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The Rescuers Down Under is the twenty-ninth animated feature in the Disney animated features canon, produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation, and was released by Walt Disney Pictures and Buena Vista Distribution on November 16, 1990.

The film takes place in the Australian Outback and is the sequel to the 1977 film The Rescuers, based upon the novels of Margery Sharp.


Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

Set in the Australian Outback, a young boy named Cody rescues and befriends a rare giant eagle named Marahute, who shows him her nest and eggs. Later on, Cody unknowingly falls into an animal trap set by Percival C. McLeach, a local poacher who is wanted by the Australian Rangers.

When McLeach finds one of the eagle's feathers on Cody's backpack, he is instantly overcome with excitement, knowing that catching an eagle of that size would make him rich because he had caught one before (which was Marahute's mate).

McLeach throws Cody's backpack to a pack of crocodiles in order to trick the Rangers into thinking that Cody was dead and he kidnaps him in his attempt to force him to reveal the whereabouts of Marahute.

A mouse (who was the bait in the trap) runs off to alert the Rescue Aid Society. A telegram is sent to the Rescue Aid Society headquarters in New York City, where Bernard and Miss Bianca, the RAS' elite field agents, are assigned to the mission, despite Bernard's attempts to propose marriage to Bianca.

They go to find Orville, the albatross who aided them previously, but instead, they find his brother Wilbur. Bernard and Bianca convince Wilbur to fly them to Australia to save Cody.

In Australia, they meet a hopping mouse named Jake who is the RAS' local regional operative. He becomes infatuated with Bianca and starts flirting with her, much to Bernard's chagrin. He serves as their "tour guide" and protector in search of Cody.

At the same time, Wilbur is immobilized when his spinal column is bent out of its natural shape, convincing Jake to send him to a nearby hospital run by mice. Wilbur (who is scared of the surgical equipment that the doctor intends to use, including a chainsaw) refuses to have surgery and is forced to flee. His back is unintentionally straightened by the efforts of the mouse medical staff preventing him from escaping through a window. After being cured, Wilbur leaves to look for his friends.

Meanwhile, at McLeach's ranch, Cody has been thrown into the cage with several of McLeach's imprisoned animals for refusing to give up Marahute's whereabouts. Cody attempts to free himself and the animals using various objects tied together with a hook on the end, but he is thwarted every time by Joanna, McLeach's pet goanna.

Realizing that Marahute's eggs are Cody's weak spot, Joanna tries to shoot the door, McLeach tricks Cody into thinking that Marahute has died, which causes Cody to lead him straight to Marahute's nest. Knowing that Cody's going to fall for a trap, Bernard, Bianca and Jake jump onto McLeach's Halftrack to follow him.

At Marahute's nest, they try to warn Cody that he has been followed; just as they do, McLeach arrives and captures Marahute, along with Cody, Jake, and Bianca. Following McLeach's orders, Joanna tries to eat Marahute's eggs, but then realizes they are actually egg-shaped rocks.

Frightened that McLeach might be angry with her, Joanna drops the stones over the cliff instead. When she leaves, Bernard crawls out of the nest with the hidden eggs, grateful that Joanna fell for the trick. Just then, Wilbur arrives at the nest where Bernard convinces him to sit on the eagle's eggs so Bernard can go after McLeach.

Enraged by Cody's interference, McLeach takes his captives to Crocodile Falls, where he ties Cody up and hangs him over a group of crocodiles, trying to feed him to them. But Bernard (riding a wild razorback pig he had tamed using a horse whispering technique that Jake had used on a snake earlier) follows and disables McLeach's vehicle.

Then, McLeach tries to shoot the rope holding Cody above the water, and in order to save Cody, Bernard tricks Joanna into crashing into McLeach, which causes them to fall into the water, which causes the crocodiles to focus their attention from Cody toward McLeach and Joanna, while the badly damaged rope that's holding Cody behind them starts to break.

McLeach fights and fends off the crocodiles, but even though Joanna manages to reach the shoreline, McLeach is swept over the waterfall to his death. Bernard dives into the water to save Cody, but struggles to; his actions buy Jake and Bianca enough time to free Marahute so they can save both Cody and Bernard.

Not wanting any other incidents, Bernard proposes to Bianca who eagerly and happily accepts while Jake salutes him with a newfound respect. All of them leave for Cody's home and back at the nest, Marahute's eggs finally hatch, much to Wilbur's dismay.

