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The Rescuers (35th Anniversary Edition) & The Rescuers Down Under: 2 Movie Collection Blu-ray + DVD Review

The Rescuers (1977) movie poster The Rescuers

Theatrical Release: June 22, 1977 / Running Time: 77 Minutes / Rating: G

Directors: John Lounsberry, Wolfgang Reitherman, Art Stevens / Writers: Margery Sharp (suggested by The Rescuers and Miss Bianca); Larry Clemmons, Ken Anderson, Frank Thomas, Vance Gerry, David Michener, Ted Berman, Fred Lucky, Burny Mattinson, Dick Sebast (story)

Voice Cast: Bob Newhart (Bernard), Eva Gabor (Miss Bianca), Geraldine Page (Madame Medusa), Joe Flynn (Mr. Snoops), Jeanette Nolan (Ellie Mae), Pat Buttram (Luke), Jim Jordana (Orville), John McIntire (Rufus), Michelle Stacy (Penny), Bernard Fox (The Chairman), Larry Clemmons (Gramps), James MacDonald (Evinrude), George Lindsey (Rabbit), Bill McMillian (TV Announcer), Dub Taylor (Digger), John Fiedler (Owl)

Songs: "The Journey", "Rescue Aid Society", "Tomorrow Is Another Day", "Someone's Waiting for You"
The Rescuers Down Under (1990) movie poster The Rescuers Down Under

Theatrical Release: November 16, 1990 / Running Time: 77 Minutes / Rating: G

Directors: Hendel Butoy, Mike Gabriel / Writers: Jim Cox, Karey Kirkpatrick, Byron Simpson, Joe Ranft (screenplay); Margery Sharp (characters)

Voice Cast: Bob Newhart (Bernard), Eva Gabor (Miss Bianca), John Candy (Wilbur), Tristan Rogers (Jake), Adam Ryen (Cody), George C. Scott (Percival C. McLeach), Wayne Robson (Frank), Douglas Seale (Krebbs), Frank Welker (Joanna, Additional Special Vocal Effects), Bernard (Chairmouse, Doctor), Peter Firth (Red), Billy Barty (Baitmouse), Ed Gilbert (Francois), Carla Meyer (Faloo, Mother), Russi Taylor (Nurse Mouse)

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In between Walt Disney's 1966 death and the animation renaissance that began in the late 1980s, Walt Disney Animation Studios experienced a dark age. More than anything else, this period of around twenty years was marked by unproductivity.
Disney's signature canon of animated features grew by just four in the 1970s and one of those simply compiled existing shorts. The studio got by on a full slate of live-action comedies and regular theatrical reissues of their greatest animated hits. The company also had a good deal of money coming in from the theme parks, specifically the newly-opened Walt Disney World in Florida.

It's easy to understand why 1977's The Rescuers today stands as one of the studio's most obscure features. It's not a bad movie. If there was no such thing as Disney animated films outside of this one, it'd be hailed as a special kind of entertainment. When placed in the long tradition that began with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, however, and compared to such works as Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty, and The Jungle Book, The Rescuers seems considerably more ordinary and unspectacular.

Hungarian Rescue Aid Society representative Miss Bianca charms janitor Bernard with a spray of her perfume. Penny is forced to perform frightening searches for the Devil's Eye by her nasty captor Madame Medusa.

It is a fairly simple and low-key film, one that doesn't excel in any of the ways that Disney's best often do: by music, comedy, story, characters, or visuals. "Suggested by" the first two books in English author Margery Sharp's series of children novels, The Rescuers opens in a dark swamp with a little girl in danger. The girl is an orphan named Penny and her call for help via message in a bottle is received by the Rescue Aid Society, an international organization of mice that convenes inside the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.

Hungarian representative Miss Bianca (voiced by Eva Gabor) offers to embark on a rescue mission. For her partner, she chooses Bernard (Bob Newhart), the Society's shy, superstitious janitor. The two piece together clues, beginning with a visit to Penny's home, the Morningside Orphanage, and proceeding by albatross flight to Devil's Bayou, where Penny is being held by her captors, red-haired pawn shop owner Madame Medusa (Geraldine Page) and her clumsy bespectacled partner in crime Mr. Snoops (Joe Flynn). The two crooks see little Penny as their way to retrieving the world's largest diamond, the Devil's Eye, from the narrow pirate caves where it is believed to be buried.

On paper, that sounds like some terribly dark subject matter. In execution, though, The Rescuers is comparable to any Disney talking animal cartoon, which is all that the studio had been making for some time. That this is a mystery, set in modern America, and stars mice modeled after their famous voice actors distinguishes this entry somewhat. But none of that makes this stand out the way that, say, a maniacal pirate or stolen puppies or a whimsical world render earlier Disney pictures unforgettable. There aren't quite enough Disney animated films where we should be able to take any for granted, but people do and The Rescuers' so-called dark age is precisely the era that tends to get overlooked. Movies like this, The Aristocats, and The Fox and the Hound are not yet old enough to be sacred, but also not new enough for today's teens to have grown up with.

