Disney Double Feature Succeeds on Blu-ray
Disney Blu-ray 109274
I don't know whether it has to do with spies within the video industry, phases of the moon, or just plain old coincidence, but there seem to be certain days that serve as bull's-eye release dates for every studio that produces Blu-ray Discs and DVDs. August 28 is an example, and it presents a dilemma for me, since I must pick one title a week to cover. So I'll briefly tell you that Universal's Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein is still a lot of fun and one of the best black-and-white transfers ever, and Battleship proved an unexpected fantasy-adventure of great worth. I should also mention that The Pirates! Band of Misfits, though it boasts an astonishingly crisp HD transfer, is the first Aardman film that hasn't floated my boat. Arrgh!
There are many others, too, but out of them all, it's this lower-key Disney release that has stuck in my memory. It's a 35th-anniversary edition for the original The Rescuers made into a double feature by including the theatrically released sequel, The Rescuers Down Under, made 13 years later in 1990. I emphasize the theatrical nature of this sequel to set it apart from today's Disney sequels such as Lady and the Tramp II, which are released straight to video and seem to serve little purpose other than to milk more money out of the franchise. The Rescuers Down Under was released as a feature, and though it's quite different from the original in style, it is just as successful.
Both movies are based on stories in a series of books by Margery Sharp, and both focus on the Rescue Aid Society, a United Nations comprising mice that take on tough kidnapping cases. In the original film, a little girl, Penny (Michelle Stacy), has been spirited away to an abandoned riverboat in Louisiana by the wicked Madame Medusa (Geraldine Fitzgerald) because only she can recover a giant diamond. In the sequel, a young boy in Australia, Cody (Adam Ryen), is kidnapped because he knows how to find a giant, nearly extinct eagle.
The original movie is hand drawn with care, whereas the sequel shows evidence of some dawning computer assistance that, though excellent in its own right, offers less warmth. The same actors voice the two rescuing mice in both movies: Bob Newhart as Bernard, the custodian turned detective, and Eva Gabor as Miss Bianca, a Hungarian mouse who we think must surely have been a countess at some point in her life. Gabor, with her soft, distinctive accent, brings sweet appeal to both films. Two other character actors are worth mentioning. In the first movie, Orville, the albatross that provides an air-transportation service for the mice, is voiced by Jim Jordan, who, with his wife Marian, starred in the popular radio show, Fibber McGee and Molly. For Orville it was one of the last appearances he made. And in the sequel, George C. Scott voices a villain poacher, McLeach, who is drawn to look exactly like him.
The transfers are fine all the way around. The first movie's colors are warm and its focus softer; it's virtually the last of an era for its style. The sequel has more contrast and division of colors, and it serves as a harbinger of animation styles to reign from the '90s on. The original soundtracks have been remixed and expertly expanded into 5.1. I don't think anyone does this as well as Disney's team. The sound is much more appealing than the original for today's audiences, yet it's never innovative to the point of distraction.
The extras include one of Disney's better True-Life Adventures about water birds (including albatrosses for the feature tie-in). It may seem a little primitive by today's BBC standards, but Winston Hibler's narration still commands attention. There's also a 1930s Silly Symphony short, "The Three Blind Mouseketeers," with Captain Katt (a variation of Pete and Peg-Leg Pete) laying incredibly brutal traps for the stereotypical trio. It is perhaps one of Disney's most hated shorts, but if you remember when it was made, and that it was totally hand drawn, you'll be able to get into its amazing animation and overlook its politics.
There are also two DVDs (one for each movie) in this set. Considering the entertainment value, the double-feature presentation, and the interesting extras, this edition is a treasure to investigate. It's family friendly, too.
Be sure to watch for: In The Rescuers Down Under, evil McLeach throws his captives into cages that are etched with claustrophobic HD detail. In the original, check out the moments when Medusa's pet crocodiles surface from the water and the realistic way it drips from them.
. . . Rad Bennett