Wednesday, April 6, 2011

DAF #28 - The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

Cody: "There must be a way out of here."
Krebs: "Oh, there's a way out, all right."
Red: "There is?"
Krebs: "Absolutely! You'll go as a wallet. You'll go as a belt, and our dear Frank..."
Frank: "No, no, no! I don't want to hear!"
Krebs: "Frank will go as..."
Frank: "I can't hear you!"
Krebs: "...a purse."

Title: The Rescuers Down Under
Year: 1990
Rated: G
Run Time: 1 hour, 14 minutes

Eva Gabor as Miss Bianca
Bob Newhart as Bernard
George C. Scott as Percival C. McLeach
Tristan Rogers as Jake
John Candy as Wilbur 
Adam Ryen as Cody
Wayne Robson as Frank
Douglas Seale as Krebbs
Peter Firth as Red
Plot: Bernard and Bianca travel to Australia to rescue young boy from a local poacher.
Based on: Original story based on characters from the children's novels The Rescuers and Miss Bianca by Margery Sharp.
Setting: Australia...I guess the 80's. There are computers!

First Viewing:

Isn't it lucky how the "first official sequel" in the Disney canon comes right after its predecessor in my countdown?? I did that for you, dear readers, only for you. (Okay, it was just a lucky coincidence.) This may come as a shock, but there was a time when "Disney sequel" was a foreign phrase. A time when people were completely satisfied with the endings their DAF's, before anyone thought to make a cheap, cartoon continuation and release it on VHS alone. Yes, there was a time when Cinderella simply moved into the palace with Prince Charming and did not go on a ret-con time travel adventure.*

And that time was the late 80's. For some reason, Disney then finally decided to produce a sequel to one of their beloved family classics. But which one? Certainly Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty were all out of the question; those heroines were in a land far, far away living happily ever after. To disrupt their fairy tale endings would be a travesty. What about Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Bambi? Real boy, reunited with his mother, Prince of the Forest.

Just wait, I can keep going...

Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians, The Aristocats, The Fox and the Hound: All would have to be stories concerning the protagonist's children. (A concept that did not strike the Disney company until much later.)

Fantasia, Alice in Wonderland, The Black Cauldron: Box office disappointments. A sequel wouldn't be the best idea, would it?

The Sword in the Stone: Wart's wife cheats on him with his best friend and he's killed by his bastard son/nephew while his kingdom crumbles.

The Jungle Book: Mowgli becomes a civilized young man, loses the the loincloth and never returns to the jungle.

Robin Hood: King Richard "returns to the throne" and Robin marries Maid Marian. Taxes are lowered, Robin gets to having those dozen kids.

So what does that leave? The Rescuers and The Great Mouse Detective, both adventures about mission bound mouse duos, both easily tailored for sequels. In fact, the two movies end with the protagonists leaving on "another rescue mission/mystery". But The Rescuers had the financial edge (well, 12 years ago it did) and The Great Mouse Detective was a mediocre box office draw that will, unfortunately, forever remain in the shadow of Don Bluth's An American Tail.
Despite there being nine books in The Rescuers Series by Margery Sharp, Disney opted to write a brand new original adventure where Bernard and Miss Bianca go to Australia.
As I'm sure you remember, in the late 1980's, the US experienced a short-lived infatuation with Australian culture. For some bizarre reason, the Aussies thought this would be a permanent thing. Of course, it wasn't.
- Bart vs. Australia, The Simpsons
Were truer words ever said? Think about it: Crocodile Dundee. "Down Under" by Men at Work. Crocodile Dundee II. A Cry in the Dark. The Man From Snowy River. The Thorn Birds. Outback Steakhouse. Quigley Down Under...and then, Disney's 29th animated feature.

Deep in the Australian Outback, a young boy named Cody starts his day by talking to his animal friends and rescuing a GIANT golden eagle he christens Marahute. She lets him ride around on her back and shows her nest and eggs. However, Cody is captured by the evil poacher, Percival C. McLeach, who holds him prisoner until he reveals the location of Marahute.

