Okay, pop quiz everybody: when you hear the phrase “Disney Renaissance,” what are the films that first come to mind? If you’re anything like me, you will answer The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. And why not? All four of them were monstrously successful and critically acclaimed films that were released between the period of 1989 to 1994. In fact, these films are regarded by most as the pinnacle of the art of animation. It truly does not get any better than these four films.
What most people tend to forget is that there were actually five films released during the period of 1989 to 1994. Know what it is? I’ll give you a hint: the fifth one ain’t Pocahontas. What’s that? Did I hear someone just say The Rescuers Down Under? Gold star for you, you know your stuff.
That’s right, The Rescuers Down Under is the forgotten film of the Disney Renaissance. It didn’t perform that well in the box office despite mostly positive reviews from critics, which could explain its tendency to be left out of discussions of the Disney Renaissance films. I remember watching this film quite a bit as a kid on VHS; I was actually more familiar with this film than I was with the first Rescuers movie. I enjoyed the film then, and I do enjoy it now. Except now that I’m older, I can identify some issues within the film that more likely than not led to its underwhelming monetary intake.
First, let’s take a gander at the title: “The” and “Rescuers” and “Down” and “Under.” Those first two words immediately cause its audience to hearken back thirteen years prior to this film’s release, when The Rescuers was unleashed on the world. Our expectations are immediately set: the further adventures of the ever so dynamic team up of Bernard and Miss Bianca when they are called on another mission to help a young kid who is in trouble. Through some skilled detective work, Bernard and Bianca deduce who kidnapped the child, why they were kidnapped, and where they were taken. Bianca is always brave, determined, while still being charming and sophisticated while Bernard fumbles over his words, doubts their abilities, and at times let’s his superstitions get the better of him. Through an elaborate plan involving some aid from the locals, Bernard and Bianca are able to rescue the kid while foiling the bad guy.
Though some of these elements are present in The Rescuers Down Under, a lot of them – in particularly the deductive mystery aspect, which is what I found so charming in the original – are not present at all. Come to think of it, Bernard and Bianca don’t have that much screen time at all in this film. Bernard and Bianca don’t make an appearance in this film until eighteen minutes have already passed. Compare that to the original Rescuers movie where Bernard and Bianca appeared on screen together just seven minutes into the film.
I can’t help but feel that might have contributed to the film’s lack of profits; it grossed only $47 million, so while it wasn’t a total flop, it was the least profitable film of the Disney Renaissance. With the words “The Rescuers” in the title, I imagine many a person was expecting a film very much in the same vein as the first Rescuers film. As much as I enjoy The Rescuers Down Under, it is not a Rescuers movie when compared to the original. Why must I draw comparisons to the original at all? Because The Rescuers Down Under is an incredibly important landmark film for Disney Animation: their first true sequel.
Of the fifty films Disney Animation has created for their canon over the past seventy plus years, only two have the distinction of being sequels: Fantasia 2000 and The Rescuers Down Under. Now before anyone brings up some films that I’d rather avoid talking about, when I say true sequels, I mean sequels that were released in theaters under the Disney Animation banner. That means that these are the only two film sequels to be considered canon. That means comparisons between the two are practically required.
I know that there have been plenty of sequels that were departures from their respective original films, and by and large are considered to be improvements on what came before, like The Empire Strikes Back, X2, and The Dark Knight. And there were elements of The Rescuers Down Under that were incredibly successful, but I admit that I did miss Bernard and Bianca. I feel as though the story team was looking for an excuse to set an animated film in Australia and they chose The Rescuers franchise as their chosen avenue. Which is no surprise, considering that the studio had been hankering to do a Rescuers follow-up something fierce. After all, Oliver & Company had originally been conceived as a Rescuers sequel (just as the original Rescuers had been planned at one point to be a semi-sequel to One Hundred and One Dalmatians), so the studio had wanted to expand on the story universe laid down in The Rescuers at least by 1988.
Why was Disney so sequel happy when it came to The Rescuers? Well, if you think about all the films that are a part of the Disney animated canon, most of them ended pretty resolutely; there’s just no arguing with the phrase “happily ever after.” But The Rescuers was unique in that it really did end things on an open ended note: Bernard and Bianca flying away on Orville for yet another adventure with the phrase “tomorrow is another day” ringing in the audience’s ears as they parted ways with the two mice. The movie was a success and the story did call for continuing their adventures, so why not make a sequel? It just didn’t get greenlit for production until 1988, eleven years after the first film’s release.
