THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER: Of Sequels, Impractical Organizational Structures, and Saving Wilderness

The Rescuers Down Under (1990) – The 29th Walt Disney Animated Classic – Directed by Hendel Butoy and Mike Gabriel – Starring Bob Newhart, Eva Gabor, John Candy, Tristan Rogers, Adam Ryen, George C. Scott, Frank Welker, Wayne Robson, Russi Taylor, Bernard Fox, and Douglas Seale.

I love RESCUERS DOWN UNDER.

It is, however, a bit of a forgotten movie inside the Disney catalog. It is the most under-appreciated and under-performing of all the Disney Renaissance movies, and for good reason as it’s the most understated of all the Renaissance movies, too. There’s no sweeping songs, no re-imagined fairy tale, and no groundbreaking animation. In short, it is largely exactly what the other Renaissance movies are not. What THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER is, however, is a really good, really engaging sequel. It’s fun and harmless and while there are some story issues (there should be more of the actual Rescuers in the movie), none of it negatively impacts my enjoyment of the film.

It takes too long to get to the Rescue Aid Society, and then once we get there, we still have longer to go to have the missing Bernard and Miss Bianca (Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor) show up. Even though this takes “too long,” though, I don’t mind because the opening story of young Australian boy Cody (Adam Ryen) saving the trapped golden eagle Marahute (Frank Welker) is so enjoyable to watch.

And then when Bianca and Bernard do show up, they are as charming and wonderful as ever, so the wait totally pays off.

Likewise, it’s sort of maddening how Cody himself gets trapped by the poacher McLeach (George C. Scott) IN AUSTRALIA and the Rescue Aid Society is still IN NEW YORK. The producers could have easily just said Miss Bianca and Bernard were on vacation in Australia and no one would have batted an eye, but nope, they’re in New York, which means the message for the Rescue Aid Society requesting help has to travel to the other side of the planet. Even thought this also takes “too long,” I don’t mind because there’s a very clever, “moving arrows on a map” sequence that shows how the message makes that trip. It gives DOWN UNDER a bit of an Indiana Jones vibe, even though Bianca and Bernard are as far removed from Indy as Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor are from Harrison Ford

It’s good stuff, and while any film made by Americans and set in Australia runs the risk of turning into an amalgamation of Crocodile Dundee and ads for Outback Steakhouse, the “Australianness” of DOWN UNDER never overwhelms me. I had my fears when Jake (Tristan Rogers), a kangaroo mouse wearing Pete Postlethwaite’s costume from the second Jurassic Park movie, arrived on the scene, but he never overwhelms the narrative.

There’s a simple, but strong pro-environment message in DOWN UNDER, which can be reduced to: “Don’t kill wild animals.” There’s a couple scenes with the animals trapped in McLeach’s compound that’s clearly designed to make kids realize where bags and shoes come from. This is another part of the movie that should annoy me – there’s really not a lot done with these trapped animals except to give Cody someone to talk to while he’s in captivity. They help to further McLeach’s evilness, but that’s never really a question. Despite not really contributing much to the film, these captive animals are more positive than negative.

Sensing a trend? RESCUERS DOWN UNDER makes these little blips such a part of the overall story that they end up working for the film. One blip might feel like a mistake, but several makes it feel like a style.

McLeach is drawn without any ounce of goodness in him, and for pure evil, he’s one of the all-time bad guys in the Disney canon. He’s mean to everyone, and doesn’t just kidnap Cody but plants the kid’s backpack in croc-infested waters to make it look like they ate him. Think on that. This is a bad guy who’s willing to let this kid’s mom think her son died just so he can trap a bird. He wants to capture Marahute because she can make him rich, and to ensure that her value as a rare creature is maximized, he lowers Joanna (his pet goanna) to the eagle’s nest to eat Marahute’s three baby eggs. This is also a pretty good sign that McLeach is not a long-term thinker.

Luckily, Joanna doesn’t succeed because Bernard is down there already. He hides them, and then convinces Wilbur (John Candy) to sit on them until they hatch.

Yeah, John Candy … George C. Scott … Bob Newhart … Eva Gabor … even though DOWN UNDER was only released just over 20 years ago, it feels like a much older movie if you know the voices. And being such a simple movie, absent of any strange-looking villains

The animation in DOWN UNDER is pretty spectacular, too, but not in an eye-popping manner like Beauty and the Beast or in a dazzling manner like Tarzan. DOWN UNDER’s animation is clean and efficient. There are a few really gorgeous sequences – the long tracking shot at the start of the film and Marahute giving Cody a ride on her massive back are the most standout – but every scene here just feels meticulously put together by the animators.

As I said up top, I love RESCUERS DOWN UNDER. While not one of the all-time great Disney movies, this movie would get a lot of spins if I had kids. It’s got a great message, it’s got great characters, it tells a solid story, and it’s a visual treat. Much like 2011′s Winnie the Pooh, DOWN UNDER’s ambitions are clearly lower than something like The Lion King, but that shouldn’t deter you from giving it a watch. Not every film needs to be a blockbuster; sometimes, simply being a good film is enough, and on that score THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER delivers.

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Stuffed Animals for Hire: The Christmas Operation and all characters, stories, and artwork copyright Mark Bousquet 2012.

Stuffed Animals for Hire: The Christmas Operation and all characters, stories, and artwork copyright Mark Bousquet 2012.

My latest book, STUFFED ANIMALS FOR HIRE: THE CHRISTMAS OPERATION is now available for purchase in PAPERBACK and KINDLE formats.

SAFH is a kid’s book, but it’s also a tribute to the television shows I watched as a kid: The A-Team, Magnum PI, Knight Rider, Hardcastle and McCormack, Riptide, Dukes of Hazzard and generally any show where Post and Carpenter did the music. Recommended age? If you let your kid watch superhero cartoons or Knight Rider reruns, SAFH should be age appropriate. Here’s the back cover description:

Jurgen the Gorilla. Throne the Lion. Bronze the Golden Eagle. Ray the Brown Bear. Bottle the Dolphin. Dev the Lynxwoman. 3 the Triceratops. Ptera the Pterodactyl. These eight stuffed animals make up the Return Squadron. For seven months they have worked together to return disconnected stuffed animals home. But now … on their final mission, the Return Squadron seek to steal the legendary Map of Everything. Before Christmas morning arrives, three of the Squadron will turn traitor, four will be stranded, and one will never see another Christmas.

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