The Rescuers Down Under Reviews
First Disney animated sequel.
First animated film to utilized digital ink-and-paint (making this, technically, the first computer animated movie, pre-dating "Toy Story" by five years. The colors in this film are gorgeous.)
First Disney animated film to utilize CAPS (Computer Animated Production System.) Most importantly: first animated film that moved and behaved like a modern adventure movie with sustained action sequences not unlike the best of Stephen Spielberg's "Indiana Jones" series.
The film holds onto audiences and never lets go from the break-neck speed of the opening credits, directly leading into the extended flying sequences of Cody and the giant eagle Marahootay. Never before has an animated film allowed viewers to soar over valleys, plummet down cliffs and buildings, and THROUGH environments with such clarity and ease. All animated features following "Rescuers Down Under," from "Aladdin," "Lion King," "Incredibles" to, well, everything released today, owe their allegiance to this film.
On a story level, the movie works, even though it's visual effects outweigh the risks taken within the story department. Perhaps the biggest complaint I had, (and still have,) with "Rescuers Down Under" is that the central characters Bernard and Bianca are over-shadowed by every newcomer including (but not invited to) George C. Scott's McLeach, Jake the fearless kangaroo rat, and the hilarious, (and slightly annoying,) chatter-box albatross Wilbur voiced by John Candy. There are surprisingly few scenes in this film that show Bernard and Bianca interacting and discussing the meat of the story with each other; the breakneck speed of this film leaves little room for small-talk conversations, and I long for scenes like the original 1977 Rescuers where the two mice plan whether or not to take a shortcut through the zoo. In that regard, I felt just as annoyed as Bernard each and every time he got interrupted in his bid to ask Miss Bianca for her hand in marriage. I also found the third act a bit rushed, especially considering the fact that Cody hardly got a chance to even say hello to Bernard and Bianca before his rescue.
Yet this movie still works. On so many levels, it is up there with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and 101 Dalmatians as far as technical achievements. While it is not praised as much today as it was in the early 90's, it still delivers a great deal of "wow" in the visual department. The older generation will appreciate the fact that Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor reprised their roles as the two title characters. And this film is a ton of wholesome laughs.
The main assets are, as anyone who has seen it has noticed, the impressive production values. Unlike the original, which felt much more old-fashioned and subdued in its style, the images and characters have a much smoother and more detailed look, and the movement is more fluid. It would be an understatement to say that this is a very good looking movie. Most are quick to point out the flying scenes when discussing this (fittingly so), although I think it is unfair to heap so much praise on a film because of one early sequence. There is an equally impressive scene, where the 3 mice attempt to infiltrate Mcleach's vehicle and the "camera" goes through one long shot throughout the mechanisms of the vehicle. Some of the animals, particularly Marahute and Joanna, are remarkably life-like and expressive, far more so than the occasionally amusing, mostly annoying local critters cursed with voices.
As far as voice performances go, Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor remain at the top of their game as Bernard and Ms. Bianca, bringing an endearing quality that is welcome. Adam Ryen makes a decent effort to bring life to the new "child in distress", Cody, though his inhuman bravery can be bothersome; Penny brought the correct blend of bravery and child-like vulnerability to the screen. However, John Candy is wrong for the role of Wilbur, the albatross. His voice is too recognizable, a fact not helped by the slew of rapid fire lines the script gives him.
The standout, though, is definitely George C. Scott as Percival Mcleach, one of the few elements with which the sequel made a definite improvement. He is completely in control of every scene he is in, bringing a degree of menace that befits his role as an almost obsessive poacher, but also displaying wit and cunning; pay attention to his endlessly amusing double act with Joanna. Mcleach really is the main reason to watch this movie, and perhaps the most fully realized individual therein.
There are two not insignificant faults that ultimately prevent this from being an improvement over its predecessor: the story and treatment of the characters. Regardless of what anyone says regarding any other aspect of "The Rescuers Down Under", it is undeniable that the story is wafer-thin. At its bare bones, it is simply a retread of that of "The Rescuers", with the mice getting a distress call to rescue a child that has been kidnapped because the kidnapper needs the child in order to obtain something valuable. It's told with less feeling, and often on autopilot. Consider the rushed climax or choppy middle act, which tries to juggle 3 subplots, 2 of which are little more than distractions, and none of which give us much reason to care for the key players. The first 10 minutes show considerable ingenuity that fails to resonate, because populated areas do not figure into the rest of the story. I think a much more interesting matter could have been drawn from the operations of these mice alongside humanity.
This matter is only exacerbated by how the characters are handled this time around. While I very much liked the two lead mice, it only left me all the more let down by the fact that they have very little to do here. Unlike "The Rescuers", where they actively investigate, plan and discuss the situation, Ms. Bianca and Bernard's part in the story is told in broad strokes. With the exception of the climax, their story mostly amounts to getting from point A to point B, showing the bare minimum of what they go through. There is a nice subplot with Bernard planning to propose to Bianca, but constantly being interrupted; this made for a few engaging moments, particularly one where the two of them are briefly alone together before a snake appears. The movie really needed more moments like this where the relationship between these two could truly be conveyed. Bianca, who once served as an active encouraging influence for Bernard, now mainly has the purpose of looking cute; she is no longer the kind of character that acts. Also, given that they are clearly in a relationship, am I the only one bothered by her seeming indifference to Bernard being relegated to a third-wheel half the time? Nonetheless, it was satisfying to see Bernard step out of his comfort zone and work out the situation, even if it feels obligatory and rushed.
While The Rescuers Down Under is a commendable, and quite funny, effort at continuing the story of an older Disney film, it falls a little short of its predecessor. Today, there seems to be a growing number of people that claim it was underrated during the time of its release. I will admit to that, but it was not to a considerable degree. In fact, I would go so far as to say that these same people give it too much credit. There was plenty to behold in the visual department, but not enough to make me care beyond a superficial level, a stark weakness when its contemporaries aspired to considerable emotional resonance.