Coincidentally, 1988 also happened to be the same year that Crocodile Dundee II (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092493/) came out in America. Why is that significant? Well, it’s an indicator that in the late eighties, American moviegoers were fascinated by the culture surrounding that not-so-small island in the south Pacific. So in the year that a once proposed Rescuers sequel was released on the American populace, an official sequel to the original film was put into production with the untamed Australian outback as its chosen setting. Coincidence? I don’t believe in them.
Though the “Down Under” aspect of this film is the main thing that bothers me as an adult watching it. In 2009, I was blessed with the opportunity to live in Australia (in Perth, in the Western Australia territory) for almost a year. There’s a special section of my heart for the country, its history, its culture, and most of all, the amazing people who call the merry old Land of Oz home. So while I’m not an authority on all things Australian, I can usually point what is true Ozzie and what is the impression Americans have of Australians. And I’m sorry to say that The Rescuers Down Under is about as authentically Australian as Outback Steakhouse.
|That's a Kookaburra, Australia's favorite bird|
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100477/). I was quite dismayed to learn that every single “Australian” voice was in fact British! Cody’s kangaroo friend at the beginning, Faloo? British. In fact, her voice actress (Carla Meyer) also doubled as Cody’s mom. Actually, I knew she was British before I even checked her profile because of some pieces of dialogue in the film: she calls Cody a “lil’” friend and she says “right-o.” Ozzies don’t say “lil’,” they say, “little.” Also, I’ve heard “right-y-o” but not “right-o.” Both are big tip-offs that the voice actress in question was a true Brit.
I didn’t know this before I looked it up, but apparently Marahute is real. I mean her species of eagle is a real one. They are called the Wedge-tailed eagle (a.k.a. the Eaglehawk) and they are the largest bird of prey in Australia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedge-tailed_eagle). Though they are really big birds, I think Marahute was a rare ginormous variety because their real life wingspan is only about seven feet. Sadly, they are an endangered species but only the ones found in Tasmania are in trouble. And yes, that variety is indeed the largest of the Wedge-tailed eagles.
The poacher in this film, Percival C. McLeach, is the typical despicable, heartless, ignorant face that comes to mind when one thinks of a person who willingly hunts down and kills rare and special animals for profit. He was the kind of villain that the audience had no problem hating, but at the same time he was entertaining while being a threatening menace. He also proved to be the only character to have a life beyond the film (ironically since he takes a header down a waterfall): remember that poster I talked about in The Black Cauldron? McLeach is in it too, making it an amazing piece of merchandise for celebrating the lesser-known Disney Villains. And Patton himself, George C. Scott, voiced him. In fact the other day when I sat down to watch this film, my mom sat down with me and I mentioned to her that George C. Scott did a voice in this film. Without even needing to point out his character, the first time McLeach appeared on screen, my mom smiled and said, “That’s George C. Scott. They gave him his nose.” After looking up a picture of George C. Scott and comparing the two… they totally gave McLeach his nose.
The scenes that made me laugh the most as a kid involved Wilbur, and I have to say that hasn’t changed. The part where he freaks out in the hospital because of the shot they are planning on giving him was hilarious. Though I have to say that if a nurse started loading up a shot for me in a double barrel shotgun, I would have freaked out too. His interactions with Bernard and Bianca in New York were also really funny; his shtick was pure John Candy and I loved it.
The restaurant date scene is one of my favorite scenes in the film. What’s so charming about The Rescuers films is how they show how mice live in such a huge world. The exclusive restaurant sitting on top of a chandelier was inspired. I also loved the scene where the call for help was relayed from Australia to the other side of the world. Those mice sure do get creative, huh?
Besides being the first true Disney sequel, this film is significant for another reason. This was the first Disney film to be completely processed digitally. You’ve all heard of the CAPS system that was the standard of the Disney Renaissance, right? Though there were scenes in The Little Mermaid that employed it, this was the first film that used it all the way through. Though there are some bits with the computer animation that don’t seem as seamlessly blended with the hand drawn animation by today’s standards, overall it made for a very pretty film that did show off a fraction of the beauty of Australia. Oh well. Cheers mate.