Tuesday, February 9, 2010

#29: The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

Now here's a film that feels completely out of place within the umbrella of the Disney Renaissance, as it is not an epic musical, and feels more like a hold-over that was stuck in development. "Down Under" was made on the (relatively) cheap, and is the only sequel in the official Disney canon (excluding "Fantasia 2000"), made a strangely long thirteen years after the first one. Allegedly there were to be more Rescuers films, but were quickly canceled following Eva Gabor's (Bianca) death. All I can say is at least a positive came from that tragedy.
Bernard and Miss Bianca are off on another rescue mission, this time down in the Australian outback. Cody, a young ragamuffin, is being held hostage by a ruthless poacher McLeach, who wants him to reveal the location of a majestic golden eagle and her eggs. The two mice head down south with the help of albatross Wilbur, brother of Orville from the last movie. Once there they receive help from a debonair adventurer Jake, and the three must track down McLeach's lair and rescue the poor boy before it's too late. I guess.
At the very least I can say that this one improves upon the original, but that isn't saying much. While the first was a drab and dragging mystery of sorts, this one goes more the adventure route, however a lot of the action falls kinda flat. The opening is a bit exciting, with some pretty sophisticated animation with Cody riding the giant eagle. This film was Disney's first to use digital ink & paint, and they clearly did a fine job as I didn't notice that much discrepancy between this and "Mermaid." It also utilizes a lot more CG elements, from zooming down the New York skyline, McLeach's wrangler vehicle and the Sydney Opera house. It's still rough by today's standards, but you can still see a progression.
Although some parts are visually interesting because of the new technical stuff they were trying, most of the movie is pretty much run-of-the-mill. To address the story, we basically have nothing. Bianca and Bernard are such non-characters that rather than try to develop them in the sequel, instead they throw in a bunch of sidekicks and extras. Jake, their guide, is your standard Crocodile Dundee, who tries to horn in on Bianca, much to Bernard's chagrin since he spends the film building up the nerve to propose. But it seems even the filmmakers realized this was uninteresting, so unusually we don't see much of their journey at all. We could have stuck with them and had an epic journey across the outback, but instead we get scenes featuring goofy side characters. First we have Wilbur, voiced by John Candy, who is absolutely irritating and not the least bit amusing, and boy does he get a lot of scenes to pad the film. Similarly, Cody is locked up with a whole bunch of other animals, so we get a scene where they try to break out, which is hijacked by an equally irritating lizard. Most all the humor here falls completely flat, but hey, at least they're trying.
Can we find solace in the villain? Ehhh... a little, I suppose. McLeach is voiced fantastically by George C. Scott, but while he is definitely in complete monster territory by kidnapping and throwing knifes to threaten a little boy, he seems a bit too dim to be treated with such severity (which may make sense, as he admits to only getting up to the third grade). Scenes where he basically spouts exposition don't exactly help, and there's just something about his interactions with Cody that make me question the solidity of his character. I dunno, he just wasn't doing it for me. His little goanne pet Joanna garners some amusement, particularly in the one truly funny scene where he attempts to eat the eagle eggs, and can't figure out that they've been replaced with giant rocks. It's well acted and timed, it's a good minute-and-a-half out of seventy.

Verdict? Though it improves on the first with a swifter pace and more adventurous surroundings, this sequel still suffers from the lack of personalities from our main characters, and the addition of aggravating comic reliefs isn't much help at all. Plus we have another bland Disney kid who I didn't really care if they got rescued or not, and if you find yourself not caring if the rescuers actually rescue someone, then why the hell watch?

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