Movie 29: Rescuers Down Under

RescuersduposterWhen I started this blog I was hoping I would be surprised by movies and really love something I had previously discounted.  Up until now that hadn’t really happened.  But I think Rescuers Down Under may finally be that moment!

Compare to the First-

What? You ask?   But, Rachel you hated The Rescuers how can you like the sequel?

Well, as it turns out there are a lot of reasons.  This is one of the few times in movies when a sequel is far superior to the original in every way.  I seriously can’t think of a single way I liked the original better.

My main problem with The Rescuers wasn’t the set up. It was the tone.  To me it had a mean spirit about it.  First of all, it starts off the movie with Penny already captured.  We don’t see her get abducted but just hear about it morosely from Rufus at the orphanage. We hear about how miserable and lonely Penny was and from the beginning it feels hopeless and sad.  There is never a moment where Penny is free from her kidnappers.   In Down Under there are extended sequences of Cody with Marahute the eagle before he is abducted which helps us feel more hopeful than a desperate message in a bottle.

We also get WAY more of Madusa in the original than we do of the villain Mcleach in Down Under . In fact, I would bet that Mcleach and Cody are in the same scene for less than 10 minutes of the finished film.  Mcleach actually isn’t in the movie all that much, and there is almost always a comic element to his scenes whether it is Joanna stealing his eggs or Frank and the other animals trying to break free.   (more to come on that later).  Wilbur gets more screne time than the villain.  Some may see that as a weakness but I need very little of Mcleach to know exactly who he is.

Mcleach is also not as emotionally cruel to Cody like Medusa is with Penny.  He tells him to shut up and tries to intimidate him but it is more procedural and less personal than in the original.  Plus, there is no tearjerker song telling Cody to be brave despite the evil he is among.   And Cody has a mother who loves him and is looking for him.  The loneliness the characters experience is not the same.

In the end it comes down to tone.  In the little writing I’ve done I have learned tone is huge.  Down Under is full of light and hope where The Rescuers felt dark and cruel.  Again, this is just my opinion but that’s how the two came across to me.

So let’s actually talk about the movie instead of comparing to the original…

Production-

For some reason Disney had wanted to make a sequel to The Rescuers for some time.  In fact, Oliver and Company was supposed to be a continuation of Penny with her adopted family.  That was eventually scrapped and around 1988 production started on The Rescuers Down Under.

At the time there was an Australian trend with movies such as Crocodile Dundee being popular.  In the dvd extras Disney animators went to Australia and spent time at the San Diego zoo to get the feel for the animals and it is definitely the most life-like animals since Bambi. Marahute is stunningly drawn.

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Although it is often forgotten (even by me!), Rescuers Down Under was important because it was the first film to use all CAPS (Computer Animation Production System).  This was developed by Pixar and instead of xerox which had been used since 101 Dalmatians copying the cells, the computer scanned the drawings and colored them in digitally.  The CAPs work in this movie is stunning.  Compared to the sketch xerox era it is so alive with color and movement.  Even more so than Little Mermaid.

There is also CGI in the movie which is completely created on the computer and that does not hold up as well.  Segments like the Sydney Opera House look dated when I bet when they were released it was pretty spectacular.

This kind of computer look of the opera house and the ocean turning purple and flat doesn't hold up well
This kind of computer look of the opera house and the ocean turning purple and flat doesn’t hold up well

But these scenes are few and far between.  Most look fabulous.

The voice cast is excellent.  Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor (her final role. I met her right around this time in the Beverly Hills Hilton and she was exactly you would think she would be. Even had a fir and hat like Bianca!) returns as Bernard and Bianca and both of them are given more to do in this telling.  Bernard isn’t a total bore but actually does things to propel the story and there are lots of terrific side characters.

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My favorite was Wilbur who is the albatross brother of Orville from the first film.  John Candy does the voice work and he is hilarious.  There are repeated scenes where he is in this mouse operation clinic where I laughed about as hard as I have in a long time .  It’s a shame Candy didn’t do more voice-over work because he is so good.

