Tag Archives: Disney Renaissance

The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

The flight sequences with Cody and Marahute are some of the film’s best.

The Rescuers Down Under marks a lot of Disney firsts for a second crack at the same main characters. Everyone’s favourite Rescue Aid Society rodents are back for the company’s only sequel in the official canon. With film production ramped right up to meet the target of one animated feature release per year, hours were long, talent was stretched and ambitions (and expectations) were high. After the massive success of The Little Mermaid one could hardly blame the company for wanting to spit out hit after hit.

The story follows Bernard and Miss Bianca to Australia where local boy Cody has been kidnapped by the evil poacher McLeach. McLeach is after an endangered golden eagle Marahute and he believes Cody can take him to the bird’s location. The supporting cast of characters are among some of the most charming the Mouse House has created. McLeach’s goanna lizard sidekick Joanna is a spunky character with an agenda of her own — the scene where she steals McLeach’s breakfast eggs one by one from right under his nose is quite comical. There’s also Jake, the smooth-talking, Outback kangaroo rat who throws a little wrench into Bernard’s plan to propose to Miss Bianca.

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The Little Mermaid (1989)

Ariel’s signature tune, “Part of Your World,” is one of Howard Ashman’s best-known works.

Dear Howard Ashman,

Thank you for my childhood.

Growing up during the Disney Renaissance, you, Howard, were more Walt Disney to me than Walt himself ever was. You weren’t just one of the many working on the great films of this time, you breathed life into these timeless masterpieces. Watching The Little Mermaid, it’s not hard to see your fingerprints all over it, your vision infused throughout. You had such an unparalleled sense of music and storytelling. Your numerous Academy Awards (some even awarded posthumously) with longtime collaborator and composer Alan Menken are a tribute to the way you reinvented the Disney animated musical. (Between you and me, Alan hasn’t quite been able to hit that level since you left this world.)

The soul of Mermaid is, of course, Ariel. And she really has your heart. As a girl, I found qualities in Ariel to which I could aspire. She is naturally curious, genuinely accepting and fiercely loyal. She is not afraid to stand up for herself — a rare characteristic in the Disney canon up to this point. While, today, I want Ariel to aspire to more than catching Prince Eric’s eye, I still love her just the same. She wanted more from life, and would stop at nothing until she got it — even if that meant trading her beautiful voice for the legs that would get her to her end goal. And that’s something to admire. I love her spunk, I wanted her red hair, I even tried to use a dingle hopper once.

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Oliver & Company (1988)

Oliver, wide-eyed at the world.

Oliver & Company continues the Disney Renaissance in good style. Taking a popular story and adapting it for the screen without binding themselves too much to the source material is a tried and true Disney tactic. With the addition of celebrity voice talents and the courage to return to the Disney formula of story-telling, Oliver was perfectly suited to steal the hearts of a generation.

But the film still has its drawbacks as the studio prepared for a full-on animation rebirth. The Black Cauldron was still fresh in everyone’s memory and even with the success of The Great Mouse Detective, the best from that project were already hard at work on The Little Mermaid, slated for a 1989 release In fact, one of the lead animators and the brains behind the computer-generated clock tower sequence in The Great Mouse Detective, Michael Peraza, was tapped to lead the design team on The Little Mermaid at the wrap party for Mouse Detective. Work started shortly thereafter.

That left many of the same brains who worked on Black Cauldron, including art director Dan Hansen, director George Scribner and several story writers, as the team of second stringers working on Oliver & Company as a stop-gap until Ariel could take centre stage the following year.

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The Rescuers (1977)

Bernard and Miss Bianca take flight.

The studio takes a bit of a darker turn with its next few films. Based on a series of books by Margery SharpThe Rescuers centres on mice Bernard and Miss Bianca, members of the international Rescue Aid Society and voiced by legends Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor, and their mission to rescue orphan Penny from the evil, diamond-hungry Madame Medusa. The tale is a return to the heartstring-pulling dramas, like Bambi and Dumbo, that gave the studio its reputation.

With The Rescuers, we see Don Bluth’s biggest contribution to Disney during his time at the studio. The film is Bluth’s only as directing animator, and he was working along such legends as Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston for the last time. While a great blend of old and new talent, a real passing-of-the-torch moment, Bluth’s artistic influence on this film is undeniable. One need only follow up this film with one of Bluth’s famous solo efforts,  like The Secret of NIMH or An American Tail to see the similarities. Medusa’s Devil’s Bayou riverboat even bears resemblance to Charlie’s casino in All Dogs Go To Heaven.

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