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Featured Blu-ray Review: The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under

August 19th, 2012

The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

The Rescuers came out in 1977 while The Rescuers Down Under came out in 1990. If you ask people when Disney animated films were at there peak, those two dates are not going to come up very often. While the sequel came out the year after The Little Mermaid did, it is almost never considered part of Disney's revival. But are this films unfairly overlooked? Or is there a reason they are not among the biggest hits the studio has put out.

The Rescuers

The film begins with a little girl sneaking onto the deck of a derelict steam boat before dropping a message in a bottle while avoiding two alligators. Okay, that's a dark start to the movie. After a long journey, the bottle washes up in New York City and is found by the International Rescue Aid Society, a society run by mice and headquartered in the United Nations building. As human diplomats travel to New York from all over the world, they unwittingly bring their mouse counterparts along. Using Euripides Mouse as their inspiration, they never fail to act when there is someone in need. The bottle is brought in and after the janitor, Bernard, has a bit of trouble getting it out, Bianca, is able to decipher only a few words from the message. It is from a girl named Penny. (She is voiced by Michelle Stacy, who was in Airplane as the girl with the coffee. I love that part of the movie.) She was from Morningside Orphanage and is in terrible trouble. Bianca volunteers to go, but she would be the first woman to be a field agent. The Chairman hesitates at the idea, but Bernard objects, saying the mission could be dangerous. The Chairman agrees, with both Bernard and with Bianca. She will go into the field on this rescue, but she should choose a co-agent to go with her. She chooses Bernard. He agrees to go, despite his phobias and better judgment.

Their first stop in their investigation is Morningside Orphanage. Once there, they learn from an old cat, Rufus, that she ran away. However, he remembers that once someone, Medusa, tried to lure her into her car. Maybe Medusa succeeded in kidnapping her this time. When they track down Medusa at her pawn shop, they overhear a phone call between her and her cohort, Mr. Snoops (Joe Flynn). They hear her talk about a diamond, Penny, messages in bottles, and the Devil's Bayou. Bernard and Bianca try to hitch a ride with her to Devil's Bayou by hiding in her luggage, but in Medusa's rush to get to the airport, she loses her luggage, and the pair have to find an alternate way there. That alternate way is Orville (Jim Jordan), an albatross.

Medusa beats Bernard and Bianca to Devil's Bayou, which is not a surprise, as she was flying on a plane and not on the back of a out of shape bird. They arrive just as Penny has tried yet another escape. Mr. Snoops lights up the night sky with fireworks while Medusa uses their hovercraft to look for Penny. Penny might have gotten away, but Brutus and Nero (Candy Candido) catch her and bring her back. When Bernard and Bianca get aboard, they learn Medusa's plan. They've been using Penny to explore a cave where The Devil's Eye is hidden. ... This plan is almost as dumb as Edgar's plan from the Aristocats. While Penny has found a lot of gems, she hasn't been able to find the Devil's Eye before the rising tide comes and forces her out of the cave. Medusa is determined to make her find this massive diamond tonight and won't let her out until she does, even if the tide comes in before that happens.

One of the lead animators on this film was Don Bluth, and you see his influence here, which is a strong compliment to pay. It is an excellent adventure with a strong cast of characters, and not just how they are written, but the voice acting as well. Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor are so good in this film, I'm a little surprised they didn't do a lot more voice work during their careers. It is not overdone in the action department, but what we do have is smartly done and have emotional weight to them. Also, I really like Penny as a character. She's just a little girl, but the movie doesn't treat her as a helpless victim who needs rescuing. Granted, she needs rescuing, but she's quite capable and resourceful on her own. She certainly is capable of outwitting her human captors. It's the alligators that foil her escape attempts. The animation looks excellent with fluid movement and detailed painted backgrounds. I guess the worst thing you can say about the film is that it doesn't break any new ground.

The Rescuers Down Under

This film is the only sequel in Disney's Canon, a.k.a., the Walt Disney Animated Classics series. (Winnie the Pooh is considered a reboot, not a true sequel. Meanwhile, none of the lesser sequels or direct-to-DVD releases are part of the Animated Classics line.) Does it live up to this honor?

The Rescuers Down Under begins in Australia with a young boy, Cody (Adam Ryen), hearing a didgeridoo while he sleeps. This wakes him up right and gets him moving. He races our of his isolated home and into the outback. Cody has a great gift; he can talk to the animals. He's been using this gift to thwart poachers. His latest rescue is a great golden eagle, Marahute. After an amazing flight, Cody learns that Marahute is a mother-to-be, but her mate is gone, just like Cody's father is gone.

