Thursday, November 17, 2011

Disney's The Rescuers Down Under

"By nature I'm an experimenter. To this day, I don't believe in sequels. I can't follow popular cycles. I have to move on to new things" -Walt Disney

Perhaps Walt was turning in his cryogenically frozen pod when the Disney team finally developed a sequel for The Rescuers. As you can tell by the quote, Disney didn't very much like sequels and one can hardly blame him. In animation and in live action movies there seems to be a drop off point in quality after the original movie. There are rare exceptions like The Dark Knight and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but for the most part there are stink burgers like Oceans 12, Spiderman III, and Grease II. Hollywood attempts to ruin perfectly good movies by adding unnecessary episodes to them, but was it this way with Disney? In my opinion, Disney has done this many times, with only a few exceptions. The three canon sequels, The Rescuers Down Under, Fantasia 2000, and Winnie the Pooh are all great. Disney knows which ones to release on video only and which ones to release in theaters. Though they have strayed away from releasing many sequels on the big screen, Disney has released a ton on video. Thirty-seven to be exact. I'll admit that I've only seen a few of these video sequels, but the ones I did see weren't terrible. Granted, they were the two Aladdin sequels and the sequel to Lion King. Lion King II was alright. Not up to par with the first one of course, but it was entertaining. Aladdin II and III were awesome films if I'm remembering them correctly. They were the first ones to be released as video sequels and it seemed that everyone had seen them. Since then however, Disney has released a sequel for basically every movie it's ever made. Since I haven't seen them, I cannot say that I know they are terrible, but from a general consensus and the number of petitions that people have started to ask Disney to stop making sequels makes me think they might be crummy. So Walt Disney may of had a point when he said numerous times that he wouldn't do sequels as long as he was alive. Some movies just work better on their own.

As evidenced by Oliver & Company, this wasn't the first time that Disney had tried to make a sequel out of The Rescuers. The movie had made a lot of money for the studio and they were convinced that people would come in droves to see the continuing adventures of Bernard and Bianca. When the Oliver & Company idea didn't work, they put the sequel idea away for a few years. After the amazing success of The Little Mermaid, perhaps the Disney head honchos felt they could afford to take a gamble and finally make a sequel. So they already had the main characters figured out, but what scenario would excite audiences? Anyone will tell you that one of the most important parts of the story is the setting. The setting determines a lot of what will happen in the story just for the fact that different environments cause different things to happen. So what setting should this Rescuers movie be in? They already did the South, and the city motif was rejected earlier. Then Disney remembered that a short time earlier, America had went through a love affair with all things Australia. After the release of Crocodile Dundee, America couldn't get enough of Australian culture. Disney didn't bother to check and see if the love was still there and determined that if the setting was in Australia, people would come and see it.

Since the technology wasn't up to par for The Little Mermaid, Disney couldn't release a film that was completely made digitally until this movie. The CAPS process, or Computer Animation Production System, made hand painted cels obsolete by digitally inking and painting cels. "The animators' drawings and the background paintings were scanned into computer systems instead, where the animation drawings are inked and painted by digital artists, and later combined with the scanned backgrounds in software that allows for camera positioning, camera movements, multiplane effects, and other techniques." This made production time a lot less. Disney could now churn out a movie a year like they wanted to since they had the technology. CGI was also present in the film, such as the opening field sequence, McLeach's truck, and the high flying sequences with Cody and Marahute, the golden eagle. In other words, this film looks awesome. The eagle scenes are incredible on the small screen, but I imagine they would be even better on the big screen. I honestly cannot remember if I saw this one in theaters. Even if I did go I doubt I paid much attention to how cool the animation looked. It was probably all, "Oooh! Big birdy!" and "Kangamaroos!" One thing that distinguishes this movie from the rest of the Disney Renaissance is the fact that it has no songs. I can't really blame Disney on this one, as I can't see where they would of fit them in.

The movie brings back the pair of Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor. It's fun to see them again in a movie, especially since that was Eva's last performance before she died in 1995. Helping Bernard and Bianca throughout the film is Jake the kangaroo rat, voiced by Australian native Tristan Rogers, and Wilber the albatross, voiced by the hilarious John Candy. In what I think is one of the best casting calls that Disney has ever made, they had the villain McLeach voiced by the gravelly voiced George C. Scott, best known for playing Patton in the eponymous movie. Scott was a hugely talented actor and he wasn't a slouch as a voice actor either. Though McLeach is not one of the more popular or well known Disney villains, he still steals the show throughout the movie. Here is a disclaimer for the rest of Disney movies that I will cover: Frank Welker does all the animal voices. By that I mean that any animal that is present and doesn't actually talk is voiced by Welker. I've mentioned him before but this man is the animal voice person. Any cartoon show or movie with animals in it that make a lot of noises, chances are that he's doing the sounds. He's been in everything. Seriously, check out his wikipedia page or imdb. He is probably best known for voicing Freddy on Scooby Doo, something he has done since the premiere in 1969. Welker does Marahute and Joanna the egg hungry goanna in this film. I watched the film the other day to refresh my memory on some of the storyline and realized that the nursemice sound an awful lot like Minnie Mouse. Turns out I was right, as they were voiced by Russi Taylor, the long time voice of Minnie Mouse and spouse of Wayne Allwine, who voiced Micky until his death in 2009. So yes, Mickey and Minnie were married in real life.

The Rescuers Down Under was released in fall of 1990 to an opening weekend box office earning of $3.5 million. That was way below expectations so Katzenberg decided to pull all advertising for the movie. While he probably saved some money by not paying for additional advertising, I can't help but wonder if the movie would have done better in the long run had he kept them. Without advertisment after it's release, the movie only went on to gross a measly $27 million with an additional $47 million from overseas. Nothing to sneeze at, but it ended up being the least profitable animated movie Disney released in the 1990's. Critics found the movie to be so-so. Roger Ebert found the movie to be fun to watch, especially the eagle flying scenes. Many critics hailed it as great animation and beautifully drawn. Others found the setting to be a little bit lame. As it turned out, America was done with the whole Australia craze by the time 1990 came around. Some critics argued that the story could have taken place anywhere and the Australian setting wasn't all that important to the underlying plot. Others claimed that the Rescuers were not in it enough, not coming in until a third of the way through the film and not doing anything to help the boy until the very end. This is all nitpicking and sour grapes if you ask me. I like the movie a lot and I got a lot of joy out of seeing it again. Wilbur is great comic relief throughout the movie and I found the love triangle to be fun to watch. Watch it again if you haven't seen it in awhile and you too will realize that not only is it a great movie, but also that Bernard technically kills McLeach in the end. That's right.....a mouse kills a dangerous poacher.

1 comment: