The Rescuers Down Under makes a name for itself as the first "sequel" Disney Full length feature. Does it hold up?
First of all, I'm not sure that the Rescuers deserve title billing. It's established early on that they are coming to the rescue, but they never even come into contact with the kidnapped boy Cody until the third act! Frankly, I think Cody could have easily enlisted the help of any and all of his animal friends (because who is to say he doesn't have mice as friends in the outback to begin with?) and we could have had basically the exact same movie without either Bianca or Bernard.
That being said, I find this to be an enjoyable movie for a lot of reasons. The score is great. In fact, it's so good that it is now being used as temp music for teaser trailers when productions don't yet have the final music finished. It has the right amount of hope and adventure and heart that it can be placed over nearly anything and still feel pretty good. The animation is polished and the framing is exciting. The casting is (well the two leads are obvious and happily both agreed to come back) excellent for the newly introduced characters and in particular John Candy. The backgrounds are wide and sweeping, and computerized background animation is used at very appropriate times and with a certain amount of finesse despite the still very new technology. The story is fairly straight-forward, easy to follow, and full of entertaining business that still serves the plot.
Like I said earlier, I see no reason why Bernard and Bianca were specifically needed for this film except to lend utterly unnecessary credibility. I felt the villain, Percival C. McLeach, could have been a little bit smarter because he and his Goanna, Joanna, appeared to make some completely idiotic choices. For example, he's trying not to get caught by the rangers while he goes out every day poaching critters, and yet the vehicle he drives (The Bushwhacker) is the size of an 18-wheeler, rattles like building being demolished, and has a giant megaphone on top such that he can be heard from the clifftops of the outback. Also, what's up with Jake's approval at the end? He was trying to horn in the whole movie and now he's just giving the thumbs up? Whut?
Now, if you read back a ways and saw my nostalgic comments on The Rescuers, you may remember that I was confused about the cognition of animals especially regarding interactions with children. I notice that Cody can freely speak to and understand Bernard, Bianca, and Jake, but he can only speak to Marahute and at best can guess at her thoughts based on body language. Joanna the Goanna occasionally makes Frank Welker's signature almost human speech noises and yet never speaks directly. I thought perhaps there was a size limit to the animals ability to communicate, but in this movie Cody can clearly speak to the Faloo the Kangaroo, but he can't seem to communicate with Joanna the Goanna despite the fact that she is a smaller animal. So where's the limit? It can't be about species because Frank is a reptile and can speak. It can't be about size because the tiny Kookabura cannot (presumably) speak (and yet Wilbur the Albatross can). Bah. I just want a suitable answer!!!
Favorite Character: As annoying as Frank the Fringed Lizard is, he still gives some pretty entertaining stupidity. I can't hate him for it.
Least Necessary Character: The Flamingcranes.. I don't know what kind of birds these pink things were supposed to be, but they didn't help out poor ole' Wilbur and they were snobs about it too.
It's kind of hard to believe that The Rescuers Down Under was released between The Little Mermaid and Beauty & the Beast. It's not that it's worse than them, exactly, but that it's so different thematically and tonally. No one even sings in it! unless you count Wilbur singing along to his radio or McLeach's rendition of "Home on the Range." Does that count as his villain song? It is scary in the sense that it makes you realize you're getting closer to watching the movie "Home on the Range."
So it may be easier to dismiss a film by comparing it to what the studio brought us before and after, even though those really shouldn't be compared to it in the first place, but yes I'm defending "Cars 2."
I do think this is one of those rare cases where the sequel does improve on the original. It looks better, it sounds better, it's paced better, it's funnier, the main characters are more likeable and the story makes more sense. And it helps even more that this is one of those cases where the very idea of a sequel existing is perfectly understandable. Isn't it weird that, even amidst all of those head-scratchingly unnecessary Disney sequels like Lady and the Tramp II and 102 Dalmatians and the like, there was never even a low-budget direct-to-video The Rescuers 3? No, it should be something non-numerical, like The Rescuers Go East or The Rescuers: Norway Out! (in which they rescue a Norwegian poet) or The Rescuers Get Frenched! or heck, I'd even take The Rescuers Save Christmas...over Santa Buddies, anyway. And it's not even that I completely love The Rescuers themselves, but I do like them more than I like Lady and Tramp and the Dalmatians. I could just be anticaninic.
Now I want to talk about cartoon violence. This cartoon has its fair share of slapstick, but some of it is misguided. Mainly I mean the scene with Wilbur getting unfortunate "medical treatment." First of all, Wilbur's a friendly fun-lovin' guy. He's glad to help, even if a bit apprehensive about flying in the middle of winter, but what non-arctic bird wouldn't be? So I don't really want to see him in pain. I can laugh at Joanna getting hit in the head on a cliff edge and such because she supports the bad guy and "deserves it." A good guy can get away with getting the brunt of anvils and mallets and whatever, but he has to pull it off the right way (being gleefully clumsy helps). There's a bit in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" where Roger sings the praises of Goofy's acting abilities and perfect comedic timing, and...I seriously think he has a good point. Not just anyone can do what Goofy does!
In trying to get back on track, my beef with Wilbur's scene is that it isn't cartoony enough. The cane! In his back! Gahh-h-h! And then...huge syringes!...fired out of a shotgun?! Is this...is this one of those "SAW" movies? He's genuinely terrified, isn't he?! That's horrible! It's not funny!
Maybe it's just me. And it's a shame, because I like John Candy as Wilbur. Nowadays every CGI animated feature and its mother has the bonus feature with the creators revealing that the voice actors did a lot of ad-libbing, even though that's so often the case now that it shouldn't count as a did-you-know-tidbit anymore. But was that done much before the 80s? Is this the genesis of that? I am glad that they opted to cast him as Orville's brother, as opposed to just recasting the same role with a different voice. It's less jarring and does make enough sense that they would share duties and look alike and have comparable personalities. Too bad you can't pull that trick with other sequels. "What, you've never met Slinky Dog's brother, Springy Dog? He's always existed, of course."
Favorite character: I do quite like Wilbur, but I'm going to pick *s*h*l* koala Krebbs. Not enough non-villain Disney characters act that way.
Least necessary character: When I first see Jake's fly friend Sparky I expect that he'll be joining the adventure as Jake's sidekick throughout, but...no, he's never seen again after his first scene. Bummer. Maybe Evinrude will play checkers with him.
Overall: Compared to its preceding and following musical siblings, The Rescuers Down Under may seem to fall flat, but compared to The Rescuers it's a bit o' good fun, mate.