“I didn’t make it all the way through third grade for nothing!”
The Scoop: 1990 G, directed by Hendel Butoy and Mike Gabriel and starring Eva Gabor, Bob Newhart, John Candy, George C. Scott, Tristan Rogers, Adam Ryen, Frank Welker and Bernard Fox.
Tagline: Hang on for the most thrilling ride of your life!
Summary Capsule: Precisely what it sounds like – the Rescuers are back in action, and this time they’re in Australia.
Deneb’s rating: Three out of five great big huge impossibly gigantic eagles.
Deneb’s review: Well, as I promised in my Rescuers review, here’s a review of the sequel. The Rescuers Down Under, ladies and gentlemen.
This is kind of a first for me in several ways. One, it’s the first time I’ve reviewed a sequel – wait, no, that’s not right; Dot and Santa Claus was a sequel. This is the second time that I’ve reviewed a sequel – and as that’s the first time I’ve ever been able to say such a thing, I’ll still count it as a first. (Don’t question me! My logic, it is flawless!)
Second, this is the first time I’ve ever reviewed two films in a series sequentially – and third, though I’ve watched both of ‘em plenty of times before, this is the first time I’ve ever seen both Rescuers movies back-to-back.
That last one is possibly the most significant. Of the two of them, I’m probably most familiar with the sequel – I think I may have seen it first, in fact, and as with all firsts, it fixed an initial preference.
Seeing it directly after the original, however, has given me a fresh perspective that brings its strengths and weaknesses into sharper focus – and as I’m not the sort who’ll let a perspective go to waste, I may as well stop yapping and get on with things. Rescuers Down Under – let’s get goin’.
As with the original, the movie starts out by focusing on the person who’s going to need rescuing. (No, that’s not a spoiler – what else would you expect a Rescuers movie to be about?) Also as before, the person in question is a young child, but this time it’s not a girl – it’s a boy, one Cody by name (Adam Ryen). He lives in a shack with his mother way out in the middle of the Australian Outback.
Cody, as it happens, seems to have been recruited by the local animal population as a sort of prehensile-thumbed agent in the war against poaching. Whenever there’s an animal caught in a trap, they call him in to deal with it. (I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be some sort of nascent Dr. Dolittle or if the general rule in these movies is simply ‘kids can talk to animals, adults can’t.’ The lines are a little blurred, shall we say, and we never get a definite answer.)
On this particular bright sunny day, they’ve called him in to help free a particularly tricky catch – Marahute, the last of the Great Golden Eagles. And when they say “great”, they’re not messing around – this is the biggest freakin’ eagle you have ever seen. She has got to be at least the size of a generously-proportioned hang-glider. This bird could tear apart a grizzly bear if she really wanted to – I mean, we are talking big.
Anyway. Cody does his job, gets Marahute safely back to her nest and eggs, and you’d think that’d be the end of it, wouldn’t you? Not a chance. It seems that one of the nastiest poachers the Outback has ever seen is still at large – and what do you know, here he is! McLeach (George C. Scott), meet Cody. Cody, McLeach. I’m sure you two will have lots to talk about.
As it happens, they do. The man knows his job, and quickly deduces where Cody must have just come from, which immediately sparks his interest. See, there’s a reason why Marahute is the last of her kind – McLeach has already nabbed her mate, and probably made a pretty penny off him, too. Now, if the second-to-last eagle of its species was a lucrative catch, then imagine how much the actual last one would net him? Lots, that’s how much. Lots and lots and lots. All he’s got to do is find the nest.
Only problem is, this particular kid happens to be the resident anti-poacher commando, junior league division, and there’s no way he’s gonna spill his guts to a dirty rotten poacher. So McLeach hauls him off to his hidden lair, where he and his pet Goanna, Joanna, plan to drag the secret out of him by hook or by crook – or, failing those, by knife.
Thankfully though, the local wildlife quickly get word overseas to the mice of the Rescue Aid Society, who are still doing what they do best – rescuing people. The kidnapping of a child naturally being a seriously rescue-worthy situation, they automatically turn the job over to their top agents, Bernard and Miss Bianca (still voiced by Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor).