Dragonfly Evinrude tires from the leaf boat ride on which he leads Bernard and Bianca.

The Rescuers does have plenty of sweetness and tact going for it. At the same time, it's not very picturesque and bogged down with songs that have an extremely dated sound to them. Some of that may discourage people from seeing this. Those who do watch it are likely to find it pleasing, if not terribly memorable. Though childhood nostalgia is certainly a factor to consider, the film boasts a quite respectable IMDb user rating of 6.9, which bests Saturday Night Fever, Smokey and the Bandit, and New York, New York among higher-profile fellow 1977 releases.

Watch a clip from The Rescuers:


Though the dates are open to some interpretation, Disney's animation renaissance of the '80s and '90s generally refers to at least four movies: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. The only other animated film Disney released between 1989 and 1994 was The Rescuers Down Under, the one outlier that no one has ever argued including among the others.

The Rescuers Down Under would be an unusual project anytime. It was the animation studio's first sequel and clearly not commissioned out of any perceivable demand. The Rescuers had performed adequately in theaters; it grossed a little more than some of the year's live-action Disney films (Freaky Friday, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo) and a little more than what most of the era's animated reissues were earning. But box office success could not have been a motivating factor. Disney had enjoyed plenty of smash hits over the years, from Snow White to Cinderella to Mary Poppins. None of those glowing receptions led the studio to defy Walt's oft-cited anti-sequel quote "You can't top pigs with pigs" (though he did try on a number of Three Little Pigs sequels).

A more reasonable explanation for Down Under's existence lies in the nature of the characters. Rescuing Penny was but one of countless adventures for Bernard and Bianca, a fact clearly spelled out by them getting a new assignment at the end of the original movie. While Margery Sharp's book series had concluded at nine novels with 1978's Bernard Into Battle, Disney didn't feel it necessary to adapt another of those, instead giving us an original adventure set in the Australian Outback.

Poacher Percival C. McLeach has a golden eagle feather of his own, supposedly from the father of Marahute's babies. Cody finds himself sharing a cage with Marahute.

This follow-up opens with an impressively three-dimensional swoop over a field that demonstrates some of the progress that animation has seen in the past thirteen years. Down Under makes occasional use of CGI, as a few of the studio's previous productions had. Some of it is quite sophisticated, while other implementations have the blocky, geometric look associated with the medium pre-Pixar.

The film is in no rush to establish itself as a sequel. It lets eighteen minutes pass before Bernard and Bianca appear, treating them more like characters serving a story than endearing personalities you can't wait to revisit. Those eighteen minutes are spent establishing the mission.
The Penny of this tale is Cody, an adventurous boy who in the opening moments frees Marahute, a trapped giant eagle who then proceeds to save his life and give him a feather to remember her by. Marahute has eggs about to hatch and the entire family has the interest of poacher Percival C. McLeach (voiced by Patton's George C. Scott).

Cody runs afoul of McLeach, falling into one of his traps. With help from his assistant, a large lizard named Joanna (naturally voiced by Frank Welker), the poacher kidnaps the boy, placing him alongside his other illegally captured exotic animals until the boy reveals the location of Marahute and her eggs.

When apprised of the situation, the Rescue Aid Society assigns the case to two of its finest agents: Bernard and Miss Bianca (reprised by Newhart and Gabor). They get a rambunctious flight from an albatross named Wilbur (John Candy), the brother of the first film's Orville. In Australia, they're joined by Jake (Tristan Rogers), a mouse whose eye is caught by Bianca and who volunteers to be the pair's guide.

Know-it-all Australian guide mouse Jake stands in the way of Bernard and his marriage proposal for Miss Bianca.

Down Under divides its screentime more evenly, spending as much time with Cody and his animal fellow prisoners as with the mice. It also develops McLeach and Joanna, while allowing Wilbur to stick around. While the bird's unwanted medical treatment adds nothing, it ensures he can stick around and help out the mice, providing some of the comedy that comes naturally to Candy.

Save for McLeach's update to make "Home on the Range" his poaching anthem, there are no songs in this movie. Accordingly, it feels less dated, although you still detect a turn-of-the-'90s animation vibe. Interestingly, it's not much like the musicals Disney made before and after, but more comparable to the types of cartoons other studios were increasingly making at the time, like Don Bluth's The Land Before Time and the subsequent Ferngully: The Last Rainforest. It's interesting to ponder what direction Disney animation might have taken if the public hadn't wholeheartedly embraced their smash hit Broadway-fashioned musicals.

