The Rescuers Down Under
The first sequel ever produced for a Disney animated film, The Rescuers Down Under was released in the shadow of The Little Mermaid’s smashing success and rapidly outdone by Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. Of all the films produced during the Disney Renaissance, it performed the poorest. I never saw this one as a kid, and after watching The Rescuers I have to admit that I am very curious: what inspired the Disney studio to make a sequel to that particular film?
A cute little boy in Australia spends his free time wandering the red rock formations and freeing trapped animals from poachers’ traps. When he saves the great golden eagle Marahute, she gives him one of her golden feathers in gratitude. The prize captures the attention of a poacher named McLeach, who kidnaps the boy to find out the location of the eagle’s nest. A mouse that happens to witness the kidnapping sends a S.O.S. to the Rescue Aid Society, which quickly votes to put their two best agents on the job: Bernard and Miss Bianca. A romantic dinner and Bernard’s marriage proposal are hastily interrupted, and the two agents fly off to crazy adventures in sunny Australia. Assisting them in Australia is the charming Jake, a flirtatious kangaroo mouse, and an albatross named Wilbur.
There is some really cool animation in this movie. In one of the earliest scenes, Marahute gives Cody a ride through the skies on her back, and it looks fantastic. Ignoring the size ratio issue – what eagle is large enough that it can give a boy between 8 and 10 a ride on its back with no visible strain? – and as a fantasy sequence, it looks awesome. But this is also a movie that awkwardly attempts to marry computer animation and traditional hand-drawn animation, and these unsuccessful scenes are jarring.
I think it’s important to remember that when this movie was in development, no one knew that The Little Mermaid was going to blow all expectations out of the water and overnight redefine the Disney movie as an animated Broadway musical. How else to explain the music here, which tries to sound like an action movie’s soundtrack while remaining child-friendly? It’s also one of the few Disney films to contain no musical numbers. It’s not quite bad, but it isn’t good, either.
One of the things I didn’t like about this movie was that the title characters don’t appear until a third of the way into the film. The movie spends a lot of time following Cody, the little boy, around the Outback before we finally get around to invoking Bernard and Bianca. Now, I’m the first to admit that I don’t like the mouse characters anyway, but it still was quite odd that it took so long to introduce them.
Like Madame Medusa before him, our villain is small potatoes. McLeach is an excellent piece of animation, far more visually interesting than anyone else in the movie. His skins sags in a lifelike manner; you can see his skeleton frame beneath it. He’s also brilliantly acted by George C. Scott, who brings his all to the portrayal of a cruel, insane a man who has spent his entire life hunting rare animals. But the reality of McLeach, scary though he may be to small children, is that he’s a small-time poacher in Australia. He may dangerous to wild animals, but this is not the terrifying Man that burned down a forest and killed Bambi’s mother. Heck, this isn’t even a crazed fashionista wiping out one hundred Dalmatians in order to fulfill a fetish for fur coats! McLeach just isn’t villainous enough for my tastes.
I didn’t dislike this movie as much as the original Rescuers movie. Jake is a fun caricature of the outdoorsy Australian, providing a nice contrast between Bernard’s American fussiness and Bianca’s European grace. It’s cute that Bernard spends the entire movie trying to propose to Bianca, showing that their relationship has evolved between the two movies. The fast pace of the story keeps it from getting too dull. But there are too many strange moments that seem out of sync with the rest of the film. For example, the albatross that carried Bernard and Bianca to Australia throws out his back and has to be treated in a mouse hospital. Cue a couple of pointless scenes where the bird is being poked and prodded and shot with a giant needle. Funny for the kiddies? Sure. Necessary to the story? Not at all.