"The Rescuers Down Under," the first Disney animated sequel, is no "Little Mermaid" by a longshot. But then, it doesn't try to be.
"The Rescuers Down Under" aspires to be nothing more than pure entertainment - and animated adventure doesn't get more rousing than this.A brilliant blend of computer and traditional animation skills, this combination of "Indiana Jones" and " `Crocodile' Dundee," with predominantly animal characters, is by turns, funny, harrowing and an amazing example of the levels to which animation can rise in the hands of experts. The opening tracking shot of the Australian outback is the first hint that the audience is in for a visual feast.
Then we meet a young boy named Cody, who is living with his mother in the outback's farthest reaches. With no other children around, he has befriended the many animals, birds and insects that populate the area.
When Cody frees a huge golden eagle that has been ensnared in a poacher's net, the bird gives him a wild ride through the air that is one of the most startling pieces of animation you'll ever see.
It isn't long, however, before Cody encounters the poacher, a particularly nasty villain named McLeach (voiced with great relish by George C. Scott), who wants that eagle so badly he tries to force Cody to tell him where it is. Since Cody won't squeal, he gains more time by faking hisdeath-by-crocodiles so the rangers won't come looking for him.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the Rescue Aid Society goes into action and the two heroic mice of Disney's first "Rescuers" film, timid Bernard and forceful Miss Bianca (again with the voices of Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor, respectfully), head for the land down under on the back of an inept albatross (John Candy).
The rest of the film parallels their efforts to find and free Cody from McLeach's attempts to intimidate the boy into revealing the whereabouts of the eagle's nest.
Along the way there are encounters with a bevy of marvelous new Disney characters, ranging from cockroaches and flies to kangaroos and koalas. Particularly effective are McLeach's salamander sidekick and a zany lizard who is one of the villain's captive endangered species.
In the end there is a tense literal cliff-hanging climax, along with the requisite hungry crocs.
Some of this may be a bit intense for very young children, and it might have been nice to have Cody reunited with his mother in the end - she thinks he's dead, after all. And the captive animals in McLeach's lair are introduced only to be forgotten.
But on the whole, "The Rescuers Down Under" is Disney animation at the peak of its form - and, to coin a cliche, kids of all ages should be more than pleased with the results.
- PLAYING WITH "The Rescuers Down Under" is a Disney featurette, about 25 minutes long, a light, but enjoyable stretched-out cartoon short, "The Prince and the Pauper."
Mickey Mouse has the title roles in this variation on Mark Twain's classic story. Goofy, Donald Duck, Pluto and other Disney veterans are also on hand, offering silly anachronisms and slapstick comedy to pad out the story.
The slapstick isn't up there with the classic shorts turned out by Disney some 40 years ago, but it's still fun.
I'm less enthused, however, about the 10-minute intermission between "The Prince and the Pauper" and "The Rescuers Down Under," which displays a clock on the screen counting down the time. This is an obvious ploy to sell more popcorn.
It could be argued that the audience of children needs a break, since the two cartoons together add up to about 100 minutes of sitting time. But if that's true, how do you explain the two-hour "Fantasia," which originally did have an intermission, but now plays without interruption?
Both the feature and featurette are rated G.