Mice livin’ in a land down under…
When young Australian boy Cody meets the Golden Eagle Marahute, he gets in the crosshairs of the poacher McLeach, who kidnaps the boy in exchange for the bird and her eggs. It’s up to the Rescuers and their new friends from Down Under to save Cody and Marahute!
The plot here is split into two, and later three, scenarios. Cody’s plot, The Rescuers’ plot, and Wilbur’s plot, though the latter thankfully doesn’t last that long. The best of the three is the Cody plot, also including the villain McLeach. It moves along briskly and has a lot of gorgeous backdrops and action set-pieces, while The Rescuer’s plot is more of a third-wheel will-they-won’t-they story (they will) that gets resolved in the last few seconds of the film, and The Rescuers themselves aren’t tied into the Cody plot until the final act. The Wilbur plot takes some time away from these two plots, and provides some comedic relief away from the peril of Cody’s situation, and the romantic drama of The Rescuers’ situation.
My PLOT RATING is 5 / 10.
Cody (Adam Ryen) is the de facto protagonist here. He is given more character than The Rescuers here, using his intelligence and human instinct and aptitude in order to survive. He’s also gentle and patient with the animals he meets (and can talk to them for some unexplained reason) and heroic in his own right.
Bernard (Bob Newhart), Bianca (Eva Gabor), and Jake (Tristan Rogers) seem to be going through the motions here. They all don’t have much character and seem to be filling up time with a romantic subplot that is obvious from the start. These are the same two mice we’ve seen from the first film, and even though Bernard finally takes the warthog by the horns (so to speak) it’s too little too late. Bianca is basically the same great character she was before, yet experiences more sequences in peril or as an object of affection instead of having much of a personality (though what little of it from the previous film shines through). Jake is just an obstacle with little character to speak of, aside from he’s Australian, can tame anything, and looks like Indiana Jones (to the point where I forgot his name and called him ‘Indiana Jones Mouse’).
Wilbur (John Candy) is a blast in this. He gets a large amount of screen-time here, and that’s thankfully due to Candy’s great performance. He’s usually manic and fun, but when he’s at the ‘hospital’, it slows his character way down, trading great character moments for some slapstick. He also has a ‘surfer’ vibe about him, which is interesting for a pilot character and a sharp departure from Orville in the previous film. I must say, I admire the simple genius that it took to have Orville and Wilbur be send-ups to the Wright Brothers. It’s a great little gag that goes over most kids’ heads, but not the adults.
McLeach (George C. Scott) and Joanna (Frank Welker) are a real fun pair of villains. McLeach can be summed up with the best quote in the film, “I didn’t make it all the way through third grade for nothing,” that just encapsulates his character. He’s not really intelligent, but he’s also not stupid. Throughout the film, he seems to be making up his evil plan as he goes along, and it’s fun to see the gears slowly turn in his head and follow along with his next step. He’s no less of a threat because of this juvenility, however. His insanely huge (and insanely CGI) bushwacker, crocodiles, gun, and pet Joanna all give him a larger-than-life presence that, while impressive, doesn’t belie his brutish ego and boisterous personality. Joanna is a great silent character, and her emotion-packed expressions come through crystal clear. The animation on her is also incredibly fluid, and her scene with McLeach and the eggs is just great.
Other side characters like the caged animals (especially Frank (Wayne Robson)) and the mice at the hospital are here for comedic relief and filler, which this film really doesn’t need at all. It just creates more subplots and side characters to take away focus from the main cast.
If there’s any character that steals the film, however, it has to be Marahute. Her animation is gorgeous, and the subtle expressions on her face show deep emotions. The flight sequences are stellar and breathtaking, and a highlight of the film. The gorgeous lighting around her and the vistas we see while seeing her point of view in flight are beautiful.
My CHARACTERS RATING is 6 / 10.
The dialogue in this film is fair. Characters speak using simpler words and this film is more kid-oriented as a result. There are a few smart lines snuck in, particularly by Candy and Scott, but the rest of the dialogue is traded off with action set pieces and hijinks instead of much meaningful discussion.
My DIALOGUE RATING is 6 / 10.
The animation in this film is awesome. It’s Disney’s first truly digital film using CAPS animation software that digitally colors the drawings, and it looks great here. There is that lack of film grain and fuzz that I miss, but that feeling goes away while watching the film. The water effects and lighting are top-notch, and McLeach’s bushwacker is truly a sight to behold. The backgrounds are awesome, and the camerawork and angles have gotten an upgrade, showcasing quite a large amount of the Australian Outback.
My EFFECTS RATING is 10 / 10.
The score in this film is triumphant and fitting for each part of the film, but not really that memorable otherwise. McLeach (sung by Joanna’s voice actor, Frank Welker) has the only lyrical song in the film, a parody of “Home on the Range” that’s actually pretty funny, but lasts a short time. There are no other lyrical songs in the film, which is an anomaly for Disney (at least in the Renaissance).
My MUSIC RATING is 6 / 10.
The Rescuers Down Under is something in between the eras. It’s not bad or forgettable enough to be a Dark Age film, yet it’s not amazing enough to be a Renaissance film. It’s caught within these two extremes, and often gone unnoticed by many. Most everything in the film is sub-standard for Disney, and divided by these eras: the characters are pretty much split down the middle in quality, there’s a solid score with only one short song, the plot is half-good and half-bad, the dialogue is fair with a few good gems, and the animation is magnificent. While I don’t think that there could have been more or less care put into this film, I find that this was trying to be the start of something great. With the Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers series released concurrently with the film, and a planned third installment in the mid-1990s, they were putting all of their eggs (ha!) in this basket. Sadly, John Candy and Eva Gabor passed before they could make this happen, and I honestly think it’s for the best. Disney should be creating new intelligent properties instead of rehashing older ones (though I’m never opposed to sequel TV series), and this film is just not as good as the first, though artistically and tonally better throughout.
My OVERALL RATING for Disney’s The Rescuers Down Under is 66%.
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For a tale as old as time…