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The Rescuers/The Rescuers Down Under

(1977) *** G
78 min. Walt Disney Pictures. Directors: John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman, Art Stevens, Hendel Butoy, Mike Gabriel. Cast: Bob Newhart, Eva Gabor, Geraldine Page, Bill McMillan, Pat Buttram, Joe Flynn, George C. Scott, John Candy, Bernard Fox, Douglas Seale, Peter Firth.

/content/films/4393/1.jpgThe best-laid plans of mice and men go every which way and loose in Disney's two-fer of The Rescuers (1977) and The Rescuers Down Under (1990). Inspired by Margery Sharp's children's books, the hand-drawn The Rescuers will always have a vivid staying power for anyone who saw it in childhood. Directors John Lounsberry, Wolfgang Reitherman, and Art Stevens give the picture a distinctive, dark look (as the characters scamper between rainy, dirty New York City and the swampy Devil's Bayou) and a blowzy, scarily unhinged villain in Madame Medusa (Geraldine Page).

Madame Medusa has kidnapped little orphan girl Penny (Michelle Stacy) to be a slave she can send down into a skeleton-strewn pit to locate the world's largest diamond, the Devil's Eye. This rather dire set of circumstances calls for a hero—or two. Penny's message-in-a-bottle cry for help reaches the international Rescue Aid Society, a secret organization of mice that meets in an unnoticed nook of the United Nations Headquarters.

There, Hungarian mouse Miss Bianca (Eva Gabor) seizes on an opportunity for adventure, and chooses an unlikely partner in the society's nervous janitor Bernard (the artfully hesistant Bob Newhart); she sees something in him—namely his kindness and his determination to get the job done right. Employing the nerve-racking airline of an albatross named Orville (Jim Jordan), the little heroes make it to Devil's Bayou, enlist a dragonfly named Evinrude to help them, and set about finding and springing Penny from Medusa's clutches while dodging her pet alligators Brutus and Nero (Candy Candido).

The Rescuers plays dated now, but there's little reason to believe that kids will much care (okay, it's a little logy when it slows for one of the forgettable montage-y songs, like "Tomorrow is Another Day" or "Someone's Waiting For You"). Maybe it's my irrepressible love of Bob Newhart, but it's easy to root for Bernard and Bianca, and there's a funny chemistry about the pairing of him and Gabor (who makes for an oddly sultry-sounding mouse). The Rescue Aid Society (including the voice of character actor Bernard Fox as The Chairman) is awfully cute, the animation limber, and the intrigue sufficient to carry the story along to its action climax and satisfying resolution. The characters stick in the mind, and the classic Disney animation style works wonders with the likes of Orville and the gators.

Thirteen years later (a significant number for Bernard), Disney released its first animated sequel feature: The Rescuers Down Under. The fomula remains the same: Bernard and Bianca must rescue a child in trouble from a terrifying nasty. This time, an Australian lad named Cody (Adam Ryen)—while romping in the Outback—runs afoul of greedy poacher Percival C. McLeach (George C. Scott), who kidnaps the boy to keep him quiet and make him give up the location of a gigantic golden eagle known as Marahute. It's Bernard and Bianca to the rescue, once they book a flight with Orville's brother Wilbur (John Candy).

Though it incorporates some early CGI animation, The Rescuers Down Under impresses most with its hand-drawn majesty of sun-baked settings, expressive creatures, and high-flying epic sweep. It certainly doesn't hurt having a cast that includes Newhart, Gabor, Scott (whose raspy voice suggests voluminous depths of depravity), and Candy (who lends Wilbur comic spontaneity and rally-the-troops heart). The sequel also tweaks the formula with a brisker pace, and development of leading characters (Bernard longs to pop the question to Bianca) and action sequences, which multiply to fill the space left by the banishment of songs.

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Aspect ratios: 1.67:1

Number of discs: 3

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 8/21/2012

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under get a fine 35th Anniversary Edition 2-Movie Collection comprised of a Blu-ray and two DVDs. Both features appear in HD on the Blu-ray disc, and they look just swell. Colors are truer than ever, detail has markedly improved over standard definition (dig those pencil strokes and background subtleties), and black level is rock solid. Both films retain a faithfully film-like appearance, though the more recent film gives an understandably sharper impression (it's also a much more brightly animated film due to the setting).

In a bonus new to this Blu-ray, Disney veteran Ron Clements introduces the deleted song "Peoplitis" (4:41, HD), presented as a demo recording with concept art.

The disc archives the 1936 Silly Symphony animated short "Three Blind Mouseketeers" (8:46, SD) and the 1952 True-Life Adventure documentary short "Water Birds" (30:42, HD), which won the Academy Award for Best Two-Reel Short Subject.

Also present are a "Someone's Waiting for You" sing-along song (2:13, SD) and the 1990 EPK featurette "The Making of The Rescuers Down Under" (10:33, SD) with directors Mike Gabriel and Hendel Butoy, and producer Thomas Schumacher. It's too bad Disney didn't see fit to produce a documentary about the movies (maybe some other decade) or include any interview or production footage of the voice cast, but the deleted song is a lost gem.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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