After the incredible success of The Little Mermaid, whatever film came next was in an unenviable position. The die had been cast, the public wanted Disney to return to their more traditional musical fairytale roots. Also, this film had been put into production back when America had a fleeting fascination in all things Australian (see the classic ‘Bart vs. Australia’ episode of The Simpsons for more on that)… that fascination had faded by 1990.
So, The Rescuers Down Under really is a film released at the wrong time. If anything, it would make more sense for the release dates of this and The Little Mermaid to have been swapped around. It would have made for a great missing link after Oliver & Company as it shows how much improvement there was in the animation techniques being used at Disney. Then again, this is technically that step further than The Little Mermaid as it marks the first Disney film to be digitally process… so I guess there goes that argument.
Speaking of animation, The Rescuers Down Under features some of the most breathtaking scenes that Disney made up until that point. In fact, the flying sequences where Cody rides on the back of the giant eagle is head and shoulders above pretty much everything Disney released in the 2000s (a decade that I am already beginning to dread). It’s not too difficult to imagine Disneyland featuring some sort of eagle flying ride had this film been more of a success at the box office… which Disney did not help by pulling all the advertising budget after it made a poor showing in its opening weekend.
The inevitable question with this film is whether or not it is an improvement of the original The Rescuers released 13 years earlier. The answer is yes and no. Where Down Under is far better in terms of visuals, it does pale in comparison to the original in terms of story. Also, the original dynamic between Bernard and Bianca (where he is crushing on her and is a bit inept) is far more entertaining than him being jealous of her well-justified awe of their Australian colleague.
In the end though, The Rescuers Down Under really was a film that was the last gasp of this period of Disney movies. It is considered part of the Renaissance because of when it was released, but it doesn’t have anything else in common with those films. In fact The Great Mouse Detective would actually make more sense, but I don’t make these rules.