The other interesting thing about the film is it is only the 2nd Disney film with no songs.  The first being The Black Cauldron.  The rest of the Disney Renaissance pictures would be full on musicals but Rescuers doesn’t even have a song in the credits, and you know I’m actually ok with it, which is surprising with how much I love musicals.

They were clearly going for an Indiana Jones vibe with Rescuers Down Under and in every way they succeeded including Bruce Broughton’s John Williamesque score.  I loved it! Here’s the closing number.  Listen to it and see if you don’t hear the Indiana Jones feel:

There is even a map with arrows just like in Indiana Jones:

mapAnd the kangaroo rat Jake has an Indiana Jones feel about him except he isn’t scared of snakes!

jake mapOne of the animators said they were trying to share the message that “someone small can conquer evil” and that really comes through.  What a great message for kids who are of course little.

It’s a shame it didn’t do better at the box office because it is routinely ignored by Disney and its fans.  It had the bad luck of opening the same weekend as Home Alone which monopolized the family audiences leaving Rescuers with 4th place.  Jeffrey Katzenberg pulled all marketing for the picture after that and it was left to the wayside.

The only good thing which came out of it is Disney decided to not release any of the sequels they would produce in theaters.  The direct to video sequels by Disney are one of the grossest cash grabs ever perpetrated by the studio.

The Story-

Like I said, it actually takes a while for the abduction and crime to happen (at the 13 minute mark).  Before that we meet Cody who lives with his Mother in the Australian outback, which looks a lot like a lush Grand Canyon.  The vistas are magnificently drawn.

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Cody is notified by some of his network of animal friends that a creature is in trouble.  When he arrives he finds out it is a magnificent golden eagle called Marahute.  At  first Marahute is suspicious of Cody, but he is kind and cuts the ropes that bind her which thrusts him off the cliff.  In a very dramatic scene Marahute rescues Cody and gives him the ride of his life.

When the ride is done Cody notices a small mouse tied up and not realizing it is a trap tries to free it.  When he does he gets thrust into a pit and we meet Mcleach who is voiced by George C Scott.  He is a greedy poacher something Cody is eager to accuse him of.  Still he is willing to let Cody go until he see’s a golden feather from Marahute on his backpack.

featherMcleach also has his pet ‘goana’ or giant lizard named Joanna.  She is constantly fixated on eating eggs. evil lizardWanting Marahute, McLeach takes Cody and throws his backpack to the crocodiles to throw off the rangers who will search for him.  The mouse who was the bait on the trap see’s the abduction and sends word to the Rescue Aid Society.  This fun scene almost reminded me of an international version of the Twilight Bark from 101 Dalmatians.

Eventually Bernard and Bianca are assigned to the case but it interrupts Bernhard’s proposal to Bianca.  This scene of the mice restaurant reminds me of classic Disney short.

The animation is also fabulous with the snow coming down in the background (think of the original with the static backgrounds that looked so corny.  Quite the contrast!)

So off they go to find Albatross Air but it turns out it is no longer Orville but his brother Wilbur and like I said every scene with him is hilarious.  In an homage to the original we get another rocky take off which is a lot of fun.

His arrival in Australia is equally funny.

Bernard and Bianca meet Jake in this scene and he agrees to be their guide.  This is also where Wilbur get’s taken to the mouse hospital which is so funny.

Then we get the scariest scene in the movie with McLeach trying to get information from Cody using knifes.  This is the closest the film gets to the tone of the Rescuers but it is about a minute long so it is more palatable.

knifesBefore you know it we are back to Bernard and Bianca with Bernard trying to propose again, but he is interrupted by Jake and  a snake.

Cody is then put into a cage downstairs with the rest of the animals Mcleach has poached including a cellmate lizard named Frank.

lizard

This is another character that keeps things light and fun when they could be dark and disparaging.   The gang tries to get the key from the wall to set themselves free but Joana catches them and destroys their attempt putting the key back.

