, the 30th film in The Disney Discussion.

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