It’s been a few years since these two went on their first mission together, and by now the two have formed a deep and rewarding professional relationship. Bernard, however, would like to take it a step further than that – he was just at the point of proposing marriage when the Society called them in. As such, he’s none too happy about having to go out on a mission now of all times, but hey, Bianca’s all gung-ho about it, so he can hardly say no. Besides, a mission together allows for plenty of private moments in which he can pop the question, right?
Well, no. Not really. To start with, Orville, their usual ride, has retired or taken up knitting or something – Albatross Air is now run by his brother Wilbur (John Candy), a regular blabbermouth who rarely lets one get a word in edgewise. No chance of a proposal while he’s around, that’s for sure. And when they get to the Land Down Under, the first person they run across is Jake (Tristan Rogers), an adventurous kangaroo rat who knows the outback, knows his stuff, and knows how to get with the lay-deez. He immediately volunteers as their local guide, and proceeds to be all manly and Australian and stuff around Bianca, leaving poor Bernard not only without a chance to talk to her alone, but with a romantic rival in the bargain.
Meanwhile, Cody is not having a nice time of things as McLeach grows increasingly frustrated at his refusal to cooperate. As our heroes dash across the outback at the best speed they can muster, the villain starts planning drastic measures – he’s gonna get that eagle if he’s got to step over Cody’s dead body to do so.
No doubt about it, if ever anyone needed a bit of the old R-E-S-C-U-E, it’s this kid. Will our heroes be in time to save him? Will Bernard ever manage to win back Bianca’s attention with Mr. Manly-Mouse around? Will a random bespectacled scientist show up to point at Marahute and say “Ye gods, it’s huge!” Mmmmay-be. (OK, not that last one.)
As mentioned in my last review, Rescuers Down Under enjoys a rather odd position of respectability, being completely unknown to a large chunk of the public, while at the same time almost completely eclipsing the original in the eyes of Internet culture (or such, at any rate, is my perception). Its die-hard fans, I think, may be loyal to it because they discovered it as kids and rapidly came to think of it as their own – theirs and their friends, no one else’s. In short, for many, it may have been one of the first cult films they ever encountered, and as such, it is dear to their hearts.
So does it deserve that position? Well, yes and no – or possibly the other way round.
Now, then. As I began my Rescuers review with an acknowledgement of its bad points in order to appease its detractors, I’m going to start off this one with an acknowledgement of its good points. ‘Cause no foolin’, folks, I’m about to get just a wee bit grumpy here, and it’s always best to have a bit of sweet before you encounter the sour. (This may not actually work in real life. But it sounds good.)
If there’s one area where RDU is undoubtedly superior to its predecessor, it’s the animation. I didn’t mention this before, since it honestly didn’t affect things one way or another for me, but the original Rescuers was just a wee bit on the cheap side when it came to animation. It was still good animation, very expressive and everything, but it wasn’t great.
RDU’s animation, however, isn’t just great, it’s superlative. Sure, there are a few rough spots here and there where it looks a little dated, but overall, it’s as smooth, detailed and textured as you could possibly hope for; really beautiful stuff. The bits that everybody seems to point to when recommending this film are Cody’s encounters with Marahute, and it’s easy to see why. Flying on the back of a giant eagle? That’s freakin’ awesome, and the animators clearly knew it, because it’s here where the visuals really kick into overdrive. “Exhilarating” would be the word I’d use – they’re just fantastic sequences, and if the whole film was like that, I’d have no qualms about it whatsoever.
The film also sports a cool villain, and features an unusually high level of genuine no-kidding danger for a Disney film, a distinction it shares with its predecessor. It is, if nothing else, certainly a unique entry in the Disney canon, and has some excellent adventure movie cred.
OK, happy fun time’s over. Here’s where I make with the grouchy-grouchy.
Let’s start with something minor. Why is this film set in Australia? The occasional bit of gratuitous Aussie fauna aside, there is absolutely nothing about RDU’s story or characters that demands an outback setting. (And as usual, almost none of these theoretical Australians sport appropriate accents.) It could be set just about anywhere vaguely defined as wilderness, from the Gobi Desert to the Great White North. (Hey, there’s an idea – “The Rescuers in the Yukon”! I’d see it.)