We then get another funny scene of Wilbur in the hospital.  Maybe you guys won’t think it is a good scene but it really made me laugh

We also get a humorous scene with Joana stealing Mcleach’s eggs and he gets the idea of how to manipulate Cody.  The next morning he pretends to let Cody go but tells him he has killed Marahute and ‘too bad about those eggs…’.  Knowing Cody will go to the eggs he follows him with Bernard and Bianca on the tank/truck contraption he is driving.

There is a scene that is right out of the tank scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade which was released in 1989. I have to believe this was added or changed to be an homage to that scene they are so similar but in a good way!

What kid isn’t going to like that kind of adventure?  There is nothing about Rescuers Down Under that is going to scare kids, make them nervous around strangers like the Rescuers did for me at 9 years old.

Mcleach traps Marahute but Bernard is left behind with the eggs.  He cleverly hides them from Joanna and just then Wilber shows up.  He says he will not sit on the eggs but there he is at the end of the scene.

Now that Mcleach has Marahute he needs to ‘tie up the loose ends’ meaning get rid of Cody.   All the hope lies in Bernard saving the day.  Jake doesn’t think he can do it but Bianca believes in him ‘you don’t know Bernard like I do.  He will never give up’ .  I like this moment of faith in a tiny mouse under such odds.  It goes with the theme the animators were trying to achieve.

To everyone’s relief Bernard does save the day and turn off Mcleach’s truck and causing him to be thrown into the river.

Marahute saves Cody and before another minute has gone by Bernard proposes to Bianca and she accepts creating our happy ending .

proposal2

with one final word from Wilber sitting on the nest (I just love that guy!).

Wilber sitting on eggsMovie Review/Conclusion-

This movie is the reason why you should always go into a film with an open mind.  Even if you didn’t care for the original, maybe they will fix the problems in the sequel? It’s rare but it does happen, and it happens with Rescuers Down Under.  I loved it!

The voice acting is fabulous.  The comic relief is hilarious.  The Indiana Jones moments are great fun.  The side characters like Jake and Frank are developed and a delight to watch.  The music is perfect even without any songs!

Some of the animation looks a little dated but it is only a shot here, and a shot there.  Most of it looks gorgeous.  The flying scenes totally hold up.  The characters look so much more alive and vibrant than the original and more than anything we had seen in previous films (yes, even more fleshed out and illuminated than Little Mermaid).

The villain is a mean dude but you hardly get any of him, which is perfect.  We know he is a bad guy.  We don’t need to dwell in it till it becomes shrill and unpleasant.  He’s in and out and done.  Maybe not the greatest Disney villain ever but it works for the story.

Bernard and Bianca were a lot of fun this time around, and we got to see way more personality from both, especially Bernard who saves the day!   I loved that.

And Wilber is my new favorite.  He was so funny I could watch his scenes over and over again laughing each time.  The crazy doctors almost reminded me of a Pinky and the Brain skit.  That’s how funny they were.

So, I don’t know if going in with low expectations made this work for me but whatever it is I really liked it.   I can’t imagine a kid not loving this movie.

Overall Grade- A

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Movie 23: The Rescuers

Rescuers_Poster_HQOut of all the pictures I would be rewatching for this project The Rescuers is probably the one I was looking forward to the least.  When the sequel came out in 1990 they re-released the original into theaters and my mother took me.  I didn’t go to many movies as a kid and I saw even fewer scary movies.  That is why The Rescuers and Return to Oz stick out as the most unpleasant movie-going experiences of my young life.

Why you ask?  Because I was 9 and it is about a little girl who is abducted by a ghastly lady, beaten, shot at several times and forced to go down a small cave and told she won’t be rescued if the water comes up.  I mean that is terrifying stuff for a little girl!

medusa-and-pennyI know this movie has its fans but I don’t get it. If you like it please put in the comments below.  I will mention a few things I like but on a whole I think it is just mean spirited.

I honestly do not know what Disney was thinking with this one….

Production-

The Rescuers was released in 1977 just months after Winnie the Pooh (what a contrast! We even get a brief Pooh cameo in the movie).  It was based off of a series of books by Margery Sharp about a mouse named Miss Bianca who solves crimes.  Disney changed it around and made it about a pair of mice who are part of a UN-like organization, the Rescue Aid Society.

