Posted December 29, 2010 by editor in Retrospectives

Disney: The Rescuers Down Under

The Rescuers Down Under came thirteen years after 1977 Disney title The Rescuers. Maybe it’s because it wasn’t a rushed-out, straight-to-DVD sequel, but it’s one of the few Disney sequels with real credit, both as a follow-up and a standalone film. I read the book these characters were based on as a child and I have to say, none of their escapades were quite as exciting as either of the films written around them!

The original voices of the Rescue Aid Society’s Bernard and Bianca return, which was pleasing as a fan of the original. (A lot of the televised Disney cartoons, such as Aladdin, did not feature the original voices of the characters and it spoiled the illusion. Different voice actors are the hallmark of a cheap spin-off!) Orville the albatross, however, has been replaced by his brother Wilbur, but as the voice of Orville had retired this replacement is preferable to any imitations and Orville wasn’t as core a character as the two mice so it’s not too depressing to be faced with a new character in his place.

It has its weaknesses in comparison to its predecessor. Disney have opted for ‘opposites’ to make the two different: a boy instead of a girl as the human protagonist (Cody); a male villain instead of a female one (the poacher); and presumable the most opposite setting the creators could think of (the Australian outback).  Like Penny, Cody is a very sweet and thoughtful child – he rescues a bald eagle, a majestic creature but one with very little character in the film. It’s more of an icon, really, as the national bird of America. I must admit, I find the use of patriotic symbols unnecessary and a mild form of indoctrination, but the film does glorify the natural beauty of the Outback too with vibrant sunsets and exotic, detailed terrain.

But, to its credit, rather than child exploitation, though, the threat of hunting and potential for extinction are central to the action. It’s quite a high-brow topic for Disney; instead of tackling princesses and monsters, its current affairs played out by animals. It’s an effective tool in communicating an issue to children…perhaps cartoons should be the future of children’s news? (Move over, Newsround!)

They meet the local RAS operative, Jake the kangaroo rat, when they arrive in Australia. His accent and outfit err on the side of racial stereotyping, but at least there’s a geography lesson in Australian fauna through him. He’s a bit of a cad and flirts with Bianca, but he’s a good guy really, sending poor Wilbur to the ‘hospital’ when his spine gets bent out of shape (an injury that I doubt I realised the severity of as a child)!

Cody is caged by the bony-faced, gun-toting, imposing poacher along with some animals when he refuses to tell him where the bald eagle, Marahute, lives. Like Medusa in The Rescuers, he’s got some evil lizard allies. It’d be a shame to believe animals not perceived as cute are employed to play villains, but as so many people fear and loathe rodents and vermin and this show stars two mice, it’s not actually the case. (Although I’d imagine it’s a lot easier to make mice look cute than it is lizards). As Disney villains go, he’s really very convincing because poachers are an existing evil in this world. Of course, it’s another hint of that mild indoctrination, but suggesting children be anti-hunting and protect endangered species isn’t something I’d take issue with! He’s also very conniving, leading people to leave poor Cody – who is only 10, remember! – is dead and tricking Cody into leading him to Marahute’s nest.

If, like me, you were concerned that Jake was muscling in on Bianca and spoiling Bernard’s plans for a marriage proposal – a nice romantic subplot to keep the whole affair, well, Disney-ish! – It’s always a rousing scene when he mounts a pig and saves the day. I’m going to assume there’s no allusion to the all-American hero triumphing here, and that it’s simply for the fact he’s the main character that it’s he who ultimately saves the day,  but the thought’s there. It’s also terribly entertaining, probably more so as an adult, to see the down-to-earth janitor-type mouse ‘horse whisper’ to a wild pig.

It’s a dramatic build-up to the climax, with lots of action, and I’d imagine that boys prefer this to the original Rescuers film because they can relate to the main human character and because instead of gloomy colours and steadily mounting tension, it’s a wild action ride with recurrent danger of death. The poacher actually ends up going over the waterfall, presumably falling to his death. This is a much less whimsical demise than most other Disney villains, but it disposes of the villain discretely but permanently, tying everything up in a neat little happily ever after. The working class brown mouse gets the pampered white mouse (which hopefully is not a racial comment on social status!), the eagle flies free, and the boy returns to safety.

It might seem ludicrous to think two small mice could rescue a full-sized boy, but maybe that’s the point. Everyone can make a difference, regardless of who you are, where you are, or what you look like; you just have to try. Taking that as the main message of this film, it’s safe to say The Rescuers Down Under is intelligent as well as entertaining. While I still feel that The Rescuers is the original and best of the two, it’s definitely worth watching both!

Lauren Felton