Seriously, though, that’s small potatoes. The main problem I have with The Rescuers Down Under is not the Down Under part – there’s plenty of that, even if there’s no particular reason for it. My problem with The Rescuers Down Under is a lack of the first half of the title.
Let’s get this straight – say what you will about the original Rescuers, but you cannot accuse it of false advertising. It’s called The Rescuers, and it is, indeed, about the Rescuers. The focus of most of the film is on the interaction of Bernard and Bianca, and that’s one of its major strengths – these two little mice just trying to do their job and stay in one piece while they’re at it. This gives it, out of necessity, a rather small-scale sort of feel, but it works – the heart of the film is the character dynamics, and those are developed very well.
RDU, on the other hand, clearly has more ambitious notions. Far from small-scale, it aims for feeling large and sweeping, what with its vast, detailed landscapes and great big giant eagles. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course – a sequel should try to feel like more than just a carbon copy of its predecessor – but they really only achieve that sense of grandeur at the beginning and end of the movie. Those are the giant-eagley bits. In between, you know what we should be getting, but aren’t? Stop and think.
That’s right, it’s the Rescuers. This is a Rescuers movie that really doesn’t care about the freakin’ Rescuers.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, the Rescuers themselves are still just as strong a pair of characters as they ever were. Newhart and Gabor had terrific chemistry back in ’77, and they still have terrific chemistry here. The times when they get a chance to play off each other work very well, giving a real impression of long-time colleagues who are totally comfortable in each other’s presence.
When they do get that chance, that is, which isn’t often. See, there’s Jake. Now, just to make things clear, I like Jake. Tristan Rogers does a good job in the role (he should; he’s the only real Australian in the whole cast), and under the right circumstances, he could have been awesome. He’s basically an old-school adventure hero, something like a cross between Indiana Jones and Crocodile Dundee, and what about that doesn’t sound awesome? Give him a movie to himself, he’d be terrific.
The trouble is, the Rescuers aren’t old-school adventure heroes. Their heroism is of a more reserved sort, and next to Jake’s flashy moves and over-the-top flirtations, they inevitably wind up fading into the background a bit. I mean, seriously, the title characters barely do anything for two-thirds of the movie, and, indeed, only sporadically show up at all. They basically spend most of it in transit trying to reach the friggin’ kid, while Jake shows off his muscles to the sexy lady mouse. Picture, oh, a Hercule Poirot movie that largely consists of him sharing a train compartment with James Bond on the way to a mystery, and you’ll see why this sort of thing is a bad idea.
And then there’s Bernard. Poor, poor Bernard.
Some of you may recall that, in my Top Five Disney Movies That Should Get TV Spinoffs article, I referred to Bernard as “[needing to] be made a little more assertive and sure of himself” before he’d be ready to be a recurring character on TV. I now realize that I must have been thinking of the RDU Bernard when I wrote that, as the two movies could not be more different in their handling of him.
Let’s compare and contrast, shall we? In The Rescuers, Bernard was a worrywart, true, but that was simply an aspect of his character. It was seldom highlighted; the movie established his nervousness and let him be heroic in spite of it. In RDU, however, the poor guy just cannot catch a break – he may technically be just as heroic as in Rescuers, but for most of the movie you’d never know it, because he doesn’t get any chances to show it, and as such comes across as a good deal more timorous than he actually is. This Bernard is the butt of sight gags throughout the whole thing. If there’s water around, he’s going to take a dive. If he might be sent flying, you can bet your booties he will be. Bernard has been turned into comic relief!
Mind you, he does pull out of the spin by the end. In fact, he gets some nicely awesome moments that establish his inner badassery. These are cool, and I appreciate them, but I can’t help but compare them to the original, where he didn’t need them. All throughout the first movie, both Bernard and Bianca are constantly saving each other from peril, and have done so about a million times long before they ever pull off the job they’re there for. And that was their first mission – this is years later! Bernard has earned his hero credentials, dammit! *pounds table* He should be established as an experienced and confident adventurer – a bit nervous at times, sure; a bit on the stuttery side, but considering what a typical RAS mission entails, this guy has been through hell and back a few thousand times by now. Give the man a little dignity, will you? He’s not a clown, and it annoys me that he’s treated as one.