Voice cast

  • Bob Newhart as Bernard
  • Eva Gabor as Miss Bianca
  • John Candy as Wilbur
  • Tristan Rogers as Jake
  • Adam Ryen as Cody
  • George C. Scott as McLeach
  • Jayne Scott as Policeman
  • Wayne Robson as Frank
  • Douglas Seale as Krebbs
  • Frank Welker as Marahute and Joanna
  • Bernard Fox as Mr. Chairman and Doctor Mouse
  • Peter Firth as Red
  • Billy Barty as Baitmouse
  • Ed Gilbert as Francois
  • Carla Meyer as Faloo and Cody's Mother
  • Russi Taylor as Nurse Mouse

Release Dates

Country Premiere
Flag-icon-us.gif November 16, 1990
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The movie was first written in 1986, and following work on the movie Oliver & Company, Peter Schneider (The vice president of Walt Disney Feature Animation) asked supervising animator Mike Gabriel if he would consider directing, but at the time, Gabriel declined the offer, stating: "Well, after watching George [Scribner], it doesn't look like it would be much fun."

After a few months, Schneider offered Gabriel to direct The Rescuers Down Under, which he accepted. Following his assignment as supervising animator as Tito on Oliver, which was met with favorable praise from general audiences, Hendel Butoy was added to co-direct The Rescuers Down Under with Gabriel.

Meanwhile, Schneider recruited Thomas Schumacher (who had worked at the Mark Taper Forum) to serve as producer on the project. With Schumacher as the producer, he selected storyboard artist Joe Ranft to serve as story supervisor because of his "ability to change and transform through excellence of idea".

Throughout the storyboard process, Ranft constantly bolstered the creative morale of his crew, but he rarely drew storyboard sequences himself. In addition to this, Ranft entered creative disagreements with the studio management and marketing executives, including one disagreement where he optioned for the casting of Aboriginal Australian child actor to voice Cody, which was overridden with the decision to cast "a little white blonde kid."

Recognizing the rise in popularity of the action-adventure genre set in an Australian setting and with Americans becoming more environmentally conscious, the filmmakers decided to abandon the musical format of the movie where they found the placement of the songs slowed down the pacing of the film and decided to market the film as the studio's first action-adventure film.

Butoy and Gabriel found visual inspiration from live-action films by Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and David Lean (which was their first film since Bambi to have an animal rights and environmental message).

In December of 1988, original cast members Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor were confirmed to be reprising their roles. However, Jim Jordan, who had voiced Orville in the original film, died, so Roy E. Disney suggested the character of Wilbur, written as Orville's brother, to serve as his replacement. Intentionally, the names were in reference to the Wright brothers.

Animation and design

The members of the production team, including art director Maurice Hunt and six of his animators, spent several days in Australia to study settings and animals found in the Australian Outback to observe, take photographs and draw sketches to properly illustrate the outback on film. While there, they ventured through the Ayers Rock, Katherine Gorge and the Kakadu National Park where Hunt's initial designs emphasized the spectrum of scale between the sweeping vistas and the film's protagonists.

Serving as the supervising animator on the eagle character Marahute, Glen Keane studied six eagles residing at the Peregrine Fund in Boise, Idaho as well as a stuffed American eagle loaned from the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History and an eagle skeleton. While animating the eagle, Keane and his animation crew enlarged the bird, shrunk its head, elongated its neck and wings, and puffed out its chest.

Additionally, Keane had to slow the bird's wing movements to about 25–30 percent of an eagle's flight speed. Because of the excessive details on Marahute who carried 200 feathers, the character only appeared in seven minutes during the opening and ending sequences.

Furthermore, in order to have the movie finished on time, Schumacher enlisted the support of the Disney-MGM Studios, which was originally envisioned to produce independent cartoon shorts and featurettes.

On its first assignment on a Disney animated feature film, seventy artists contributed ten minutes of screentime, including supervising animator Mark Henn. Serving as one of ten supervising animators, Henn animated several scenes of Bernard, Miss Bianca, and Percival C. McLeach. For the mice characters, Henn studied the mannerisms made by Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor during voice recording sessions, and looked to George C. Scott's performance in Dr. Strangelove for inspiration while animating McLeach.

To create believable realism for the Australian animals, additional animators traveled to the San Diego Zoo to observe kangaroos, kookaburras, and snakes, while an iguana was brought in by the staff at Walt Disney World's Discovery Island for the animators drawing Joanna.

The movie is notable for Disney as its first traditionally animated film to completely use the new computerized CAPS process.

