My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.
Title: The Rescuers Down Under (1990; based on characters created by Margery Sharp)
The Plot: Two mice set off to the Australian outback, to rescue a young boy who's been kidnapped by an evil poacher.
A Little History: Disney had previously attempted a sequel to The Rescuers during the mid-1980s, but couldn't decide on a workable plot (see Oliver & Company). High production costs on The Little Mermaid and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, however, forced the studio to fall back on sequel plans, in hopes that audiences would flock to see already-established characters. Of the 415 team members who worked on the film, five artists travelled to Australia to research and effectively capture the harsh, natural feel of the outback. This was the second Animated Classic - after The Black Cauldron - not to feature any musical numbers (though composer Bruce Broughton does reference the "Rescue Aid Society" theme from Part One). Orville the albatross (voiced by John Candy) replaces brother Wilbur, who figured prominently in the original film; both characters are named after the Wright brothers, famed inventors of the world's first airplane. The Rescuers Down Under grossed only $3.5 million its opening weekend, and finished with $47 million worldwide. It was considered such a disappointment that Disney discouraged all plans for future sequels. In countries where the term "Down Under" has no meaning, the movie's title was changed to Bernard And Bianca In The Land Of The Kangaroos.
How It Broke New Ground: The first animated sequel released by Disney. Also the first animated feature to be completed entirely within the digital realm. Though Disney's The Little Mermaid had utilized Pixar's Academy Award-winning CAPS system for its final sequence, The Rescuers Down Under uses this process exclusively. CAPS (Computer Animation Production System) is a revolutionary technique by which artists' drawings are scanned into a computer and painted digitally, thus eliminating the need for hand-inking. This helped save a great deal on money and time. Once colored, the animation was combined with background paintings and could be programmed to mimic complex camera movement and multiplane effects. The final composite was then scanned back onto film.
How It Holds Up Today: The Rescuers Down Under comes at an odd point in Disney history. Released just one year after the revitalizing success of The Little Mermaid, it also hearkens back to a time when the studio still struggled to find its creative footing in the wake of Walt's death. The original Rescuers is far from classic – it's ugly, borderline unpleasant, more in tune with the cynical 70s than with Disney's rich and cultured past. I liked the voices, though – Zsa Zsa Gabor as the sweet and sensual Bianca, and Bob Newhart as her high-strung companion Bernard, were bright spots in an otherwise dull and dreary adventure. What a pleasure, then, to report that both characters survive the 13-year gap with their dignity intact, and the change in location from swampland to the Australian outback frees up the animation to all sorts of pictorial possibilities. The colors are brighter, the visuals are lush and three-dimensional (the opening 15 minutes play like a sizzle reel for the newly-invented CAPS system), and I really like the humor this time out, including some choice bits of physical comedy. All that's missing is a strong and unifying plot - here, it's boy goes missing, Rescuers set out to find him, Rescuers find him, and out. After the wonders of The Little Mermaid, that feels like a bit of a letdown.
Hold tight, Disney fans – there's more to come. Need to play catch up? Click on the following for: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun And Fancy Free, Melody Time, The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady And The Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred And One Dalmatians, The Sword In The Stone, The Jungle Book, The AristoCats, Robin Hood, The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh, The Rescuers, The Fox And The Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver & Company, and The Little Mermaid. Please comment!