Movies of my Yesterdays: The Rescuers Down Under

While not as embedded in the landscape of my media childhood as Lady and the Tramp or The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under was always there as far as I can recall. I associate a very youthful spirit of adventure with it that I think predates the time in my adolescence when I was defining my own tastes for what seemed like the first time, the “hit me at the right time” years.

While the original The Rescuers probably more deserves the appreciation of a mature reviewer, I don’t have the same fondness for it. The two movies came from different eras of Disney animation and have a very different look and feel. The first came from the time of The Fox And The Hound and 101 Dalmatians, but it’s almost as obscure as The Black Cauldron and hits a lot more of the same notes. Sensibilities had changed at Disney in the time between the two Rescuers movies and the latter is part of the upward trend moving toward the Disney Renaissance.

The Rescuers Down Under. Walt Disney Pictures 1990.

Cody, a very American sounding Australian boy, is a friend to the animals of the Outback, and rescues a giant Golden Eagle from a poacher’s trap. She gives him one of her golden feathers as a keepsake, and then on his way home, Cody finds a mouse tied up as what turns out to be bait in a trap sat by ruthless poacher MacLeach. MacLeach finds the golden feather and realizes that Cody knows where the last Golden Eagle is, so he kidnaps him in order to try to get him to divulge the location of the bounty. The rescued mouse reports Cody’s peril to the Rescue Aid Society, and soon Bernard and Bianca are on their way through the Outback to him with Australian Jake as their guide.

Where the first was likely modeled after a pulp adventure novel, this feels more like an action adventure movie. It has modern pacing sensibilities, but I think the first is stronger in that as I recall, Bernard and Bianca spend most of the story trying to find a way to get Penny out of her situation, this one doesn’t have them get to Cody until the climax. There’s not much for them to do but ride more Australian animals across the landscape while Jake tries to flirt with Miss Bianca and Bernard tries to find a moment to propose to her. It’s a comic relief subplot, but moreso Wilbur and the hospital mice fixing his back with extreme force.

Two things make this movie feel epically sized: the music and the sweeping three dimensional camera moves. Disney shopped out many backgrounds to Pixar, and while sometimes they’re obviously very primitive CG by today’s standards (I’ve seen previsualization renders more convincing than the city skyscrapers and cars), they do bring to life the camera perspectives and the Outback. People talk a lot about the clock gears in The Great Mouse Detective and the Ballroom in Beauty and the Beast, but I think this is the best demonstration of what cel animation can do with CGI backgrounds as a tool in the kit.

If this had Ashman/Menken songs, it would be 20 minutes longer, but it would also be at least at the level of the actual Renaissance Disney movies. The plot structure makes a lot of the returning or pseudo-returning (Wilbur is allegedly Orville’s brother despite how very different they are aside from being airline albatrosses) characters redundant, but it’s a fantastic adventure for the whole family, and it should be remembered as fondly as Disney’s biggest hits of the 90s.

The Wackiest Ship in the Army

The Wackiest Ship in the Army.
Columbia Pictures 1960.

Before watching the movie:

Every time I see this title, I get a little disappointed it’s not The Ship with the Flat Tire, which apparently didn’t amount to much of anything outside of the enjoyment of the few who read it and has probably been out of print since the 60s.

This looks like a pretty standard farce with a misfit crew and a leaky boat, but Jack Lemmon will probably give it a good turn. What will make it distinctive is how colorful the eccentric characters are.

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Imagine That

Imagine That. Nickelodeon Movies 2009.

Before watching the movie:

Eddie Murphy’s work since the late 90s has a reputation for not being good, at least when it comes to his live-action vehicles or possibly anything other than the Shrek franchise. If anyone liked The Nutty Professor, nobody really cared for what came after, including the two sequels. Eddie Murphy stopped being funny on screen around the time Will Smith became a movie star somehow.

This movie is a Nickelodeon production, so it’s clearly aimed directly at children and families, but other than children-oriented movies getting ignored, I don’t see anything that would indicate why it’s not considered a Good Eddie Murphy Movie. I don’t see any warning signs yet.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Limelight Entertainment 1990.

Before watching the movie:

I am broadly aware of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, but I was never all that into it. I briefly thought I was going to watch the cartoon series, but I was given a parental directive to choose one violent show between TMNT and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and I chose the latter. Then a few weeks later I abruptly decided the whole premise of MMPR was silly and dropped it.

Apparently there’s a well-known easter egg that in one telling of the Turtles’ origin story, the radioactive ooze that made them was also involved in making Daredevil. That’s pretty neat. That will not be relevant to this movie.

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Mad Money

Mad Money. Millennium Films 2008.

Before watching the movie:

I barely remember this title floating around back in 2008, and I’m not sure if I remember it as a movie or just as the quirky stock trading show. I think I’ve also conflated it a little bit with Moneyball, which it has no connection with aside from the word “money”.

This looks like a movie that’s a little ahead of its time. Regrettably, the industry didn’t seem to have a foothold for women-led comedies until Bridesmaids. This all-women heist comedy didn’t make much of a splash, but ten years later Ocean’s Eight did very well doing basically the same thing.

I try not to read critical responses before watching the movie, but I skimmed a little to try to see if I just missed it somehow and along with a lot of general negativity, I saw a very charming comment from Roger Ebert about how “some girls will like it, the men not so much”. Which sounds like internet comment sections about every women-led movie even today. If the execution was bad, the execution was bad, but I wonder how much was just moviegoers in 2008 not getting it.

