Tag: bob newhart

The Rescuers Down Under

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.

The Rescuers

The Rescuers (1977)
★★★ / ★★★★

A little girl named Penny (voiced by Michelle Stacy) inserts a message in a bottle, drops it in the water, and hopes that someone will read her plea for help. She was kidnapped by Madame Medusa (Geraldine Page), along with her henchman, Mr. Snoops (Joe Flynn), because Penny is the only one small enough to fit into a hole on the ground which houses great treasures. Madame Medusa will do absolutely anything to have the Devil’s Eye, a humongous diamond that once belonged to pirates, in her possession.

The bottle is intercepted by Rescue Aid Society, a group of mice from all over the world stationed in the United Nations in New York City. Polished Miss Bianca (Eva Gabor) volunteers to take the case and chooses Bernard (Bob Newhart), the janitor, to go with her.

Based on a series of books by Margery Sharp, part of the appeal of “The Rescuers” is the overflow of fascinating characters, visual-wise or through sheer energy, that never overstay their welcome. From the old and lethargic but loving cat in Morningside Orphanage to the zigzagging dragonfly being chased by hungry bats in the Devil’s Bayou, Bernard and Bianca always have someone to play against in order to get the little girl to safety.

There are some unexpected darkness considering that the film is aimed toward young children. Medusa is a truly nasty villain, one who just might be able to pass as Cruella de Vil’s twin sister. But instead of wanting to kill dogs just so she can wear their fur, Medusa happens to have two pet crocodiles, is comfortable with a shotgun, and likes to force even a child to remain in a dark hole as the tide moves higher and threatens to drown whatever was in its way.

There are also scenes that end up being surprisingly moving. In a flashback sequence, Penny sits on the bed looking completely dejected. When asked by the cat what is wrong, Penny says that she is so excited to be adopted. Instead, the prospective parents choose another orphan in the lineup. The only reason she can think of that they chose the other child is because the lucky girl is more beautiful.

What did not work for me, however, are the songs. None of them are truly memorable. While they communicate a character’s inner turmoil, I would rather have listened to a character speak his or her mind as the little girl does when she expresses her great disappointment to the orphanage’s cat. When the characters speak, I found that the nuances in the voices match the complexities of the hand-drawn facial expressions. The songs often force the audience to look away from faces and turns our focus on the trees, the swamp, or the sky. It should not be this way because the film, directed by John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman, and Art Stevens, is about a little girl who needs to be rescued from crooks.


Elf (2003)
★★ / ★★★★

A baby orphan snuck into Santa Claus’s bag of presents and ended up in the North Pole. The baby was named Buddy and raised by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) and whole-heartedly embraced by the elfin community and strange creatures that lived there. But when Buddy became an adult (now played by Will Ferrell), he became more of a nuisance to the elves due to his size so he traveled to New York City to find his biological father (James Caan). The movie started off with promise because it was creative with its joke about a man who was so out of his element but was blind to the fact. Even more amusing were Buddy’s scenes with people in utter disbelief that he actually believed in Santa Claus with fervor to spare. Ferrell did a wonderful job playing a wide-eyed boy stuck in an adult man’s body. The slapstick comedy worked because kids like to put themselves in physically uncomfortable situations. However, the film failed to reach an emotional peak and establish a resonance like the best movies that took place around Christmas. While Ferrell’s interactions with Caan were amusing, I didn’t feel a genuine connection between the father and the son. When the son hugged with enthusiasm, the father reluctantly put his arm around his son to pat him on the back. There was no real growth between them. Too much of film’s running time was dedicated to the biological father’s challenges at work (which did not add up to much) instead of focusing on the problems at home (Mary Steenburgen as the very accepting wife was a joy to watch). I wish there were more scenes between Buddy and a salesgirl who loved to sing named Jovie (Zooey Deschanel). Farrell and Deschanel may not have chemistry (the film unwisely pushed their relationship to a romantic direction), but watching their friendship grow put a big smile on my face. Jovie always looked sad (which was ironic because I’m assuming her name came from the word “jovial”) and did not like to put herself in potentially embarrassing situations. Buddy was all about attracting all kinds of attention. Nevertheless, they got along swimmingly. While the majority of the film was about Buddy’s attempt of reconnection with the human world, the last twenty minutes was more about people believing in Santa Claus. I was left confused and I thought it was completely unnecessary. Perhaps the filmmakers thought that typing up dramatic loose ends was riskier than generating more pedestrian laughs. I thought the last few scenes were a desperate attempt to cover up weak storytelling. Directed by Jon Favreau, “Elf” had its share of funny and silly moments but its story needed a lot of work. Maybe the elves should have worked on the script so it could have had a bit of magic.