1990’s The Rescuers Down Under has two very important distinction: it was both the first fully animated using Disney’s new CAPS coloring system and it was their first animated sequel. It was based on the characters from the hit 1977 Disney animated feature The Rescuers, which, in turn, was based on the novels Miss Bianca and The Rescuers, both written by Margery Sharp.
Animated by a team of over 415 artists and technicians, this was the first animated film that takes place in Australia. As would become commonplace for films in the Disney Renaissance, members of the animation team traveled to the locations from the film to get a feel for the real places depicted in the film.
Beginning with this film, final color animation was accomplished using a digital method of importing the animators drawings called CAPS (Computer Animation Production System), which was developed for Disney by a northern California computer company called Pixar.
It is important to understand CAPS is not computer animation. Animation was still done by hand in the time-honored style. CAPS took those completed drawings and imported them into a computer environment. There, the drawings could be manipulated, resized, colored and copied as needed by the production on demand.
The CAPS system would save substantial amounts of time and money by eliminating the whole step of inking and painting cels; in fact, cels became a relic of the past. By working in the digital realm, the multiplane camera and other optical effects used in the production of animated films could be previewed in real time rather than after days or weeks of animation and optical work.
The most dramatic character animation in The Rescuers Down Under is the work of none other than Glen Keane. Marahute the great golden eagle was Keane’s assignment in between finishing Ariel for The Little Mermaid (1989) and beginning the Beast for Beauty and the Beast (1991). Although Marahute is a majestic bird of great scale and grandeur, she also has a distinct character. Interestingly, that character is derived from natural behavior as opposed to the human characteristics exhibited by the other animal characters in the film.
The villain of the piece is a mean-spirited poacher, conveying none of the comic tendencies of a Cruella de Vil or Madame Medusa. Perceval McLeach is unrepentingly bad, with a strong voice personality provided by Oscars-winning actor George C. Scott.
Writer John Grant praised The Rescuers Down Under for its well-defined characters:
Leaving aside for a moment Bernard, Bianca and Wilbur, we have a good strong villain in Perceval McLeach; an appealing character in the Jimmy Cricket role, Jake; and perhaps most significantly, one of the best and most credible of all the Disney animated children, Cody…”
The Rescuers Down Under does not include any musical numbers, only the second film to exclude character songs.
Released with the featurette “The Prince and the Pauper.”