Wolfgang Reitherman, John Lounsbery, Art Stevens, Hendel Butoy, Mike Gabriel
George C. Scott
Penny (voice of Michelle Stacy) is in great “trubble.” She’s been kidnapped by the villainous Madame Medusa (Geraldine Page) and her sidekick Mr. Snoops (Joe Flynn) and held at the mucky Devil’s Bayou. In dire need of help, she sends a distress message in a bottle, which comes into the hands of the Rescue Aid Society, a mouse-run organization housed inside the United Nations Headquarters.
Hungarian representative Bianca (Eva Gabor) takes the assignment with janitor Bernard (Bob Newhart, always a welcome presence, but not fit for a mouse). They track down Penny’s kidnapper to a pawn shop (where else?), where they learn the duo are after a rare diamond, found in--where else?--Devil’s Bayou. (And in case the wild hair didn’t make Medusa seem frightening, she also has two pet alligators.)
So sets off the adventure of The Rescuers, based on stories by Margery Sharp and released in 1977 as Disney’s 23rd animated feature. The problem is, there’s more stiffness than energy, and so the movie isn’t very fun.
The Rescuers was co-directed by two of Disney’s famed Nine Old Men--Wolfgang Reitherman and John Lounsbery--and Art Stevens, a character animator since Peter Pan. While other Old Men (Ollie Johnston, Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas) worked on the film, the production also ushered in a newer batch of animators. And while there is some fine animation and a handful of well-executed moments (albatross Orville’s flight out of New York City) that allowed some of the younger guys--including Glen Keane and Ron Clements, key players of the Disney Renaissance--to hone their skills, the overall presentation lacks freshness and excitement.
It’s clear Disney had seen better days, and it’s those days that the crew tries so desperately to cling to. Two major examples are the starring role of likable mice (Cinderella) and the antagonist’s death (ripped almost directly from Peter Pan). The Rescuers was the beginning of the decline for Walt Disney Animation Studios, which subsequently released The Fox and the Hound (directed by Stevens, which may hint at some of this movie’s flaws), The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, and Oliver & Company. And it wouldn’t exactly be unreasonable to lump The Rescuers with any of those.
The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
Set in the Australian Outback (thanks to the rage of Crocodile Dundee), The Rescuers Down Under opens with another child in danger. This time, Cody (voice of Adam Ryen) is kidnapped by poacher Percival C. McLeah (George C. Scott, a spot-on choice) in hopes the young boy will tell him the location of a rare eagle. But, of course, the Rescue Aid Society--namely Bianca (Eva Gabor) and Bernard (Bob Newhart)--are on the case.
This, like its predecessor (The Rescuers Down Under was Disney’s first sequel to an animated feature), allows adventure to ensue. And it does--more so than 1977’s The Rescuers. Due in large part to the technology then available, the animation of The Rescuers Down Under is richer and more detailed, completely erasing the stiffness that hounded the original.
There are so many errors corrected here, with the inclusion of clean and colorful animation, an intimidating villain with a menacing presence and a fate for McLeah that seems to directly mock the choice to kill off Madame Medusa in the vein of Captain Hook. And though the Rescuers themselves aren’t in the mix nearly as much as they should be, it all makes to be the energetic and fun adventure that The Rescuers wasn’t.
This isn’t to suggest that The Rescuers Down Under, released in 1990 as Disney’s 29th animated feature, deserves to stand alongside The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, or The Lion King in any way except chronologically. It doesn’t near the quality of any of those classics, nor does it fit seamlessly with the sleek, dimensional style of the Disney Renaissance. But it’s a thrilling effort, a sequel that greatly surpasses the original.
Water Birds - A Walt Disney True-Life Adventure (30:42): This 1952 documentary won the Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Two-reel).
The Making of The Rescuers Down Under (10:33): This promotional piece uses interviews, clips and production footage to hype the 1990 sequel.
Also included are a Deleted Song (“Peoplitis”), a Silly Symphony Animated Short (Three Blind Mousketeers) and a Sing-Along Song (“Someone’s Waiting for You”).
The two DVDs (one for The Rescuers, the other for The Rescuers Down Under) include all of the material from the Blu-ray except for the Deleted Song.