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.

Find the Lady

Find the Lady.  Quadrant Films 1976.

Before watching the movie:

This is an old and (perhaps deservedly) forgotten movie from the early days of John Candy’s career. I’ve seen two wildly different posters for it, it was released under different titles, and his character has a partner the promotional material doesn’t care about because the partner didn’t become as famous as Candy.

So, my time would probably be better spent watching SCTV sketches, but here we are.

After watching the movie:

With the police force stretched thin, the chief wants to resolve the kidnapping of prominent businessman Lewenhak’s daughter Victoria quickly, and puts seasoned officer Broom on the case. Inexplicably, the otherwise competent Broom is the only one on the force who likes young oaf Kopek, and requests him as his partner. As it happens, Lewenhak planned the kidnapping with mafia thugs so he could use money from Victoria’s inheritance as “ransom” to pay off his own gambling debts. Only the thugs grabbed the wrong girl. And Victoria has run off with her boyfriend. And then gotten kidnapped by someone else. Now Lewenhak is trying to coordinate his business with the mobsters while allowing Broom and Kopek to tap his phone.

This seems like it’s mostly moving from one slapstick setup to another, yet it doesn’t actually have many showstopping slapstick gags. The plot is farcical, Kopek is a clumsy idiot, and Mickey Rooney is a goon frustrated that he doesn’t get to kill anybody, and nothing really comes together the way it seems like it should. Little makes sense beyond “this is supposed to be funny”. Sometimes it is funny. Sometimes I can just see what they were trying for.

One of the subplots is that Victoria is supposed to be an opera singer, but wants to be a cabaret performer, and is good at neither, and through that, a burlesque troupe gets involved. The comedy of mixing Broom and Kopek with them seems to be meant to come from how uncomfortable Broom is about everything. Even though the choreographer is a gay-coded man who refuses to stop dressing in drag once he starts, unless the punchline is simply “man in a dress, rimshot”, and given the quality of the writing and the time it was made, it’s entirely possible that’s what was meant, I think the jokes are mainly on Broom.

John Candy’s retroactive star power puts too much focus on the police investigators, but even so, they seem to be meant as stronger leads than they end up being. I was most interested in Lewenhak’s compounding problems, and I would’ve preferred a version where he was a proper Villain Protagonist, because he’s the most central character to the bumbling kidnappers plot that drives the story. And also because it would give Peter Cook more to do.

This movie was simply a waste of potential. It needed a few more rewrites before going into production. It fails at being a vehicle for the lead characters that were apparently established in a previous movie. It fails at holding interest. It often fails at being funny. The concept could’ve been a hoot, but it needed a lot of punching up.

Brewster’s Millions (1985)

Brewster’s Millions. Silver Pictures 1985.

Before watching the movie:

I’ve already covered the 1945 version of this story, but I knew that eventually I’d come to this one. This is the 7th movie adaptation of the 1902 novel just in English, and at this point it’s surprising that it hasn’t been tried again. The reputation this version has is tepid, and it’s the version people think of when the name comes up (the last version with the same title was made 40 years previous), but it’s clearly a story with staying power, and within the next ten years, every memorable movie from the 80s is going to get remade if it hasn’t already.

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Only the Lonely

Whose leg is that in behind Candy? It's completely wrong for Sheedy's position.
Only the Lonely. Hughes Entertainment 1991.

Before watching the movie:

From what I can tell from summaries, this movie covers several years of John Candy sneaking a relationship/engagement behind his mother’s back. The length of time that seems to be involved is throwing me off so I have no idea what to expect from the plot.

It’s not even readily apparent why his character has to hide his lover from his mother, but from some minor things on IMDB I glean that there’s a strong Irish-American element, so my guess is that O’Hara’s character is a very traditional Irish mother and Sheedy’s is not Irish enough or Catholic enough or something for her.

I expect good things from a movie written and directed by Chris Columbus and produced by John Hughes.They both have a strong track record on earnest portrayals of life and family.

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The Great Outdoors

The Great Outdoors. Universal Pictures 1988.
The Great Outdoors. Universal Pictures 1988.

Before watching the movie:

The 80s, a camping trip, a family rivalry, two comedy legends. Why didn’t I know about this sooner?

I just found this while looking for something lighter, since I intentionally tried to keep January dark to offset my tendency to hit recent comedies, and it’s time for a short break.

So, Dan Aykroyd smugly one-upping John Candy on their family vacation in some mountainside lake area it is.

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Going Berserk

Going Berserk. Universal Pictures 1983.
Going Berserk. Universal Pictures 1983.

Before watching the movie:

This movie’s plot looks completely insane, which I suppose fits the title. John Candy acquires a congressman’s enemies by getting engaged to his daughter, so religious aerobic instructors come after him, and then somehow the poster is involved at some point. I have no idea what to expect.

I’d never heard of this movie before. I don’t remember what specifically got it recommended to me, but it’s in my list with a handful of other John Candy movies. The timing might put it in line with when I looked up Top Secret!, but this one may not have been the one specifically like it.

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Splash

Splash. Touchstone Pictures 1984.

Before watching the movie:

It’s easy to forget that Tom Hanks is in this movie because he’s overshadowed by two big stories: “Disney creates the Touchstone label to distance its core brand from edgier stuff like Splash“, and “Daryl Hannah is gorgeous”.

I think that before The Little Mermaid, it was a common assumption that mermaids were blonde, but I understand that there was a point when this movie owned the image of what a mermaid looked like to the extent that mermaids were blondes because Madison was a blonde, instead of the other way around.

I expect that 28 years later, this movie will look like a soft PG that you might see on Nickelodeon in the afternoon.

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Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Paramount Pictures 1987.

Before watching the movie:

I saw a little of this movie over a year ago, but I mainly remember a rant Steve Martin delivers. I certainly don’t remember as much in general as a DVD blurb could tell me, but essentially Steve Martin has to cross the country with planes snowed out, and faces a million irritations, many from John Candy, a traveler going the same way.

Maybe I do know as much as the blurb after all.

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Canadian Bacon

Canadian Bacon. Dog Eat Dog Films 1995.

Before watching the movie:

From the synopsis, I was expecting stereotypes and satire even before I read further and found that this is a rare (I think) non-documentary from Michael Moore.  So maybe it will be like An American Carol, only on the other side of the political spectrum. Regardless, I expect satirical stereotypes of both Americans and Canadians.

This is a satire of the first Gulf War, so I wonder if  I’ll see anything relevant to the second. I also wonder if this film can top South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut for silliest war with Canada.

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Wagons East

Wagons East! Carolco Pictures 1994.

Before watching the movie:

Yes, it’s another John Candy movie. Why? Because not only does one of my primary sources of films have a ridiculous amount of John Candy movies, it’s actually started recommending them to me. This film was recommended to me by Hulu after I watched the last potboiler starring him to appear on this blog, and I chose to review it today because a lot of people, myself included, are falling over themselves about a certain Wild West-themed video game. Will this be fun for fans of that game I will not name, or will it be a counterexample to the genre?

It also stars Richard Lewis, who seems to have blipped through Hollywood in the early 90s, never seen before or since.

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