So OK, that’s him – how’s Miss Bianca treated? She’s treated fine – the problem is, she’s treated too fine. She’s treated with kid gloves. True, her character does not suffer the thrashing that Bernard’s does, but really, she has almost nothing to do in this movie. Oh sure, she participates in the action during the climax, but that’s all it is – participation. Bernard gets some great moments, Jake gets some great moments – in point of fact, all the heroes get great moments except her!
Thinking about it now, this smacks of sexism – slightly odd sexism, since she’s, y’know, a mouse, but sexism nonetheless. There are fairly few female characters in RDU, among which she’s definitely the most prominent – and the only thing she does to further the plot is give Bernard someone to try and propose to and Jake someone to waggle his eyebrows at!
I’m sorry, I resent that. This woman is more than simply a beauty whom male mice swoon over, she’s an adventurer in her own right who has managed to hold her own over the course of years worth of equally dangerous missions. To sideline her into merely being one point of a romantic triangle is just plain rude.
By now, some of you may be getting a little impatient with this line of reasoning. “OK, fanboy,” you’re saying (or words to that effect), “cool your jets. It’s very tragic and all that these characters aren’t getting the extra-special treatment you’d give them. Truly. We feel your pain. But for cryin’ out loud, man, this is a separate movie from the last one, after all. It may technically speaking be a lousy sequel, but surely you can give credit to the parts of it that don’t feature the Rescuers? After all, you can’t fault those bits for not being faithful; they’re original by design.”
Well, I’d love to. Really I would. But I’m afraid I have a few issues with those bits, too.
Let’s start with Wilbur. I don’t much care for Wilbur. I know that John Candy is a fondly-remembered comedian these days, and I don’t want to diss the man’s performance, which is honestly fine – it’s just that the character himself annoys me. This bird will not shut up, nor will he go away.
Now, compare Wilbur to his brother Orville from the first film. Orville was funny in an understated sort of way, but he wasn’t a major character – he got the Rescuers where they needed to go, then he skedaddled. And honestly, that was fine – in terms of story, that’s all he needed to do.
The same applies to Wilbur, but does he follow suit? Heck no. I’d be much more willing to tolerate this bird’s blathering if he’d just ship out when his time came to leave, but no – he sticks around for the whole dang movie, and he gets more and more useless as time goes on. To be fair, he does have some good scenes – the bits with the crazy doctor are priceless, though that’s mainly due to the doctor himself – but, at least in my opinion, he way overstays his welcome. Even back when I used to watch this thing all the time, I never much cared for Wilbur – he’s just loud and obnoxious and I’m tired of talking about him. Let’s move on.
So if none of the people doing the rescuing are up to snuff here, then surely at least the rescuee must be worth watching, right? I mean, Cody’s cool, right? He’s a pre-teen animal-protecting vigilante, right? He pals around with a giant eagle, right? There’s no way this kid can’t be awesome, right?
See, the thing is, all that is true. Cody does some cool stuff, but he himself is just… well, kinda bland. There’s nothing wrong with him as a character, but he’s pretty much just a blank slate onto which we’re supposed to project heroic characteristics. Now, this treatment can certainly work – I’m a huge Tintin fan, for example, a character about whom much of the same things have been said – but here, to me, it really doesn’t. He’s a kid, but he doesn’t feel like a real kid. The only real native quality he has is a sort of painfully direct earnestness that, while I suppose it’s admirable and all, just doesn’t come across as the way a real person would react under the circumstances. The only time I can really identify with Cody is when he’s flying around with Marahute, but that’s because those scenes are great in and of themselves – it has nothing to do with him.
OK, now that I’ve gotten all the ranting out of my system (for the moment), you might want to prepare yourself for whiplash. You see, despite all the gripes I have with RDU, I… don’t actually in point of fact hate it.
Yeah, I know. Ow. OW. I did warn you.
Really, the reason I’ve gone into such detail about the film’s problems up ‘til now is that those are the only real issues I have with it. Sure, they’re prevalent issues – I mean, they’re about the characters, and characters tend to be somewhat important – but do they wreck the movie? It’s close, but no.
