Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Rescuers 1977 and The Rescuers Down Under 1990

Note: I'm doing these two together and not in sequential order, because to date as far as I know The Rescuers Down Under is the only sequel that got a cinema release and not a straight to home video/DVD release. It just makes sense to do them together, rather than break them up.

Personal Overview: yes, I know there’s a Winnie the Pooh movie in here, but this is a personal thing. I’ve never really been a fan of what Disney have done with Pooh and prefer the literary versions.

The inspiration for the film comes from a series of books by Margery Sharp and this film is based on two of them: The Rescuers and Miss Bianca. I’ve never read the books, by the time this came out I’d largely outgrown Disney cartoons, which at this stage were largely funny animal movies.

I have to confess that I like the idea behind it. There are a bunch of mice who have their headquarters under the United Nations and they rescue people or animals in need. They seem to focus mostly on children and leave the rescuing of adults to the human organisations.

One of their chief delegates is the Hungarian Miss Bianca, once again Eva Gabor provided the voice and comedian Bob Newhart voiced her loyal and brave, but bumbling assistant the handyman Bernard.

Although this was very definitely aimed at a juvenile audience the material was a bit on the dark side. A young orphan girl was kidnapped by a pair of unscrupulous treasure hunters and forced to go down a dark and dangerous hole in a swamp to look for a diamond.

By this stage the stories had become fairly formulaic and this is possibly why films like The Rescuers don’t live on in people’s imaginations. The outcome is never in doubt and they lack dramatic tension.

One thing that did set it apart from other films was that it was set in the present day. The first one since 101 Dalmatians that did that.

Hero/es: that’s Miss Bianca and Bernard, especially Bernard as he is well out of his comfort zone most of the time. So is Miss Bianca, but she’s a bit of a thrillseeker. A sort of secondary hero was the dragonfly Evinrude (more on him in Cuteness Factor).

Villain/s: the redheaded treasure seeker Medusa along with her weak willed partner in crime Mr Snoops played the bad guys here. Snoops wasn’t particularly threatening or dangerous, nor was he all that competent, but I have to admit I found him creepy in his sheer ordinariness. If Medusa had looked and acted less like Cruella I may have bought her. Honestly she could have been Cruella’s younger sister.

Cuteness Factor: the very idea of an organization comprised of mice who devote themselves to rescuing children and/or animals in need is cute, add to that a dragonfly that lives in a swamp and runs a motorboat service (actually a leaf that he flies behind and steers) and how can it not be cute? Calling the dragonfly Evinrude was the icing on the cake there.

Animation: I really got the impression that this one was being done by the numbers. Nothing inspiring or different about it. Disney cartoons had ceased to be something special by now. I could get much the same thing by turning on a Saturday morning cartoon.

Final Words: despite my feelings The Rescuers was successful enough to get a sequel in 1990. I know plenty of other Disney cartoons have had sequels, but they’re mostly, if not all, released direct to video, The Rescuers Down Under got a cinema release. It’s a cute idea, but probably released too late to get any real vibe from viewers, it tries hard, but it doesn’t have a lot of cross generational appeal.

The Rescuers Down Under 1990

I’m breaking away from the format here. This is just a quick review of the sequel. What really interested me was that it was set in Australia.

I had hopes that they may have actually tried to get a few things right, but they unfortunately didn’t. They had most of our animals, but the geography was all over the place. It was somewhere in the outback, but good luck trying to work out exactly where. It seemed to have rainforest cheek by jowl with the red centre.

Australia has all sorts of amazing fauna, so of course the creature in trouble was a golden eagle. There is an actual breed of eagle referred to as the golden eagle, although this one was way larger than anything you’d find in the wild. The other thing about the golden eagle is that it does not occur in Australia. We have a species of eagle; the wedge tailed eagle. It’s even the emblem of the Northern Territory, but they like the real golden eagle are in the area of least concern regards extinction and conservation so they wouldn’t have fitted the incredibly rare status of the bird in the film.

The lead non mouse character is a kid called Cody, now he lives somewhere in the outback, but has an American accent (sigh) as does the villain of the piece; a poacher by the name of McLeach (played by George C. Scott). They tried to inject a Cuteness Factor with a stir crazy frill necked lizard, but he was more annoying than amusing. In fact the place where McLeach keeps all the animals he's illegally captured kind of reminded me of the aquarium in Pixar's Finding Nemo, coincidentally also set in Australia.

There was also a little love triangle attempt between Bianca, Bernard and the remarkably capable Jake (a hopping mouse), who was at least voiced by an Australian who did a decent accent.

It was the least successful box office draw of the Disney Renaissance (started a year earlier with The Little Mermaid). That’s possibly because it’s really not part of the Renaissance as such and comes from an earlier era. The kids who would have enjoyed The Rescuers were adults 13 years later when the sequel was released.

For mine it didn’t really work and it was an odd decision to make.

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