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Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Rescuers and Its Sequel Showcase Disney's Evolution

Written by Kirk Baird

Released in 1977, The Rescuers is a nearly forgotten film from the waning days of Disney’s “silver age” of animation, and proved to be the last big hit for the studio in a decade-plus to come.

Also overlooked is The Rescuers’ sequel, The Rescuers Down Under, from 1990 as part of the early renaissance days of the Disney, beginning with 1989’s The Little Mermaid. The Rescuers Down Under’s marriage of computer and hand-drawn animation also marked the first project in the partnership between Disney and Pixar.

Both films were recently released in a single Blu-ray combo-film package that also features a few nice extras, most notably a making-of featurette on The Rescuers.

The Rescuers is the story of two mice, brave Miss Bianca (Eva Gabor) and timid Bernard (Bob Newhart), who are members of the international Rescue Aid Society. When the society learns of a young orphan’s desperate pleas for help after being kidnapped, Miss Bianca volunteers to lead the rescue mission. She requests that Bernard, the Rescue Aid Society’s janitor, accompany her. The two mice fly via albatross to the swamp where 6-year-old Penny is being kept by the wicked Madame Medusa (Geraldine Page) and her business partner Mr. Snoops (Joe Flynn). The villainous pair is after the Devil’s Eye, the world’s largest diamond, and they need someone small and slender — like Penny — to retrieve it from a cave.

The film is clever, funny, and offers a nice message of bravery and friendship. There’s also a nostalgic charm to its animation, with the sketches and outlines of characters often still visible frame to frame; in today’s animation, if the characters were even hand-drawn, such early penciled remnants by the artists surely would be digitally erased. Even the songs, performed by Shelby Flint, bring a 1970s vibe.

Watching the films back to back is also a great segue from classic to the new style of animation.

And while The Rescuers Down Under holds up well when compared to its more modern CG brethren, its story and scope also make this a sequel on par with its predecessor. Miss Bianca (Gabor) and Bernard (Newhart) are back, this time on a rescue mission to the Australian Outback to rescue a young boy named Cody abducted by the villainous poacher Percival McLeach (George C. Scott). Cody has befriended a rare golden eagle, which Percival covets as a means to make him rich.

Everything is bigger about The Rescuers Down Under when compared to The Rescuers, including a collection of helpful animals to aid in the rescue: Wilbur the albatross with his aching back (John Candy, who steals the film), the derring-do of Jake the kangaroo mouse, and manic Frank, the frill-necked lizard. The spectacular animation is bigger in scope and depth of field than anything Disney had attempted previously, and certainly pushing the boundaries of what was possible two decades ago.

While neither film is a true animated classic by the Mouse House, they’re excellent second-tier Disney works. And packaged together they make for a fascinating glance back at once was, and what was to come.

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