With a gross of $27.9 million, The Rescuers Down Under took a step or two backwards for Disney following the larger returns of Oliver & Company and The Little Mermaid. Nonetheless, Down Under now has a reputation on par with the film it follows. It is one of the few sequels that does not have a much lower IMDb average rating than its predecessor; currently, just one-tenth of a point places the original ahead of this.

Watch a clip from The Rescuers Down Under:

The two Rescuers films were among the few non-anthology Disney animated classics to only receive a single release on the DVD format. That suggests that they aren't huge sellers, not even on the order of fellow Dark Age productions such as Aristocats, Fox and the Hound, and even The Black Cauldron. Nonetheless, the films became likely candidates for prompt Blu-ray treatment for several reasons.

This year, Disney spontaneously decided to stop dragging its feet on catalog Blu-ray releases. They haven't exactly opened the floodgates, but the past few months has since them acknowledging that they did make movies before 2000, even (gasp!) live-action ones without Disney branding. Animated films have always been Disney's strongest sellers, which explains why they still put out new editions of even mid-level titles while otherwise abandoning the catalog market. Finally, the past couple of years have revealed Disney to be a great believer in the 2 Movie Collection; two related movies on one Blu-ray, often with each film also presented on DVD. They did it for The Fox and the Hound and its cheapquel last summer and this year have extended the privilege to the Father of the Bride, Princess Diaries, and Sister Act films, a benefit of each series stopping short of a trilogy. With even direct-to-video sequels getting released this way, a Rescuers double feature was inevitable. And it happens on Tuesday, via one of an unprecedented five Disney animated catalog Blu-ray combo packs hitting store shelves.

The Rescuers & The Rescuers Down Under: 2 Movie Collection Blu-ray + DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.66:1 Widescreen (DVDs Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: DTS-HD MA 5.1 (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: August 21, 2012 / Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 2 DVD-9s)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as 2 Movie Collection DVD ($29.99 SRP) and in DVD case ($39.99 SRP)
Previously released on DVD: The Rescuers (May 20, 2003) and The Rescuers Down Under (August 1, 2000)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Rescuers' Blu-ray improves upon its fairly unsightly DVD, but still falls far short of perfection. The 1.66:1 presentation is soft and dark, which is probably true to its original design. While the element remains clean (save for the occasional speck), detail and clarity are not what we expect from Disney's pristine restorations of their animated classics. There are times when some parts of the picture look better than others, suggesting issues that date back to the original filming of cels.
When Penny is being lowered into the well, for instance, she looks noticeably off. Also, edges of characters do not always gel smoothly with their surroundings. You definitely cannot accuse Disney of over-restoring the film. But some will dismayed that they didn't more than they did, knowing that this is probably the only Blu-ray the film will get.

Also presented in 1.66:1, The Rescuers Down Under likewise leaves plenty to be desired. Its colors are not nearly as vibrant as films from the same era treated to Disney's Platinum and Diamond Edition restorations. The element is clean, but soft. In fact, it doesn't look all that much better than a good DVD. It's fascinating to think that Disney assesses its catalog and decides things like "Don't put too much effort into those movies. They're not nearly as popular as these ones." Still, it's safe to say that both films look the best they ever have on home video.

There are fewer concerns regarding the movies' 5.1 DTS-HD master audio, which does not dramatically remix them from the simpler original formats. On the original movie, sound is clear and songs add some pizzazz, but there isn't much to say about the relatively low-key audio presentation. Down Under's mix is more robust and spacious, offering a fully satisfying 1990 animated film soundtrack.

A bear at the zoo voiced by Louis Prima sings the newly-uncovered deleted song "Peoplitis." Three Blind Mouseketeers don't need sight to slice up meat in this 1936 Silly Symphony short.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The set's first and most noteworthy bonus feature is the newly-unearthed deleted song "Peoplitis" (4:41, HD) created for The Rescuers. Ron Clements, an accomplished Disney director who did character animation on this film, introduces this clip, which features a demo recording and concept art from this musical number axed early in production. The scene features a zoo bear (voiced by Louis Prima) singing about the curious habits of people. It's an interesting scat-infused work reminiscent of King Louie's Jungle Book song, though it's clearly both inessential to and incompatible with the finished film for which it was conceived.

Next up comes the 1936 Silly Symphony animated short Three Blind Mouseketeers (8:46, SD). This cartoon pits three singing, swinging mouse musketeers against Captain Cat, an eye-patched anthropomorphic feline determined to trap them.

Water Birds (30:42, HD) is a complete 1952 True-Life Adventure documentary short, which won the Academy Award for Best Two-reel Short Subject. For not the most obvious reasons (perhaps its runtime?), this accompanied The Rescuers on DVD and does so again here. It's okay for what it is, though it's no longer the riveting treasure it was back when nature films were rare. I imagine that many who like The Rescuers movies will be dulled by this study of pelicans, egrets, and the like. But, hey, it's better than some tween pop cover music video. While Water Birds is kindly presented in hi def, it's tough to tell based on modest quality of the nature footage.