Shortly after, Cody goes to rescue a mouse caught in a trap, only to learn the mouse was bait for a larger trap. He isn't able to get out of before the poacher, Percival C. McLeach, and his pet goanna, Joanna, show up. At first Percival is just annoyed that he didn't catch anything. Even when Cody accuses him of being a poacher, he just brushes the accusations away. It's true, but there's not much a little boy can do. However, when Percival sees the golden eagle feather on Cody's backpack, he decides to kidnap the boy to force him to reveal where the golden eagle, and her eggs are. To avoid dealing with the rangers, he throws Cody's backpack into the river so it looks like he was eaten by crocodiles. Fortunately, the mouse he had just rescued is able to get to a message to International Rescue Aid Society. The members of the RAS immediately jump into action and decide to send Bernard and Bianca on the rescue mission... except Bernard and Bianca are not there.

Bernard and Bianca are at a fancy restaurant where Bernard is nervously trying to propose. Unfortunately, he drops the ring and has to go chasing it, which is why he is not at the table when their orders come in. When he does return, there's a bit of confusion, as Bianca is excited about the new mission and Bernard mistakenly thinks she's accepted his marriage proposal. He's disappointed about the confusion, but more worried about having to fly to Australia. They go off to find Orville, but find he's retired and his brother, Wilbur has taken over the business. It's a new bird, same bad flying. After crashing landing in Australia, they meet Jake (Tristan Rogers), a kangaroo mouse and their RAS contact in Australia. He takes an instant liking to Bianca and starts flirting heavily with her.

Meanwhile, Percival grows tired of Cody's escape attempts and his refusal to say where the eggs are, so he comes up with a new plan. Percival tells Cody that Marahute's been shot, so there's no reason to keep him anymore. He knows that Cody will immediately go to Marahute's nest to check on the eggs and all he'll have to do is follow him to get his prize. Bernard, Bianca, and Jake get to Percival's hideout just in time to see him put this plan into action. They'll have to stop him, but it will be tough.

Sequels rarely live up to their predecessors, and sadly that is the case here. However, while The Rescuers Down Under is not as good as The Rescuers, it is still a good movie. In fact, in some regards, it is a better movie. Technically, the animation is is better, I don't think there are many people who would argue against that. It is also a brighter, more colorful film, while the action is taken up a notch. Since it is a kids film, these changes will likely mean the target audience will be more enthralled by the movie. Also, the voice acting is just as strong, especially from Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor. John Candy is fun as Wilbur while George C. Scott makes Percival a lot more menacing villain that we saw in the first film. Unfortunately, I don't think Cody was as compelling as Penny, nor was Jake an entirely successful addition to the cast. The love triangle just doesn't work as well as it needed to to make the character completely successful. Finally, we spend far too much time away from Bernard and Bianca. They are the best part of the movie and the film suffers when they are off screen for too long.

That said, its flaws are mostly minor and one could argue it is the second best Disney animated film coming out this week.

The Extras

There are not a lot of extras on this Blu-ray, and only a few of them are directly related to the film. There is a deleted song from The Rescuers and you can listen to another song in sing-along mode, while The Rescuers Down Under has a making of featurette. The biggest extra is Water Birds: A True Life Adventure. This 30-minute documentary won the 1953 Oscar for Best Short Subject, Two-reel. There is also a short animated film, Three Blind Mouseketeers.

The Rescuers looks good, really good, but falls short of great. It is 35 years old and the animation was dark, so the colors are not great. There is quite a lot of detail, but also quite a lot of grain, plus high definition highlights some of the weaknesses in the original animation. There are no serious instances of print damage and despite having both films on one disc, there are no compression issues. Like I said, The Rescuers Down Under is technically the better movie and it looks better on high definition. The colors are great, the level of details is superb, the blacks are deep. The Rescuers was originally released in Mono, so one can't expect too much from the new 5.1 track, but the clarity is great and the surround sound speakers aren't ignored. The Rescuers Down Under has a lot more flash in its audio track with great separation, directional effects, ambient noises, etc.

The two films cost just $23 and since both would be worth picking up on their own, if they cost between $15 and $20, this is a real bargain.

The Verdict

Most people think The Rescuers is clearly the best animated film Disney made during its doldrums, and I would have to agree. (The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is a much better movie, but it is built from several short films that were made previously, so it doesn't really count as coming from this timeframe.) The Rescuers Down Under is technically better than its predecessor and has some parts of the story that work just as good or better than the original, but overall it falls a little short. There are not a lot of extras on the Blu-ray, but the films look and sound great on high definition and it is easily worth the price.

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Filed under: Video Review, The Rescuers, The Rescuers Down Under