Looking back on this review from the first semester of our radio movie review program, I’m pretty sure I can spot where I was bluffing. Putting together Oliver & Company and The Little Mermaid as equal titles in Disney Animation’s Hail Mary revival at the cusp of the nineteen-nineties (there was talk of the studio getting out of the cartoon game following major underperformers, with The Black Cauldron usually cited as the film that almost brought about the end of “the Mouse House”) suggests I probably hadn’t yet seen the film that crucially brought Alan Menken and Howard Ashman into the fold. It’s also possible I was simply misguided about the overall value of The Little Mermaid at the time, an oversight I eventually corrected. An aberration among the musicals that fully revived Disney’s fortunes in the nineties, The Rescuers Down Under is often forgotten. It might not stand up to the classics that bookend it (preceded by The Little Mermaid, followed by Beauty and the Beast), but it’s a fine film on its own merits. A good friend recently reminded me of that.)
The latest animated release from Walt Disney Studios wastes absolutely no time in presenting the audience with something amazing. The first image of the film is of an Australian field with a tiny shack far away on the horizon. This image is held onscreen for just a moment before you begin racing toward the shack, like an eagle swooping down just inches above the plant life. It’s a daring, impressive beginning to a highly entertaining adventure.
THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER is Disney’s twenty-ninth full-length animated feature and the follow-up to the 1977 release THE RESCUERS. The Rescuers are members of the International Rescue Aid Society, a New York-based organization that is run by mice who respond to emergency situation, particularly when children are involved. This time out, they get called into Australia to help a boy named Cody. Cody has been captured by a poacher named McLeech who is in search of Cody’s best friend, a giant golden eagle. The Rescue Aid Society puts its best two agents on the case, Bernard and Miss Bianca. Bernard’s voice is provided by Bob Newhart and Bianca comes from Eva Gabor in a pair of wonderful voice characterizations. Credit must also be given to Tristin Rogers from TV’s “General Hospital” for lending his Australian accent to Jake, a kangaroo mouse, and George C. Scott for sounding terrifically nasty as McLeech.John Candy rounds out the star list as Wilber, an albatross who provides the transport to the Land Down Under. He’s funnier here than he’s been in his last five live-action roles combined.
THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER is filled with delightful, charming comedy in the interplay between the characters, and a scene-stealing lizard named Joanna who is central to one of the funniest sequences of the film as she steals eggs away from her master, McLeech. It’s also surprisingly effective as an action-adventure release, consistently exciting and entertaining. As far as the animation goes, there’s still no one out there who does it as well as the Walt Disney Company. They’ve been on quite a roll the past few years with releases like “Oliver & Company” and “The Little Mermaid,” and this latest effort can be held up proudly with the invigorating, innovative work they’ve been producing.
And, as if that weren’t all enough, there is also a twenty-three minute Mickey Mouse feature preceding the release, a retelling of the the classic tale THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER. Here, Mickey takes on the title roles as Goofy, Pluto, Donald Duck, and the Weasels from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” show up to fill supporting roles. It, like the feature it precedes, is a solid, effective piece of entertainment. Most of the filmmakers producing movies aimed at adults should go see THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER. And they should take notes.
(3 and 1/2 stars, out of 4)