To watch the first fifteen minutes of The Rescuers Down Under is to wonder if you’ve stumbled upon some lost Disney masterpiece: The animators, using their new “CAPS” technology that would define the look and feel of 1990s Disney animation, bring us soaring through the Australian outback. The nuanced color and lighting bring a simultaneous crispness and softness to the visuals that is the polar opposite of 1977’s The Rescuers, to which this is a sequel.
The blending of CGI and hand-drawn (but digitally-inked) animation gives the sets a real sense of physical space, which the film uses to capture an open Australian wilderness. The opening minutes, in particular, show a vast landscape, outsized to reflect a child’s perspective, popping with vibrant natural colors. The giant eagle, rescued by Cody, is a magnificent design, full of wild energy.
Alas, that’s the movie’s peak. Then, Cody gets kidnapped by a poacher and the movie takes a narrative faceplant it never recovers from. The next 45 minutes or so are spent hopping from one story thread to another, each with a leisurely pace that betrays the movie’s stakes and momentum. That leaves barely 15 minutes for the story to accelerate towards a half-hearted climax. By the end, the movie feels so damn slight that it’s more like a 75-minute CAPS proof-of-concept than a proper narrative feature.
Of all the plot threads, an extended bit surrounding back surgery on John Candy’s extremely 90’s albatross is the most inessential, followed perhaps by Bernard’s jealousy of Jake, a Crocodile Dundee-style kangaroo rat. They feel like threads from an episode of a TV show (and, indeed, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers was initially pitched as a Rescuers spinoff show, so maybe the writers had their heads there).
The film never verges into outright badness, but never quite swerves back towards “good,” either. At least it’s always looks pretty, though there are definitely some noticeable seams between the hand-drawn and CGI bits from time to time.
Also: Shout out to George C Scott’s menacing vocal performance as McLeach. He’s more terrifying than the movie really needed, but it absolutely works.
Nearly Good (4/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.