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The 70s trend of celebrity voices continued with Eva Gabor returning to Disney animation after the Aristocats and Bob Newhart as Bernard, the high/low society couple who is sent on the case.   They are fine as the voices and Eva’s accent is toned down from the Aristocats. and i didn’t have any trouble understanding her.  She is still kind of a bland socialite but has more spunk and personality than in Aristocats.

It was a landmark movie in many ways for Disney staff.  It was the first movie that Don Bluth (future Disney traitor and competitor) animated, Also first for Glen Keane, Ron Clements and Andy Gaskill who would all be very influential in the upcoming Disney renaissance.

It was also the last film with the legendary 9 old men and Wolfgang Reitherman of Jungle Book fame as director.

However, the most exciting change The Rescuers brought with it is the beginning of the end of the sketchy xerox phase, which although I like some of the movies it is typically in spite of the animation, not because of it.  They had worked on the xerox technology and now outlines could be made in softer tones and not the hard blacks of the sketch movies.

Unfortunately they were clearly working on the technology because sometimes the animation shows it’s weaknesses. In a lot of the scenes you can see a little halo effect on the characters. A white streak that separates them from the background. I did a screen shot below and put arrows so you can see the white lines in many shots.  It seems like a little thing but for a studio like Disney I expect better than Saturday morning animation.

lines
There are also moments where it is clear the backdrop is stationary and the subject is being moved over the background.  It makes it look very cheap and doesn’t have the rich feeling driving a car or a swamp machine should have. It kind of looks like a driving scene from a sitcom in the 50s where you can tell they are in front of a screen in a stationary vehicle.

swamp car
In the scene this vehicle moves around while the background stays the same. It looks so hokey. And a lot of halos around the drawings in this shot. Looks cheap.

For Medusa it is obvious they started with Cruella De vil, even down to her crazy driving.  In my research they even discussed doing a 101 sequel but they decided they didn’t want to do sequels (which is interesting because The Rescuers gets a sequel in 1990).  The thing about Cruella is it was about puppies, and as much as we all love puppies there is a difference between dognapping and kidnapping, at least to me.  What was funny or cooky in Cruella was shocking with Medusa.

medusa3In the world of Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Duggard I don’t think you could get away with a character like Medusa.  I know some people love her antics but I think it crosses a line into mean spirited and terrifying.

Disney had done scary in the past but it had always been in a far away time like with Headless Horseman or with a fantasy world like with the Devil or Pink Elephants on Parade.  Pinocchio would be the next scariest as it is about a little boy but it is still a fantasy world where foxes walk around with cats and people live in whales. I know what I thought when I was 9 and I know what I think now- Medusa is too much.  Kids need to feel secure and safe and they do not need to worry about being abducted and abused in their trip to the Disney theater.

Badly done Disney!

Story-

That said there are some things I like in the film.  The introduction is different for Disney.  Instead of a book or a narrator it has still paintings that tell the story of Penny sending bottles out to get help (another traumatic thought for a little girl sending bottles for help!).

The music was written by Sammy Fain, Carol Connors and Ayn Robbins and sung by Shelby Fint.  It is the first background songs since Bambi and the songs are nice but I’m afraid the singer does not age well.  The voice screams ‘Karen Carpenter wantabee’ and I just don’t care for it.   But, I own that is my personal preference and there is nothing outright wrong with it.  The lyrics and melody are quite good.

Eventually  Penny’s bottle ends up in the United Nations mouse division called The Rescue Aid Society. It is a cute scene.

Bernard and Bianca are put on the case and they have a lovely repertoire together and they are very clever with following the case to Penny’s orphanage where they meet a cat named Rufus who piles on the heartbreaking tale. The poor girl has lost all hope.  Feels unloved.  It’s pretty intense stuff  (this is no Little Orphan Annie plot line here…)

Off they go to find Medusa and her Pawn Shop.  I don’t know if I was thinking of Annie but I thought for years Medusa was voiced by Carol Burnett who is Miss Hanigan in Annie but it is actually Geraldine Page . It is a very grating and shrieking performance without enough humor like a Cruella had.