Walt Disney's Oscar-winning 1952 True-Life Adventure documentary "Water Birds" is presented in high definition. Supervising animator Kathy Zielinski consults a model while drawing Frank in "The Making of 'The Rescuers Down Under'."

A "Someone's Waiting for You" sing-along song (2:13) plays the tender scene from the movie with white lyric subtitles that turn the words yellow as they are uttered.

"The Making of The Rescuers Down Under" (10:33, SD) is a standard promotional featurette from 1990. Directors Mike Gabriel and Hendel Butoy, producer Thomas Schumacher, an unseen narrator, and others talk up the film, which is liberally excerpted. We also get looks at research trips and storyboarders and animators at work. Surprisingly, though, there is no mention of voice actors recording their lines.

Standard promotional inclusions -- a digital copy how-to (1:04), Timon & Pumbaa's Blu-ray 3D pitch (4:23), and legal disclaimers -- round out the disc.

The Blu-ray and FastPlay-enhanced DVDs open with promos for Disney Studio All Access, Cinderella: Diamond Edition, and Finding Nemo 3D, followed by an anti-smoking Pinocchio PSA. The Sneak Peeks listings repeat those and add ads for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Parks, Secret of the Wings, The Aristocats, Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3, and Planes.

The DVDs divvy up the Blu-ray's bonus material and then pare down, depriving standard def viewers of "Peoplitis" but retaining everything else, with the two bonus shorts and sing-along joining the original movie and the featurette accompanying the sequel.

Bianca and Bernard keep dry among fireworks above the abandoned river boat of the new Rescuers DVD main menu. Cody jumps with the birds off a cliff on a cliff from the DVD-exclusive new "Rescuers Down Under" main menu.

The Blu-ray's menu plays clips from the original movie in alongside fireworks in the sky above Medusa's abandoned river boat. The Rescuers' DVD gives us the same thing. The Rescuers Down Under gives us its own menu scheme in the same mold, playing clips among the rocks along a waterfall. The Blu-ray sadly doesn't resume incomplete playback, nor does it allow you to set bookmarks, nor does it even perform the usual Disney touch of remembering where you left off in your last viewing of the film. Disney's Blu-ray producers and authors need to get on the ball immediately and figure out how to bring their Blu-rays up to at least DVD's level in this regard.

The blue Blu-ray and gray DVDs share a standard-sized Blu-ray case, with the DVDs stacked atop each other. A booklet supplies your Disney Movie Rewards code and advertises a discounted piece of "music history" in The Lost Chords: The Rescuers. The case is topped by the obligatory embossed cardboard slipcover. If you prefer, you can also buy the set in DVD packaging, which is offered less to maintain your collection's uniformity and more to make this set available to customers in two different store sections.

Walt Disney Collectibles and Gifts, Disney Figurines

WHAT'S MISSING?

Though neither movie was overflowing with bonus features on DVD, each loses some here on account of Disney authoring new DVDs instead of just relabeling their recently-discontinued original DVDs. The Rescuers' biggest casualty is a 15-page Scrapbook holding concept art, character designs, behind-the-scenes production photos, and publicity artwork. Also dropped is "Under the Hat Villains", a 90-second Toon Disney short celebrating the studio's animated villains (including Medusa) with clips and some animator comments. The last omission from the original movie's DVD is "The Ultimate Case" set-top game, which let you sleuth around rooms to find Penny's missing teddy bear (with the Devil's Eye Diamond inside) la Bernard and Bianca with clues from "Orville."

Lost from The Rescuers Down Under's original Gold Classic Collection DVD are its original theatrical trailer, a virtual DVD storybook, and a 16-question trivia game. And expectedly not resurfacing from inside its case are an Animals of the Outback booklet and chapter insert.

Madame Medusa admires the Devil's Eye, the world's most valuable diamond, in front of Mr. Snoops. Wilbur the albatross (voiced by John Candy) features more extensively in "The Rescuers Down Under" than his brother Orville did in the original film.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The two Rescuers movies are far from the flashiest and most uplifting animated films Disney has given us over the years, but each adventure has its charms that are easy to appreciate in the occasional viewing. This 2 Movie Collection is not the ideal presentation. Both films fall beneath Disney's high picture quality standard and it's unfortunate that some of the DVD bonus features have been dropped. Still, this pairing will have to do, as the studio has been opposed to reissuing these two movies with any frequency. Disney animation fans will be happy to add this to their collection, but no doubt would have appreciated a stronger set.

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2 Movie Collection Blu-ray + DVD New 2-Movie DVD / Original DVDs: Rescuers Down Under

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Reviewed August 17, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1977 Walt Disney Productions, 1990 Walt Disney Pictures, and 2012 Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment.
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