See, even while these things are annoying me, there are still those giant eagle sequences I keep talking about. There’s still the great animation and lots of action and a nicely-done fleshing out of the world that the Rescuers live in. There’s still that awesomely triumphant theme music, which, come to think of it, I haven’t even mentioned yet, but I just did now, so yeah – there’s still, basically, lots of stuff to keep you entertained throughout this movie.
A fair amount of said stuff can be directly attributed to the villain, and as I’ve already talked about most of the other characters up to this point, I may as well tackle him now. McLeach, as I may have mentioned earlier, is cool. He’s got all the villainous accoutrements you could ask for – a sinister, gloomy lair, a distinctively menacing vehicle (his halftrack truck, which has every gadget an evil poacher could ever need and then some built into it), and, of course, an equally evil pet. The man is surrounded by so much cool stuff that you automatically start taking him seriously – I mean, if this guy’s not the most successful evil poacher in Australia, then how did he get all those nifty things?
Without a good villain to wield it, though, cool evil stuff is just cool evil stuff. Thankfully, a good villain is just what we’ve got here. If you’ve ever seen George C. Scott in Dr. Strangelove, you’ll know that the man could do over-the-top like nobody’s business, and he pulls out all the stops here. McLeach is a masterful creation of the “playing it big” school – he snarls, he grins, he growls, he roars, he bellows with laughter and grits his teeth with rage. Even when he’s being perfectly ordinary, the knowledge that he can fly so spectacularly off the handle at a moment’s notice makes his calmer moments all the more entertaining. Furthermore, his ever-simmering frustration and anger go hand-in-hand with a surprising amount of level-headed pragmatism – this man is a professional, and does nothing without a reason. Oh sure, he enjoys his work – no one sings to himself that much unless he’s having a good time – but his bottom line is the almighty dollar. He would (or so I see it) have been perfectly willing to cut a deal with Cody if he would just cooperate, but since he won’t, he’s going to get what he wants one way or another, and if the kid won’t play ball, that’s just too bad for him.
Backing him up on this, of course, is Joanna, who could have been annoying if mishandled, but turned out to be one of the best characters in the movie. She’s a cringing, thieving glutton who’s equally as nasty as her master, and yet at the same time oddly endearing – maybe because McLeach tends to use her as his personal punching bag, more than once getting so enraged at her that he comes close to blowing her away. She’s far from sympathetic no matter how you slice it, but she’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch – and all without one line of dialogue. Vocal master Frank Welker voices all her chuckles and hisses and snivels, and does an amazing job of it, too.
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the roomful of critters that McLeach has chained up in his lair – none of whom are major characters or really add anything to the story, but they do give us some funny moments. Krebbs (Douglas Seale) is a cheerfully cynical old koala with a nice line in gallows humor, while Frank the lizard (Wayne Robson) just tends to steal the show completely. He’s a hyperactive little guy who has gone completely and utterly stir-crazy, emphasis on the crazy, and has a tendency to leap from ecstatic highs to desperate lows and back again at the drop of a hat. You would not want to share a room with him, but he makes for a memorable character nonetheless.
So, in the final analysis, do I think Rescuers Down Under is better than the first one? In a word, no. Do I think it’s a good film? I think it’s a very well-made film, and an entertaining one despite its flaws – and given the fan-following the movie has, there must be a lot of people who don’t see them as flaws at all – so yeah, I guess I do. Do I think it’s worth watching? I’d have to say yes, at least once, but you should see the original Rescuers first, just to see where these characters came from.
So overall, a recommendation, even if a slightly guarded one. I like it. I don’t love it, but hey, you might. Go ahead and check it out, if you haven’t already.
(Oh, and by the way – poaching is bad, kids. Don’t poach. Not even eggs. They will look at you in your nightmares with sad eggy faces wailing “why did you do it? Whyyyyy?” It’s not worth it.)
- In the original, Bernard is very superstitious about the number 13. RDU came out in 1990, thirteen years after its predecessor.
- While the animators are to be commended for their dedication to realism, I question their decision to give all the mice reflective black eyes except for the main characters and certain select others. Sure, it’s closer to what the eyes of actual mice are like, but it raises some weird questions.