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Cinderfella

Cinderfella Paramount Pictures 1960.

Before watching the movie:

It seems a natural fit that a comedian who often plays meek nice guys would eventually land in a genderbent fairytale. If Jerry Lewis has a specialty in stories, it may well be nebbish men’s wish fulfilment fantasies, and few stories are more wish fulfilment than Cinderella.

In an era where we’re taking our traditionally white male role model character roles and trying to be conscious about putting more women and people of color there, it may seem a little backward to turn one of the canon fairytale princesses into Jerry Lewis, but I think the reason I’m not too discomforted by it is that Cinderella is a pretty classical feminine role type, and it’s not a position one would expect to find a fictional man who is the protagonist in. So it’s an underutilized permutation that stands exploring in media.

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Julie and Julia

Julie and Julia.
Easy There Tiger Productions 2009.

Before watching the movie:

I’ve always been aware of Julia Child as an important figure in cooking, but I’ve only known of her indirectly. Of the PBS Digital Studios remixes, the Julia Child video was the only one I didn’t have my own experience with the source material of.

I actually watched the Academy Awards presentations for a few years, and I remember that this was one of those years. I had the impression this was about a direct mentorship or friendship, but apparently what happens is that a blogger challenges herself to cook every recipe in Childs’s book. But over the course of the movie we also learn Childs’s own story, so maybe I’ll finally understand why she made an impact on so many people that seems to go beyond writing a popular book and presenting a cooking show.

Also how have I been reviewing movies for ten years and this is the first time I’ve tagged Meryl Streep?

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The Cat from Outer Space

The Cat From Outer Space.
Walt Disney Pictures 1978.

Before watching the movie:

In the 60s and 70s, Disney’s live action movies department came up with some pretty outlandish ideas. Some of them are cartoon ideas, but done in live action, some are just… did they throw darts at a board or something?

This is an adventure about an extraterrestrial cat. There’s some humans trying to help the stranded alien cat get home and some other humans trying to steal the cat’s technology, and I don’t really know much more than that, which I learned only minutes ago.

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Movies of My Yesterdays: UHF

As I grew up, I eventually discovered my parents’ music collection, and among it, my father’s Weird Al CDs (and eventually the Doctor Demento cassettes and tape recordings of Weird Al vinyl albums). I considered myself a fan of Al Yankovic, but eventually I learned that there was a lot more than just the self-titled album, Even Worse, and Alapalooza. But I think I was in high school before I found UHF.

UHF. Cinecorp 1989.

While I usually came to these kinds of things through library catalog raids, I distinctly remember my favorite high school teacher showing this movie on a slack day, and a lot of the most iconic parts of the movie were definitely new to me at the time, so except for possibly passing some of the more random elements while channel surfing and not knowing what it was, I’m confident in saying that my teacher playing it in class was the first time I saw this movie, although I don’t think we finished it then (a common theme among movies played at school, considering a class period is a little less than an hour and a movie is at least 75 minutes). I eventually saw it on DVD, the menus of which are how I first encountered Al’s updated (hair down, no mustache, no glasses) look that was probably old, old news by then.

As recall, the plot is probably the most forgettable part of the movie, though it’s clearly constructed as a means to let Al’s comedic ideas and abilities (and those of his writing partner) play. Al’s character George comes into control of a tiny local TV station and builds it into the area’s most must-watch TV through just having weird ideas nobody in the TV industry would have, a sure threat to the big network that wants him out of competition for their ratings.

There’s more story and fewer sketches than I remember. Stanley is shown at the beginning to be a daydreamer, but that’s not carried through most of the movie. The cutaways are almost entirely station ads once the story gets going until the big Rambo parody daydream at the end. The Beverly Hillbillies music video could be argued to be continuing his flights of fantasy, but it’s framed as a dream instead of a daydream, and it’s so different from the imagination sequences that it just seems awkwardly shoved in.

I’m not sure if RJ Reynolds seems like a parody of someone specific in broadcasting or if Kevin McCarthy is just that much of a presence in his own right. He feels like the most noteworthy actor in a movie with Weird Al, Kramer, and The Nanny despite the fact that I had to look up his name. He seems like a Leslie Nielson type whose serious appearance is usually played for comedy.

It’s unfortunate that this movie didn’t do well enough to let Al continue to make movies in the 90s. He’s only in the last few years been able to take the time to pursue comic acting alongside his music career as he reached the end of his album contract. This is at least as good as a classic National Lampoon or Airplane!-type movie, and he seems like he could’ve done more. I should probably look up AlTV, which sounds somewhere between talk show parody and actual talk show, but more in this vein would have been on another level.

Daddy Day Care

Daddy Day Care. Columbia Pictures 2003

Before watching the movie:

Men caring for children and being overwhelmed! That’s funny, right? Because men can’t handle kids? Or because men aren’t prepared for childcare and face a steeper learning curve? Eddie Murphy and his friend who’s not a big enough name to be billed above the title or featured on the poster at all will find out, I guess.

I thought this movie had both Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin, but I’m pretty sure I’m just confused because Steve Martin appeared in Cheaper By The Dozen the same year, and they are both movies about Too Many Kids.

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