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|Kevin Krock, editor|
Many of you may be familiar with the original adventures of Bernard and Bianca, the adventuresome mice from the 1977 hit The Rescuers, but the 1990 theatrical sequel The Rescuers Down Under may not be quite as well known. Even with Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor reprising their wonderfully cast vocal roles as the lead characters, this enjoyable but somewhat intense film fell through the cracks for a variety of external reasons — including being theatrically released opposite Home Alone — and now gets very little mention from Disney. Granted, it does not contain the catchy musical numbers of The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast, but it does have some great animation and a pretty solid plot. This film goes far beyond most theatrical animated sequels and is far better than any of Disney’s direct- to- video sequels.
The Rescuers Down Under takes our two favorite and intrepid members of the Rescue Aid Society (RAS) down to the Australian Outback to rescue Cody, a young boy who has been kidnapped by an evil poacher named McLeach, excellently voiced by the late George C. Scott. McLeach is intent on capturing Marahute, the great eagle, whom Cody rescued from the poacher’s trap and befriended.
After a rather frightening introduction to McLeach, the remainder of the first half of the movie has several humorous moments that lighten the somewhat dark tone of the movie. As Bernard, Bianca and their new kangaroo rat friend Jake try to track down Cody, the last half of the movie turns quite a bit more intense. Young children may get a bit upset by the very perilous situations Cody finds himself in at the hands of McLeach, such as having knives thrown at him or being hung over a pool of crocodiles. Fortunately, Bernard, Bianca and Jake work together to save the day, but only after they take you on quite a ride.
Unfortunately, because this DVD was released in 2000 while Disney was still trying to figure out how to market this new home video format, it lacks much of the bonus material found on many current Disney releases. The only goodies on the disc are a rather poor quality theatrical trailer, and the ubiquitous Disney DVD read-along storybook and trivia game. I was disappointed that there was not a featurette or two on the production of this film, especially considering some of the significant animation advances that were used for the first time in the production of this film, such as Disney’s Computer Assisted Production System (CAPS). Perhaps we will see something for the 15th anniversary edition in a few years.
The Video, Audio and Interface
The video is a mixed bag. On one hand, Disney provided an anamorphic widescreen transfer, which is usually what you want for the best picture on both regular and widescreen TVs. Unfortunately, the transfer is particularly grainy in parts, and several scenes have distracting color fluctuations. While this is not a major problem for younger viewers, adults may find it to be a bit more of an issue. Besides these isolated cases, the picture, color and shadows are generally acceptable, but with a little bit of digital remastering, the video could probably be on par with Disney’s current DVD releases.
The audio is actually pretty decent. It is clear and nicely balanced throughout the movie, and there is abundant surround activity, although mostly in the form of music. The addition of a subwoofer track would have enhanced a few scenes, like those with McLeach’s huge poaching truck, but the current soundtrack does a good job of getting the point across. For the most part, this disc will sound good on any system.
Unfortunately, the user interface is true to the early Disney DVD releases: it is very simple and utterly boring. There are no animated menus or audio accompaniment, and compared to current Disney DVDs, the primitive menus stick out like a sore thumb. Additionally, this is one of the last discs Disney released with their forced previews, making you watch or manually skip through commercials for other Disney titles.
The Final Evaluation
The movie by itself is pretty solid and enjoyable — a very good sequel in a time when most fail miserably. In some parts, though, the story takes dark turns that may be a bit too much for young viewers, so be aware that this is not completely a lighthearted romp through the Australian Outback with a couple of cute mice.
The DVD itself does not have a whole lot to crow about. There are no solid goodies or engaging user interface to speak of, and everything else is just OK. You will have to be a big Bernard or Bianca fan to pick this one up, but you may want to give it a rental spin to enjoy the movie.
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