Take two of the mice from Cinderella, a couple of the alligators from the sequence in Fantasia with
alligators in it, the evil villainess from 101 Dalmatians, a few other familiar character types, and you've
got The Rescuers,
one of the Disney company's more forgettable efforts from that dark
period of their (and everyone else's) history: the 1970s. Although
American film flourished in that decade, Disney's output did not.
I have a soft spot for Robin Hood, but The Aristocats and The Rescuers are not among the finest of Disney's 51 animated
features released to date. There's nothing really wrong with The Rescuers, except that its characters are derivative, the
visuals are drab, the animation and design uninspired and the humor
pedestrian. These are not the hallmarks of Disney's animated output,
but nobody's perfect. Blame the '70s.
The Rescue Aid Society, an organization of mice operating
within the walls of the United Nations building in New York City, receives
a message from a young orphan named Penny who is trapped in the Louisiana
bayou. The society sends Miss Bianca (Eva Gabor) and Bernard (Bob Newhart)
to rescue her from the hands of Madame Medusa (Geraldine Page), who
holds her captive because she is small enough to crawl into a cave in
which rests the world's largest diamond, the Devil's Eye.
From here on out, things are fairly predictable. Medusa's
two alligators, Brutus and Nero, provide the movie's biggest threat,
although their snapping jaws do little more than lift things (they don't
actually bite). There's Oroville, the memorable albatross/passenger
aircraft, voiced by Jim Jordan (a.k.a. Fibber McGee, for those of us
who are either over the age of 60 or used to check weird cassettes of
old radio shows out of the library in the early '80s.) The movie also
features some incredibly sappy songs, sung by Shelby Flint, another
name that has been more or less lost to history (although she did perform
a very nice cover of Vince Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate to the Wind"
Gabor and Newhart are very game as Miss Bianca and
Bernard. It's a shame that the script couldn't do more with their
characters; their most individuating aspects are their costumes. The
movie will entertain kids, no doubt; but it just skims over the surface
of what we all know a Disney feature can be. It lacks the emotional
weight and visual artistry of the studio's best known work.
In 1990, a sequel was produced that reflected the
sea change in film animation that had taken hold in the intervening
13 years - not to mention the resurgence of the Disney studio
and brand itself. The Rescuers Down Under reunites most of the main cast (John
Candy voices Orville this time) for another tale of mice thwarting vile
kidnappers. This time Miss Bianca and Bernard go after the poacher McLeach
(George C. Scott!) who has seized a boy named Cody because he knows
how to find a gigantic eagle known as Marahute.
What the sequel has going for it is amazing design
and top-flight animation. This film was a part of Disney's 1990s revival,
which was led by The Little Mermaid. (Disney's next animated feature, Beauty and the Beast,
would be nominated for Best Picture.) The Rescuers Down Under is, visually, very much a part of this
technically superior group of films. Its story, however, is not as careful
or enchanting as those others. The film, which took years to prepare,
seems to be an outgrowth of the '80s-era American fascination with
all things Australian, and in this sense, the movie was dated at the
time of release. Which is not to say there isn't value in the movie's
setting - after all, the outback is beautifully rendered. The real
problem is that the drama of the film and the main characters in particular
are just as flavorless as they were in the original.
Image and Sound
The technical aspects of both films are presented flawlessly.
Both features are presented in the aspect ratio of their original negatives
(1.66:1) with 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks. Naturally, the sequel
comes off better in technical terms; it benefits from a more recent
image, a better-animated image, and a more spaciously-designed soundtrack
than its predecessor, which was released in mono. The Rescuers was also more cheaply animated, which is evident
in its sketchier style as well as its less fluid renderings; in fact,
its animation compares poorly with the majority of Disney's animated
features. As for the Blu-ray's qualities themselves, what's presented
here is as technically excellent as it could possibly be.
Disney has included a handful of ancillary features, only a couple
of which are directly related to the movie.
Song: "Peoplitis" (4:41) - Sung by Louie Prima, this raucous number was
recorded for The Rescuers, but never animated. It's introduced here
by animator, writer, and director Ron Clements.
Symphony: "Three Blind Mouseketeers" (1936, 8:46) - Clever early short with no connection
to The Rescuers, the cartoon is a lot of fun but suffers from an artifact-heavy,
standard definition transfer.
Birds (1952, 8:46) - This Walt Disney True Life Adventure documentary
short is features pelicans, seagulls, flamingos - and the albatross.
- "Someone's Waiting
for You" Sing-Along Song (2:13)
- The Making
of The Rescuers Down Under (10:33) - Pretty
standard EPK stuff.
Not the most memorable entries in Disney's storied
catalog of animated features, The Rescuers and its sequel will still be thoroughly enjoyed
by children. They are not without their cleverness, and in the case
of The Rescuers
Down Under, beauty. A nice package from Disney is marred by some
seemingly arbitrary extras. Rent it.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.