You don't want to know what Judge Patrick Bromley has down under.
Our review of The Rescuers, published June 16th, 2003, is also available.
Two tiny heroes. Two big adventures!
Two movies from Walt Disney's "lesser" periods arrive on one double feature Blu-ray to remind us that good things sometimes come in HD packages.
Facts of the Case
The Rescuers of the movie's title are two tiny mice: Miss Bianca (Eva Gabor, Green Acres) and former janitor Bernard (Bob Newhart, Cold Turkey), agents of the Rescue Aid Society, who are called upon to rescue a young girl, Penny. She's an orphan who has been kidnapped by Miss Medusa (Geraldine Page, The Beguiled) so that she can travel down a hole to retrieve the biggest diamond in the world, called The Devil's Eye. To get her back, they'll have to contend with angry bats, hungry alligators and the dangers of Devil's Bayou.
In The Rescuers Down Under, Miss Bianca and Bernard travel to Australia and teaming up with Jake, a kangaroo mouse and the Rescue Aid Society's Australian operative, to rescue Cody, a boy who has been captured by poachers on the hunt for a giant eagle named Marahute. Will they be able to save him? Will they prevent evil hunters from killing Marahute? Will Bernard ever be able to propose to Miss Bianca?
Both the late '70s and early '90s were a strange time for Disney animation. Neither really constitutes one of the company's "golden ages," and while they were consistently turning out movies every couple of years, they are, for the most part, the B-level classics. In the '30s and '40s, we got Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio and Bambi. In the '70s, we got The Aristocats and Robin Hood and The Rescuers—charming movies all, beloved by many, but hardly up to the level of Disney's output in earlier decades.
The early '90s (more specifically 1990, which, let's face it, might as well be the '80s) was the start of a renaissance for Disney. The Little Mermaid had come out in 1989, and the studio was on the verge of putting out a string of new classics and huge, huge box office hits: Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. But stuck between The Little Mermaid and that second Golden Age is The Rescuers Down Under, a cute but slight sequel to a cute but slight original and, to the best of my knowledge, Disney's only real attempt at sequelizing one of their properties prior to Pixar and, even more so, before discovering the gold mine that is the DTV sequel (with which they've now flooded the market and permanently tarnished their brand). If The Rescuers Down Under had been one of Disney's direct-to-DVD movies, it would be on of the best of that genre. Because it was a theatrical release, it remains slight and somewhat forgettable—an interesting footnote right before the studio found its legs again.
There's a lot to like in 1977's The Rescuers, from the relationship between the two main characters, Bernard and Bianca, to the perfect voice work of Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor to the idea that it's possible to be brave and noble regardless of size. I have no idea who came up with the notion to base an entire movie around mice who help people, but it makes for a good metaphor. It's not without its share of problems—the pacing is a little slack, mostly because the story could have used some working out. There just isn't enough in the movie to fill its (admittedly short) 78-minute run time, and things get a bit padded as a result. It's probably that more than anything that has prevented The Rescuers from achieving A-list classic status. But there's something oddly poetic about a little movie that's underestimated and often ignored, even if it does have a great big heart.
The Rescuers Down Under is even more problematic. In many ways, it's a more entertaining movie, probably because it came 13 years after the original and cultural tastes had changed. Things had to move more quickly. Be louder. More "exciting." Down Under does all those things, but loses some of the sweetness and character interplay that makes the first movie special. The animation is often beautiful, with gorgeous Australian landscapes that look stunning even on home video (and which I'm sure were even more impressive on the big screen), but the movie feels a little shallow. It's not at the level of Saturday morning cartoons the way later DTV Disney movies would be, but it also never really feels like anyone bothered to figure out why they should make a sequel to The Rescuers. The characters are good, sure, but so are most of Disney's characters. Why do Bernard and Bianca deserve a second go-around but the Aristocats don't? The movie just needed to find more to say that wasn't already said—and better—in the original. So go sequels, I suppose.
Both The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under arrive on a single double feature Blu-ray courtesy of Disney, a studio that knows how to do right by the movies in HD. The films are presented in their original 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratios in full 1080p HD and look very good: they're clean (though The Rescuers shows some dirt and scratches) and colorful and well-preserved, and the image quality of neither film ends up hindered by the fact that they're housed on the same disc. The Rescuers Down Under probably looks better of the two, because it's more recent and had some more cutting-edge tools at its disposal. I kind of like the look of the '70s animation in the original movie, though, and the Blu-ray does a nice job of presenting both movies just how they should look.
The features both receive lossless DTS-HD audio tracks, too, and, again, the advantage goes to the sequel by virtue of technological advances that were available in 1990 that weren't in 1977. Dialogue is clear on both, the songs sound good and there's a surprising liveliness in the surround channels that make the movies feel even more engaging. Again, I find myself more drawn to the audio in The Rescuers because it recreates that original mono feel, but the audio offering on both movies is excellent.
The special features are something of a letdown, though, and it's here that the disc falls short. There's a deleted song from The Rescuers called "Peoplitis," presented only in audio form over some storyboards, a 1936 animated short Three Blind Mouseketeers, a sing-along feature, and a standard making-of featurette circa 1990 for The Rescuers Down Under. While its connection to The Rescuers is tenuous, the best bonus feature is a 30-minute Disney documentary on water birds. Not enough of the supplemental section is devoted to supplementing the movies themselves, but I like all of the historical pieces that Disney includes. It offers a sense of where the studio has been.
Two standard definition DVDs have also been included: one containing The Rescuers and one containing The Rescuers Down Under. The bonus features are also included there, but split up across the two discs.
Both The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under are cute, engaging movies worthy enough of owning even if they're not classics on the level of Peter Pan. What's more interesting about them, though—and what makes them good additions to the library of animation or Disney collectors—is the context in which they fit within the Disney catalogue. It's great that the studio is making all of its movies available on Blu-ray, and the decision to put both The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under on a single disc instead of milking customers for two separate purchases is a classy one.
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• Deleted Song
Scales of Justice, The Rescuers Down Under
Perp Profile, The Rescuers Down Under
Distinguishing Marks, The Rescuers Down Under
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