Monday, November 5, 2012

The Rescuers: 35th Anniversary Edition / The Rescuers Down Under Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
To commemorate the 35th anniversary of an original classic, Disney proudly presents a special 2-movie collection featuring all-time family favorites, The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under, for the first time ever on Blu-ray! Join two of the world’s bravest mice – Bernard and Bianca – as they set out on two thrilling rescue missions full of comic adventure while soaring through the Devil’s Bayou and flying sky high in the Australian outback. Buckle up for the ride of your life as these tiny heroes with great big hearts outrun and outwit their rivals to save the day. Brimming with lovable characters and unforgettable music, the 2-movie collection is high-flying fun for the entire family! Share the laughs and excitement for the first time on Disney Blu-ray.

Film (4 out of 5 stars) 

The Rescuers (5 out of 5 stars) 

The Rescuers Down Under (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

The Rescuers has long been a family favorite and I’m very happy that not only is it finally on Blu-ray, but also that it turned out Disney took the time to release a quality Blu-ray and even included the film’s sequel with it!   The Rescuersis one of Disney’s most atmospheric movies and it has a great mix of comedy, action, thrills, and drama that really sets it apart from other Disney movies. Based on the series of books by Margery Sharp, it also has a memorable villain in Madame Medusa who is one of the most evil characters in the Disney universe.  Opposing her are two small mice that are the personification of courage which proves that you can make a difference no matter how small you are. And then there’s all of the great supporting characters that add a lot of heart and humor to the movie.
The Rescuers Down Under followed thirteen years later and while it had a lot of charm of its own, it didn’t live up to the gold standard of the first movie and wasn’t as much of a success as the original. The movie opens in the fog enshrouded Devil’s Bayou where a young girl named Penny (Michelle Stacy) drops a bottle with a message inside asking for someone to save her from the people who have kidnapped her.  During the opening credit sequence we watch the bottle make its way through the rivers until its carried out into the ocean and arrives in New York City, where it’s recovered by the Rescue Aid Society, an organization like the United Nations but run by mice.  Once Bernard the janitor (Bob Newhart) gets the message out of the bottle, the Hungarian delegate Miss Bianca (Eva Gabor) volunteers for the rescue mission and chooses Bernard to go with her.  
They travel to the Morningside Orphanage, where Penny was last seen where she was waiting to be adopted before she was abducted. Once there, they meet an old cat named Rufus (John McIntire) who was Penny’s friend and confidante and he tells them about a terrible woman named Madame Medusa (Geraldine Page) who had tried to convince Penny to get into her car earlier.  Rufus tells them that Medusa runs a pawnshop several blocks away and the mice head there next.  After a dangerous trek to the pawnshop, Bernard and Bianca discover that Medusa and her partner Snoops (Joe Flynn) did indeed kidnap Penny in order for her to find the world’s largest diamond, The Devil’s Eye.  Snoops is there with Penny but because Medusa thinks he’s too soft on Penny, Medusa decides to do down there herself to give Penny the proper motivation to find the diamond.  
Unable to travel with Medusa, the mice fly on Albatross Airlines, with an albatross named Orville (Jim Jordan) who gets them there before crashing thanks to the fireworks shot into the sky by Snoops as he and Medusa look for Penny who has tried to escape again. Bernard and Bianca get help from the various critters of the swamp who do not like Medusa or Snoops and a dragonfly named Evinrude (James MacDonald) propels them on his leaf boat where they finally reach the dilapidated river boat where Penny is being kept.  They witness Medusa’s pet crocodiles Brutus and Nero bring Penny back and the following morning they hide in Penny’s pocket as she is lowered down a hole into the pirate cave where Medusa believes the Devil’s Eye is located. The cave is very dangerous as the ocean tide rises and falls within the cave and Penny only has minutes to look around before the cave is filled with water.  Knowing that Medusa isn’t interested in the smaller gems in the cave, Bernard and Bianca help Penny search the cave for the elusive diamond while Evinrude faces his own dangers as he makes his way back to get some help from the swamp folk who are awaiting the signal to charge the river boat to help save Penny.
In The Rescuers Down Under, Bernard and Bianca are called upon again to rescue another child as a young boy named Cody (Adam Ryen) who has been kidnapped by an evil poacher named McLeach (George C. Scott).  McLeach knows that Cody knows the location of a rare golden eagle called Marahute and he plans to keep him captive until he tells him where the eagle’s nest is. McLeach has already captured Marahute’s mate which made him a lot of money so now he wants her and her eggs.  Bernard and Bianca leave New York City aboard Wilbur (John Candy) who is Orville’s brother and make their way to Australia.  Once there, they meet Jake (Tristan Rogers) who is immediately smitten with Bianca which upsets Bernard whose marriage proposal to Bianca was interrupted by the mission.  They finally reach McLeach’s hideout where he keeps a lot of various animals caged before selling them or killing them. They’re just in time to see McLeach trick Cody into thinking that Marahute has been killed, which has left her eggs defenseless and unattended. Worried, Cody goes to the nest to take care of the eggs only to be followed by McLeach and the mice.  Once again, the mice will have to defeat another dangerous and greedy opponent and save the life of a child.
The Rescuers is one of Disney’s best movies and it also features one of the best casts they assembled as well, with Bob Newhart as the timid and superstitious Bernard and Eva Gabor as the kind and sexy Bianca leading the cast. The film was a throwback of sorts to the darker stories that Disney used to make like Snow White which had some elements of real danger to it. The veteran Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston later claimed it was the best film they had done without Walt Disney’s involvement in it as he had died long before production for the movie had begun. The Rescuers also was the first major animated success in a decade after The Jungle Book and their last one until The Little Mermaid hit the theaters twelve years later. This movie also marked the first and last time that all of Walt’s “Nine Old Men” worked together and the first time that the original crew of animators worked with the next generation of talent that included Don Bluth, Glen Keane, Ron Clements, and Andy Gaskill who would later lead the “Disney Renaissance” which would bring the studio back in a big way.

