The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Better than the original is almost every way, Hendel Butoy and and Mike Gabriel’s imaginative “The Rescuers Down Under” does not waste a second to dive head-first in its terrific Australian Outback adventure. How could it spare a moment when its running time is just above an hour and ten minutes? It is a movie aimed for children—but not solely for them—that is filled with rousing energy, good-natured jokes, genuine moments of peril, and a cast of memorable characters each imbued with a specific personality.
In under five minutes, it is established that the picture’s goal is to make the audience smile. A boy named Cody (voiced by Adam Ryen) is friends with the local animals and they inform him that a rare golden eagle has been trapped atop a cliff and in need of rescue. A wonderful flying sequence follows which truly captures the magic of being up in the clouds, wind all around, with a majestic vista of the land below. And in the middle of this magnificent, wonderfully animated sequence, the material takes the time to show how the boy and the eagle, named Marahuté, relate to one another.
A masterstroke: Unlike most of the animals we come to meet, Marahuté does not speak. And so animation and the music are required to be on point when it comes to showing specifically what Cody and Marahuté are thinking or feeling during their tender interactions. The picture is adventure overall and yet it is filled with small moments of creatures simply connecting with one another. It is not afraid of slow, quiet moments. When they do come around, they are highly effective—as if they’re critical moments of inhalation before another comic or chase scene.
The villain comes in the form of a poacher named McLeach and he is voiced with dark humor by the inimitable George C. Scott. He has a pet salamander—a reliable source of humor—named Joanna who is not very smart but loves to eat eggs. I enjoyed that every time McLeach and Joanna are on screen, their presence evokes a certain level of menace—appropriate because the screenplay does not shy away from pointing at the fact that they kill in order to survive. McLeach, in particular, is so despicable, he is not above kidnapping and trying to murder an innocent boy in order to achieve his goals: to get rich and to get rid of witnesses.
Another outstanding decision is the voice casting. Eva Gabor voices Bianca and Bob Newhart voices Bernard, the Hungarian and United States representatives of Rescue Aid Society, respectively. Miss Bianca and Bernard volunteer to rescue Cody once word reaches New York City that a boy had been kidnapped. Gabor enhances the refined elegance of Miss Bianca and Newhart injects an earthy and warm quality to Bernard. Together, they make a cute couple without the screenplay relying on the usual romantic tropes. To get to Australia, they recruit an albatross named Wilbur—voiced none other by the legendary John Candy. Yes, he makes Wilbur, already adorably animated, even more huggable. Naturally, Wilbur gets plenty of one-liners.
“The Rescuers Down Under” does not only provide energy, it proves proficient in shaping it depending on the specific mood of scene. There is a sequence here in which we spend time with caged animals desperate to escape their prison. Notice the difference in energy when we first meet them and how it changes once their personalities are revealed. The film is not simply a parade of cute animation; it is firing on all cylinders in order to provide wonderful entertainment with all the high and low points of a memorable story that has something important to say about animal rights and our duty to care for our environment, our planet, our home.