Meanwhile, some breed of Australian mouse sends a message to the Rescue Aid Society Headquarters in New York City. Bernard and Miss Bianca, who are still together (and alive, after thirteen years) are assigned to the case, interrupting Bernard's marriage proposal. But, as he said in 1977's adventure, "Duty calls."

The duo go to find Orville the albatross who flew them to Devil's Bayou in the first film. Instead they find his brother, Wilbur, who agrees to fly them all the way to Australia. When they arrive, they meet Jake the kangaroo rat, Disney's answer to Crocodile Dundee and Lando Calrissian. Jake is the local RAS agent and serves as Bianca and Bernard's guide on the trek to find Cody.

At McLeach's lair, Cody is held captive with the poacher's other imprisoned animals. After a failed escape attempt, McLeach decides to trick Cody into thinking someone else has killed Marahute. He frees the boy and follows him right to the eagle's nest. Bianca, Bernard, and Jake warn Cody, but they are captured along with Marahute. But Bernard is separated from the group.

Bernard replaces Marahute's eggs with rocks so McLeach's giant lizard Joanna won't eat them and then enlists Wilbur to sit on the real eggs. While McLeach threatens to feed Cody to a group of crocodiles, Bernard takes a cue from Jake's outdoorsman ways and takes control of a wild pig. McLeach eventually falls over a waterfall to his death. Jake and Bianca free Marahute who rescues Cody from a similar watery death. In the end, Bernard successfully proposes to Bianca. Cody is returned home and Marahute's eggs hatch under Wilbur.

So why do I technically like TRDU more than its predecessor? Oh, it's the little things. For one, the humor is a bit more...mature. For instance, when Wilbur is flying into Australia, he insists on landing even though the runway is too short. Jake quips, "Crazy Yank." There are a few pop culture references ("Throw another shrimp on the barbie.") Plus you have the sarcastic, pessimistic character of Krebs the Koala, one of McLeach's imprisoned animals. And what about that morbid scene where Wilbur is tormented in that mouse hospital? Medical torture! HAHAHAHAHA!

As with any good sequel, The Rescuers Down Under sports the same characters you fell in love with from the first movie. Bianca is still poised and proper and Bernard is still superstitious and bumbling. Some of the same jokes are reused ("Couldn't we just take the train?") One of the best inside jokes is when Jake walks his fingers as a precursor to putting his arm around Bianca. In the first movie, Bernard did the same thing, only it was a bit more tentative.

I'm glad to see Bianca and Bernard as a couple still. Their romance was never a big deal in the first movie and I'm happy to say that it's just as important here. Bringing in the wildly charismatic and swashbuckling Jake as a romantic rival was an interesting choice. As feminine as Bianca is, she does like a good adventure and Jake isn't nearly as cautious as Bernard. No wonder he feels threatened.

It's always bit jarring when one goes through the canon, through all the classics, the package films, the xerography and you finally arrive at The Little Mermaid; The light at the end of the tunnel. The dawn of The Disney Renaissance. You think, "I made it! It's going to be nothing but Broadway caliber show tunes and solid stories for the next ten films!" And then you remember, "Oh wait. The Rescuers Down Under. Sure. Okay."

Clearly, this movie is a bit of a hitch in the get along and something about it doesn't really go with the other 90's DAF's. It's still wonderful, but it had the unfortunate luck to be released between The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Then with the coming of Aladdin and The Lion King, everyone pretty much didn't give a shit about The Rescuers Down Under. It got lost in the shuffle. That doesn't mean that it doesn't have its fans; mostly boys. But I'll be the first to admit, this is one of the great underrated DAF's. I'd advised anyone to give it a second chance.


Favorite Song: N/A
Favorite Moment: Bernard takes control of the wild pig.

Favorite Character: Krebbs

Next DAF: Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

*I actually really like Cinderella III: A Twist in Time. It's Back to the Future-Part II meets Disney.

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