The Rescuers Down Under was the first animated sequel done by the studio and it was an actual theatrical release instead of the disappointing direct to video sequels for other movies that would follow. Since the first movie had been such a hit it made sense plus the story lended itself to further adventures with Bernard and Bianca being a part of the Rescue Aid Society. Unfortunately, the film didn’t open well and Jeffrey Katzenberg pulled all of the television promotions to save money which only hurt the movie even more. The real problem with the movie is that the main characters that people knew and loved (Bernard and Bianca) are relegated to being supporting players in their own sequel and don’t even enter the story until a third of the movie is over. It seems like Disney had a script about a kidnapped boy and then shoe-horned the mice into it. If Disney had just trusted in it’s two leads, the movie would have been a lot better and done better at the box office. People loved the relationship and banter between the two mice and they’re barely even in this sequel which kills it.

Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor are great in the limited screen time and John Candy does another humorous performance as Orville’s brother Wilbur. George C. Scott delivers a fantastic performance as the villainous McLeach (who also resembles the actor). Despite it’s weak script and poor execution, the movie was an important one as it was the first animated movie to use the new computerized CAPS (Computer Animation Production System) process which allowed for a faster and more functional post-production system that made hand-painting cels a thing of the past. This CAPS project was also the first time that Disney collaborated with Pixar, which would lead to some great movies down the road and eventually with Disney bringing Pixar into the fold. While The Rescuers Down Under isn’t as good as the original, it does have some great moments with the mice and Glen Keane’s animation for Marahute gives it a mythical stature that reminded me a lot of Fantasia. In any case it’s always nice to spend time with Bernard and Bianca (even if it is limited) and I am very happy to finally have these movies on Blu-ray!

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

The Rescuers (4 out of 5 stars)

The Rescuers Down Under (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

As happy I was to finally get The Rescuers on Blu-ray, a moment of concern hit me when I opened up the case expecting to see two discs end up only being one.  I was immediately worried about the quality of the movies with both of them housed on a single BD-50 disc, but once I started the first movie, I was able to relax because it didn’t seem to be compromised by sharing the space with its sequel.  In fact, the 1080p (1.67:1) transfer looks better than I ever remember seeing it, with a lot more detail and a more cleaner image than earlier releases.  That’s not to say that it looks as good as one of their recent efforts like The Princess and the Frog, but it looks really good.  There’s still some age related imperfections present but it looks like Disney has done all they can with it without turning into something else entirely.  Black levels are solid now and the moody and mysterious look of the movie looks better than ever.  The Rescuers Down Under understandably looks even better as it’s thirteen years newer which makes it easier to clean up.  The colors in the sequel are brighter and more present with a variety of colors on display.  The detail is also more striking in this movie and the black levels are as dark and solid as its predecessor. There’s some light grain present but it doesn’t suffer from the same age-related defects as the first movie.  Both of these transfers look very good and fans of The Rescuers will be happy to see the improvement over the previous releases.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars) 

The Rescuers (4 out of 5 stars) 

The Rescuers Down Under (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Both The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under offer an excellent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that plays to each of their respective strengths.  For The Rescuers, the lossless mix capture the atmosphere and ambiance perfectly both in New York City and when the movie moves to the dismal swamp known as Devil’s Bayou.  This mix really brought the movie to life so you felt like you were in the swamp with Bernard and Bianca and it’s fantastic.  Even though it’s been over thirty years since it was released, there’s no age-related sound defects with this mix.  The Rescuers Down Under’smix also is very impressive even though there’s less of a focus on ambiance.  Instead, it does a better job tracking the effects and their directionality and offering razor sharp sound effects such as Marahute’s soaring cry and McLeach’s rumbling vehicle which allows the LFE channel to make its presence known.  Dialogue is very clear in both movies and the songs in The Rescuers Down Under sound great as well.  I was very happy with both tracks!

Extras (3 out of 5 stars) 

The one area that should have been better on this Blu-ray is this section as I expected a lot more extras than this. For one of their biggest hits, you’d think that The Rescuers would have more material to cull from and since The Rescuers Down Under is even newer it should have some too, but if there is more it’s not here.  Everything except the animated short and “The Making of The Rescuers Down Under” is in high definition.
  • Deleted Song, “Peoplitis” – Disney Renaissance-era animator/director Ron Clements introduces the deleted song “Peoplitis” from The Rescuers by using the recorded demo along with storyboards to convey the scene.
  • Water Birds – A True Life Adventure - A thirty minute excerpt from the 1952 Academy Award-winning Technicolor True Life Adventure documentary which inspired the inclusion of Orville into the movie.
  • “Three Blind Mouseketeers” - An animated Silly Symphony short.
  • Sing-Along Song – You have the option to sing along with the Academy Award nominated ”Someone’s Waiting for You.”
  • The Making of The Rescuers Down Under - A short look at what kind of extras should have been included on this release with this behind-the-scenes featurette about the making of the movie.

Summary (4 out of 5 stars) 

The Rescuers is one of Disney’s classic movies and I’m happy that they’ve released a quality Blu-ray even though I think there should be a lot more extras on it.  The value of this set is increased by the addition of the sequel and even though it’s not as good as the original, it’s nice to have that included as well for the price of one movie.  This set is highly recommended!

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