I think what makes Medusa terrifying in an unpleasant way is it feels like a woman like her could and does exist.  Nothing that happens in the Rescuers except for the mice is that outlandish like skinning 101 puppies or turning children in to donkeys (terrifying as that scene is Medusa could actually happen)

Bernard and Bianca end up at the airport but instead of a plane they take an albatross to the Bayou.  These scenes are very funny with the albatross named Orville voiced by Jim Jordan.  The comic relief is sorely needed in this film.

As they are flying there is some nice animation.

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After some fireworks they arrive at the Bayou and meet some of the local redneck rodents (more comic relief) including a cute firefly named Evinrude

eventrude

We see several scenes of Penny running away, getting caught and getting sent down the cave. It’s all played for alarmingly little comic affect and is cold and shrill. I mean look at the fear in Penny’s face.  That will terrify little girls of strangers for years…

penny's face

There is also a brutal scene where Medusa tells Penny ‘why would anyone want to adopt a homely little girl like you’.  This has to be one of the most heartbreaking images in all of Disney:

sad pennyWe already know she is insecure from the scenes with Rufus so it just is so sad.  Then we get this song, which is devastating:

Even though I hate the singer it is a pretty song but it is just too much.  I was bawling by the end of it and not in the cathartic way a good tragedy invests you.  More in the Nicholas Sparks manipulate the viewer kind of way.  Again a girl is kidnapped, abused, told she is worthless and is crying, which is enough to get me crying and definitely not what I want out of my Disney film.

We do get one of the only instances I can think of where a Disney character prays and it is quite heartfelt and lovely:

penny prayer
We also get our Winnie the Pooh cameo red shirt and all in this scene.

It is after the prayer she meets Bernard and Bianca, and they start scheming to get her out of there.  Unfortunately they are unable to put their plan in the works before another trip down the cave.  This time Medusa threatens to leave her if she doesn’t find the diamond.

After struggles with water and getting diamond out of a pirates skull they, Bernard, Bianca and Penny, find the diamond, and Medusa has her prize:

devils eye penny in cavediamondOf course Medusa immediately turns on them and her henchman Mr Snoops and threatens to kill them all. (Again…nice in our Disney film).   She even takes away Penny’s beloved teddy bear.

medusa with gunLuckily Evintrude and the Redneck clan come help and there is a fun chase sequence that even involves some alligator water skiing.

crew2 waterskiingEventually Medusa is chased up a pole and Penny gets the diamond.  I actually felt with how bad she is we needed to see an arrest at the end of this movie.  Just this shot wasn’t enough for me:

medusa2We do get a nice scene at the end where we learn the diamond is  at the Smithsonian, Bernard and Bianca are a couple and continuing on cases, and Penny has a family and is adopted.

adopted

Movie Review/Conclusion-

So here’s the deal on this movie.  If you can stomach the plot and Medusa than you will like this movie.  I could not at 9 or 33.  It is too much.  It is too real.  It is too cruel.  I don’t like that Penny is abducted to begin with but then told repeatedly she has no value and is unwanted and unloved.  She is yelled at, dehumanized and forced down a cave despite her clear fear multiple times..  I think it is a mean spirited movie, and while I like Bernard and Bianca, their warmth is not enough for me to like the picture.

The music is nice even though I don’t care for the singer.  Some of the animation is good but other parts show their age with the halos and static backgrounds.   At least they were trying to do something different and not just imitating the past like with the Aristocats.

I like there are some messages of faith, prayer, hope and eventual rescue but it is too little too late for me.

So I am going to give this film 2 grades.

If you can tolerate Medusa and the plot C+ but for me personally I give it an D-,  and I never want to see it again.

I do have a notoriously low tolerance for scary movies involving murders, abductions, exorcisms and evil spirits.  So most scary movies I do not care for.  Even some popular comic book villains I am not a fan of. Oh well! Each his or her own.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  What do you think? Can you tolerate such a grim plot, such a cruel villain?