Tag: eva gabor

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.