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“We knew that Bernard and Bianca would come back in this movie. Because it’s a film about them.”
Thomas Schumacher, producer of The Rescuers Down Under, 1990
“Wow. Thanks for that stunning revelation into the creative process.”
Unshaved Mouse, Watching the Making Of, 2013
Question. Have you ever shown up to the office Christmas party in your gimp suit only to be told that, no, we decided fancy dress was just too much hassle and yes I did send you an email, I did, I’m sorry but I distinctly remember, well check your inbox, wait, do you have a period in your email address? You do? Oh, well, okay, that explains it. Hah. I can totally see your package through the latex by the way?
That’s kind of Rescuers Down Under. It was just a little late to the party and now everyone can see its balls and is pretending to ignore it. If this movie had come out a few years earlier, preferably when the Crocodile Dundee craze was still in full force, it could have killed. This movie could have been HUGE. But instead it arrived in the wake of The Little Mermaid. The Little Mermaid, in case I need remind you, was just a little bit of a game changer.
So the movie going public now had certain expectations about Disney.
Yeah, this movie is not what people were looking for. And if you’re looking for a culprit as to why the Disney movies of the Renaissance Era are
utterly totally bound with steel hoops and unbreakable adamantium chains to slightly reliant on formula, this is your reason. On its release, The Rescuers Down Under was a flop, although it may have been a self-inflicted one. Jeffrey Katzenberg famously pulled all the advertising after it had a less successful than expected opening weekend. Might it have become a hit if they’d waited and let word of mouth spread? I dunno. Maybe? It got decent enough reviews, and I think it’s probably safe to say that it’s more well-regarded now than its prequel, which was one of the most successful animated movies of all time. But Disney have always seemed to smell red-headed stepchild on this one. It’s certainly not like they disavow its existence like The Black Cauldron or Song of the South. But you get the feeling that if you mentioned this movie to someone in Disney they’d be like “Oh yeah. That one.” and ask you coldly not to raise the matter again. But make no mistake, this is an influential movie. Firstly, there’s the fact that its failure pretty much ended the talking animal-centric Disney movie until Dinosaur a decade later, and paved the way for the total dominance of the Disney princess movies. People often forget this, but the princess movies are very much a minority in the canon. In the sixty odd years prior to Little Mermaid, there were a grand total of three princess movies, compared to fifteen that focused on talking animals. But in the twenty-five years since Little Mermaid there have been seven princess movies. The success of Little Mermaid caused that, sure, but so did the failure of Rescuers Down Under.
Secondly, this was the first narrative sequel in the Disney canon, and the last until Winnie the Pooh in 2011. Because of this, the business of making sequels was then farmed out to other animation studios. These studios, despite not having the resources and experience of the original creators, nevertheless managed to create new and wonderful expansions of the existing works, creating sequels that could stand up and sometimes even surpaaaaahaaahahahahahahaha!
So we can thank Rescuers Down Under for that too.
Jesus, this thing has a darker legacy than the book of Leviticus.
And it’s really not fair for this movie to be lumped in with the rest of the sequels. For starters, it’s not a naked and unwanted cash grab with no narrative justification. This is genuinely a story that had a few chapters left to be told. Unlike the rest of the canon, Rescuers was pretty much made for a sequel. The reason Cinderella 2 is such a non-starter is that at the end of Cinderella, all the loose ends are tied up. To continue the story, you have to unpick a perfectly good happy ending only to restore it at the end in a way that’s never going to be as satisfying as it was the first time. But the Rescuers, although it did have a happy ending for Penny, ended with the promise that the adventures of Bernard and Bianca were just beginning. The team had just been assembled. We had gotten all the tedious getting-to-know-you business out-of-the-way and now it’s full steam ahead. This, I think, is another reason why so many of you in the comments pine for that Basil the Great Mouse Detective sequel that never was. It was a concept that still had plenty of places to go, unlike Cinderella, who, once she gets the glass slipper, that really should be the last we hear of her.
But Rescuers Down Under does have one other, very important legacy. Like most YouTube comments, Rescuers Down Under was done all in CAPS, a new process that allowed ink and paint drawings to be digitized so that scenes could be arranged by computer. CAPS would continue to be used pretty much until the end of the traditional animation era and was as big a revolution in animation as the use of xerography was in the sixties.
Of course, the Disney animators knew next to nothing about computers, so they enlisted the help of a small computer hardware company. This company, when not selling computers to government and medical agencies, moonlit as an animation studio doing little animated CGI commercials for Listerine.
They were called Pixar.