In the Australian Outback…ish, a young boy (voiced by Norwegian-born Adam Ryen) is kidnapped by a nasty poacher (voiced by George C. Scott, who I believe is 1/100th Aboriginal- just checking to see if you’re awake!), after falling into a trap set by the hunter hoping to nab wild animals. Since the boy prevented him from killing the prized giant eagle (in Australia?) he was really after, he decides to keep the boy prisoner, in hopes of him leading him to the eagle’s nest. When an Aussie mouse (at least we do have those here) learns of this, he sends out the call for help, eventually picked up by the Rescue Aid Society, who deploy intrepid mice ‘rescuers’ Bernard (voiced by an intentionally timid Bob Newhart) and Bianca (voiced by Eva Gabor) to do the job. They are aided in their quest by albatross Wilbur (voiced by John Candy) and a local mouse adventurer Jake (voiced by Tristan Rogers, who is at least Australian). Frank Welker provides the voice of the hunter’s companion, Joanna the Goanna.
I’ve always wanted to see the 1977 original “The Rescuers” from Disney, but it doesn’t seem to get much airplay, but I did recently catch up with this 1990 sequel directed by Hendel Butoy (who was an animator on “The Great Mouse Detective”) and Mike Gabriel (who later co-directed the appalling 1995 Disney film “Pocahontas”). Although it’s about as Australian as a shrimp on the barbie (which for you foreigners is to say not bloody Australian at all! We don’t eat ‘shrimp’ we eat prawns!), it’s a surprisingly very entertaining and cute film for the whole family. It’s said to be the least successful film during the so-called ‘Disney Renaissance’ (which I guess started with “The Little Mermaid”), but I think that’s a trifle unfair. It’s a completely different film to any of the others (which were musicals, really), and box-office doesn’t always equate to quality.
With the implementation of computer technology, the film looks different to Disney animated films before it, and unlike later efforts like “Treasure Planet”, I didn’t notice the seams here. It looks really terrific for 1990, actually. It’s a shame that the film’s young protagonist and the evil villain are voiced by non-Australian voice actors (Norwegian-born Adam Ryen and the inimitable George C. Scott, respectively), but most of the sights and sounds are at least fairly Australian…ish. The wildlife is mostly spot-on (The frilled-neck lizard- no, not the goanna- is the wrong colour and why there’s an eagle instead of an emu or at least magpie I don’t know), though some of the landscape looks an awful lot like Monument Valley, not outback Australia, and it is noticeable.
The best asset here is the terrific music score by composer Bruce Broughton (“Silverado”, “The Monster Squad”, “Tombstone”), who treats this like it’s any other movie, not just an animated kids movie. Although the lack of Aussie accents is disconcerting (some are merely British accents, which would be fine for a film set in the 40s perhaps), you can’t complain about the title characters who aren’t meant to be Australian. Bernard and Bianca are absolutely adorable, as voiced by the perfectly cast Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor. Gabor’s Hungarian accent is just perfect darlink. Even better, however, is the scene-stealing voice work of the late, great John Candy as an albatross, the Rescuers’ mode of transport to Australia. I’ll even forgive Candy for saying ‘Cowabunga!’ at one point (Really?). God I miss John Candy, don’t you? He’s immediately good fun here. Meanwhile, Australian or not, George C. Scott’s gruff voice is perfect for the role of the evil hunter, not too dissimilar from subsequent large-jawed, barrel-chested Disney villains (The big game hunter in “Tarzan” especially). He also sounds like he’s having a hoot and a half in the role. I liked the cute mouse secret society/communication deal, it’s like a similar scene in the underrated “The AristoCats”, only with a lot less ear-bleeding for yours truly.
It’s a real shame that this Disney effort isn’t remotely ‘dinky di’, because there really isn’t anything else wrong with this film. Maybe it’s a bit too short for so many characters and the ending is a tad rushed, but those are more minor flaws than the lack of cultural authenticity. I have no idea whatsoever why it failed to do anything at the box-office. It’s a lovely and entertaining film, more entertaining than some later Disney efforts (“Pocahontas”, “Treasure Planet”, “Hercules”, and “Lilo & Stitch” spring to mind). I think it’s one of the more entertaining Disney animated films post-1961 and pre-“Aladdin” at the very least. The screenplay comes courtesy of Jim Cox (“Oliver & Co.”, “Ferngully: The Last Rainforest”), Karey Kirkpatrick (“Chicken Run”, co-director of “Over the Hedge”), Byron Simpson (whose only other writing credits are a few episodes of a “Timon and Pumbaa” TV series), and Joe Ranft (“Beauty and the Beast”, “Toy Story”).