The second golden age of Disney feature animation is widely thought of as beginning in the late ’80s / early ’90s, with such beloved classics as “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin.” But in the midst of that renaissance of the medium, an unusually late sequel emerged to a distinctly ’70s adventure tale, each marking their own moments in Disney history.
“The Rescuers” debuted in 1977 and, watching on today’s new Blu-ray release, it couldn’t be more obvious that this film is a product of that decade. But looking past the rough sketch style of animation and flighty music is a fun, character-driven film. Its setup is unique and interesting, in which a group of mice have dubbed themselves the Rescue Aid Society, based out of the United Nations in New York, and featuring an equally worldly group. Their goal is to help anyone in need around the globe, with the focus of this particular movie’s mission on saving a kidnapped orphan, Penny, from the clutches of one of Disney’s more unusual and eclectic villains, Madame Medusa.
Often forgotten from Disney’s line-up of villains, Medusa is downright crazy, from the maniacal look in her sinister green eyes to her pointy teeth. Her goal is to get Penny to fetch a fortune-making diamond from a deep dark hole in the bayou, but it’s up to lead R.A.S. agents Bernard and Bianca to save the day, with help from a few other furry and feathered friends. For its time, “The Rescuers” offers an exciting adventure unlike any of Disney’s others and easily holds up today, looking fantastic on Blu-ray, though flaws in its rough animation do show through more than ever.
But Disney didn’t end the “Rescuers” concept there, deciding to bring Bernard and Bianca back more than 10 years later in a sequel called “The Rescuers Down Under,” released in 1990, also included on the new Blu-ray release. While this sequel is often remembered even more fondly than the original, it’s hard to imagine it being released amidst the other animated giants surrounding it. “The Little Mermaid” hit theaters the year prior, “Beauty and the Beast” the following year, and “Aladdin” two years later. While “The Rescuers Down Under” is entertaining, it was clearly lost among the shuffle of those highly successful instant classics.
Interestingly, also in development at the same time as “Down Under” was the popular Disney Afternoon TV series, “Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers,” with more than a few parallels between it and these two films. In fact, “Rescue Rangers” was at one time going to star some of the same characters from “The Rescuers,” but ultimately went in the “Chip ‘n Dale” direction as the cinematic sequel took shape. Fans of the TV show will certainly find some similarities, including a helpful dragonfly named Evinrude who looks and acts very much like Zipper on the series.
There’s a clear difference between the ’70s-produced original and the ’80s sequel, which emphasizes the “new” field of computer animation, celebrity voices, and uses far more comic relief, at times overbearing. The sequel meanders a bit, often straying from the leads of the original to focus more on the human element – and the comedic stylings of John Candy, voicing Wilbur the albatross. The animation found in “Down Under” is also a bit disjointed, combining far too many styles and techniques to ever feel fully cohesive, oddly representing some characters as cartoon caricatures while others are realistically drawn. But overall, the film pulls together as a solid sequel.
Bonus features on the new Blu-ray release of both films are an interesting assortment, seemingly included by simple association. “The Rescuers” features animated mice, so Disney has also included a Silly Symphony short called “The Three Blind Mouseketeers.” “The Rescuers” also features birds, so a Disney True-Life Adventure called “Water Birds” is on the disc. A pair of songs and an old making-of feature for “The Rescuers Down Under” are also part of the release, none of which are particularly fascinating, other than enjoying a bit of nostalgia while looking at the technology and style of the ’80s.
Celebrating 35 years of “The Rescuers,” as well as 22 years of “The Rescuers Down Under,” Disney’s Blu-ray release of this pair of films hits store shelves today and deserves a spot in any fan’s video library. Though these movies may not have as much recognition as some of the other animation classics, they are interesting transitional films that offer some unique moments and characters in Disney filmmaking.
“The Rescuers” and “The Rescuers Down Under” two movie collection is available on Blu-ray and DVD via Amazon and other retailers.