- Normally I’d give the actor playing Cody a break for his American-sounding dialogue, given that child actors aren’t known for their abilities to master foreign accents. Adam Ryen gets no such excuse. Why? Simple – he’s Norwegian!
- Just how did Bernard pull off that last rescue? He’d have to be the strongest mouse in existence!
- When McLeach asks Joanna’s opinion right before hurling a knife at Croc Falls on the map, she snaps an animal cracker in half. The cracker is shaped like a crocodile.
- Jake never walks throughout the film – like a real kangaroo rat, he hops.
- To the list of named nations covered by the RAS we may now add Canada, Morocco, Iceland, Japan, India, Tunisia, and Ethiopia. (Guess they finally realized that Africa really needed more than one agent.)
McLeach: Joanna, ya thick-headed chunk of fish bait!
Wilbur: ‘Kidnapped’? Oh. That, that’s awful! Lockin’ up a little kid… A kid should be free! Free to run wild through the house on Saturday mornings… Free to have cookies and milk – a-an’ get those little white mustaches; you know, where they… Nobody’s gonna take a kid’s freedom away while I’m around; nobody, ya hear me?
Miss Bianca: Does that mean you’ll take us?
Wilbur: Storm or no storm, Albatross Airlines at your service!
McLeach (singing): Oh, you get a line and I’ll get a pole, matey/You get a line and I’ll get a pole, friend/Oh, you get a line, I’ll get a pole/We’ll go fishin’ in the crocodile hole/Buddy, pal o’ mine.
Wilbur: Tie your kangaroos down, sports fans! Here… we… come!
Jake: Wise fly.
McLeach: Breaker-breaker, little mate; I forgot to tell you – around here, you got to be QUIET!
Miss Bianca: Come on, darling! Let’s get a move out!
Krebbs: Oh, there’s a way out, all right.
Everyone: There is?
Krebbs: Absolutely! You’ll go as a wallet, you’ll go as a belt, and our dear Frank…
Frank: No! No! No! I don’t wanna hear!
Krebbs: Frank will go as…
Frank: I can’t hear you! (starts singing ‘Waltzing Matilda’)
Krebbs: …A purse!
Frank: AAAAHHH, NO-O-O-O!
Krebbs: Ooh, a lovely lady’s purse!
Frank: I don’t wanna go as a purse!
McLeach: I didn’t make it all the way through third grade for nothing!
Doctor Mouse: Bring me the Epidermal Tissue Disruptor!
Wilbur: The Epidermal what?!
Bernard: Miss Bianca, from now on, c-can we just take the train?
Wilbur: May I just say ‘enchante, senorita’ to you? May I?
Cody: My mom will call the Rangers!
McLeach: Oh, no! Not the Rangers; what’ll I do? What’ll I do? Don’t let yer ma call the Rangers, please, no! (Both he and Joanna crack up)
Jake: Bloke oughtta have his wings clipped!
Wilbur: Whoaaa, I’ve been skewered!
McLeach: Jo-an-na? Did you know there was a razorback in my truck? Didja? Didja? There was a razorback in my truck!
Bernard: Doesn’t even know how to fold a map…
Frank: Ya-hoo! Howdy, howdy, howdy! Howdy, howdy, howdy!
McLeach (singing): Home, home on the range/Where critters are tied up in chains/I cut through their sides/and I rip off their hides/and the next day I do it again.
Jake: Has anyone considered tryin’ ‘Open Sesame’?
Krebbs: Double or nothin’ he’s caught in five minutes.
Wilbur: Throw another shrimp on the Barbie, girls, ‘cause here I come!
McLeach: I’m gonna kill ‘er! I’m gonna kill that dumb, slimy, egg-suckin’ salamander!
Dr. Mouse: You must relax.
Wilbur: ‘Relax’? I have never been more relaxed in my life! If I were any more relaxed, I’d be dead!
Bernard: Oh, my gosh – I hope I know what I’m doing!
If you liked this movie, try these:
- The Rescuers
- Crocodile Dundee
- Anything with George C. Scott acting crazy