CAPS (Computer Animation Production System) was a computer-based production system used for digital ink and paint and compositing, allowing for more efficient and sophisticated post-production of the Disney animated films and making the traditional practice of hand-painting cels obsolete.

The animators' drawings and the background paintings were scanned into computer systems instead, where the animation drawings are inked and painted by digital artists, and later combined with the scanned backgrounds in software that allows for camera positioning, camera movements, multiplane effects and other techniques.

It also uses CGI elements throughout such as the field of flowers in the opening sequence, McLeach's truck, and perspective shots of Wilbur flying above the Sydney Opera House and New York City.

The CAPS project was the first of Disney's collaborations with computer graphics company Pixar (which would eventually become a feature animation production studio making computer-generated animated films for Disney before being bought outright in 2006).

As a result, The Rescuers Down Under was the first animated film for which the entire final film elements were assembled and completed within a digital environment, as well as the first fully digital feature film. However, the movie's marketing approach did not call attention to the use of the CAPS process.

Box Office

The Rescuers Down Under had failed to reach the success of its predecessor, making it the lowest grossing film in the Disney Renaissance era.

Critical Reception

On Rotten Tomatoes, The Rescuers Down Under has an overall approval rating of 68% based on 25 reviews collected, with a weighted average score of 6.2 out of 10.

According to the critical consensus: "Though its story is second-rate, The Rescuers Down Under redeems itself with some remarkable production values—particularly its flight scenes."

The staff from Halliwell's Film Guide gave it two stars out of four calling it a "slick, lively and enjoyable animated feature" and "an improvement on the original."

Roger Ebert gave 3 out of 4 stars and wrote in his review: "Animation can give us the glory of sights and experiences that are impossible in the real world, and one of those sights, in The Rescuers Down Under, is of a little boy clinging to the back of a soaring eagle. The flight sequence and many of the other action scenes in this new Disney animated feature create an exhilaration and freedom that are liberating. And the rest of the story is fun, too."

Also giving it three stars out of four, Gene Siskel summarized the film as a "bold, rousing but sometimes needlessly intense Disney animated feature [sic]" where "good fun is provided by a goofy albatross (voiced by John Candy), one in a long line of silly Disney birds."

Janet Maslin of The New York Times praised the movie's animation and the action sequences, though remained critical of the storyline labeling it "trifle dark and un involving for very small children", though acknowledged its "slightly more grown-up, adventurous approach may be the reason it does not include the expected musical interludes, but they would have been welcome."

Also finding error with "such a mediocre story that adults may duck", the staff of Variety, nevertheless, wrote that the movie "boasts reasonably solid production values and fine character voices."

TV Guide gave the film 2½ stars out of four, writing: "Three years in the making, it was obviously conceived during the height of this country's fascination with Australia, brought on by Paul Hogan's fabulously successful "Crocodile" Dundee. By 1990, the mania had long since subsided, and this film's Australian setting did nothing to enhance its box office appeal. Further, the film doesn't make particularly imaginative use of the location. Take away the accents and the obligatory kangaroos and koalas, and the story could have taken place anywhere. Another problem is that "the rescuers" themselves don't even enter the action until a third of the film has passed. And when they do appear, they don't have much to do with the main plot until near the film's end. The characters seem grafted on to a story that probably would have been more successful without them. Finally, the film suffers from some action and plotting that is questionable in a children's film. The villain is far too malignant, the young vigilante hero seems to be a kiddie Rambo, and some of the action is quite violent, if not tasteless."

Josh Spiegel echoes that point and expands on it further, explaining: "The Rescuers Down Under tanked with barely $3.5 million in its opening-weekend take, Katzenberg removed all television advertisements for the film. By itself, that's not the worst possible fate, but it proves that he had zero confidence in its ability to perform at a seemingly ideal time of year. Here's the thing: the more demoralizing fact isn't that Katzenberg yanked the marketing. It's that Disney set The Rescuers Down Under up to fail, opening it on the same weekend as a little film called Home Alone, otherwise known as the highest-grossing film of 1990. He may not have been able to predict its long-lasting impact on popular culture, but Katzenberg likely had enough tracking information to tip him off that Home Alone would be a monster laying waste to everything in its path. The Rescuers Down Under was forced to take the hit, then and afterwards."

Ellen MacKay of Common Sense Media gave the film four out of five stars, writing: "A rare sequel that improves on the original".

Movie Trailer


The Rescuers Down Under - 1990 Theatrical Trailer