In the Australian Outback, a young boy named Cody rescues and befriends a rare golden eagle called Marahuté, who shows him her nest and eggs. Later on, the boy falls in an animal trap set by Percival C. McLeach, a local poacher wanted by the Australian Rangers. When McLeach finds one of the eagle's feathers on the boy's backpack, he is instantly overcome with excitement, for he knows that catching an eagle that size would make him rich because he had caught one before, which was Marahuté's mate. McLeach throws Cody's backpack to a pack of crocodiles in order to trick the Rangers into thinking that Cody was eaten, and kidnaps him in an attempt to force him to reveal the whereabouts of Marahuté.
A mouse, the bait in the trap, runs off to a secret outpost. From there, a telegram is sent to the Rescue Aid Society headquarters in New York, and Bernard and Miss Bianca, the RAS' elite field agents, are assigned to the mission, interrupting Bernard's attempt to propose marriage to Bianca. They go to find Orville the albatross who aided them previously, but instead find his brother Wilbur. Bernard and Bianca convince Wilbur to fly them to Australia to save Cody. In Australia, they meet Jake, a hopping mouse who is the RAS' local regional operative. Jake becomes infatuated with Bianca and starts flirting with her, much to Bernard's chagrin. He serves as their "tour guide" and protector in search of the boy.
At the same time, Wilbur is immobilized when his spinal column is bent out of its natural shape, convincing Jake to send him to the hospital (an old abandoned ambulance). As Wilbur refuses to undergo surgery and flees, his back is unintentionally straightened in the struggle with the mouse medical staff. Cured, Wilbur departs in search of his friends. At McLeach's ranch, Cody has been thrown into a cage with several of McLeach's captured animals after refusing to give up Marahuté's whereabouts. Cody tries to free himself and the animals, but is thwarted by Joanna, McLeach's pet goanna. Realizing that Marahuté's eggs are Cody's weak spot, McLeach tricks Cody into thinking that someone else has shot Marahuté, making Cody lead him to Marahuté's nest.
Bernard, Bianca and Jake, knowing that Cody is in great danger, jump onto McLeach's halftrack to follow him. At Marahuté's nest, the three mice try to warn Cody that he has been followed; just as they do, McLeach arrives and captures Marahuté, along with Cody, Jake and Bianca. On McLeach's orders, Joanna tries to eat Marahuté's eggs, only to discover that they are just egg-shaped stones. Fearing that McLeach might be angry with her, Joanna drops the stones over the cliff. When she leaves, Bernard crawls out of the nest with the hidden eggs, grateful that Joanna fell for the trick. Wilbur arrives at the nest, whereupon Bernard convinces him to sit on the eagle's eggs, so that Bernard can go after McLeach. Infuriated by Cody's interference, McLeach takes his captives to Crocodile Falls, where he ties Cody up and hangs him over a group of crocodiles in attempts to feed him to them. But Bernard, riding a wild razorback pig, which he had tamed using a horse whispering technique used by Jake on a snake earlier, follows and disables McLeach's vehicle.
McLeach then tries to shoot the rope holding Cody above the water. To save Cody, Bernard tricks Joanna into crashing into McLeach, sending both of them into the water. The crocodiles then turn their attention from Cody to McLeach and Joanna, while behind them the damaged rope holding Cody breaks apart. McLeach fights and fends off the crocodiles, but when Joanna reaches the shoreline, McLeach is swept over the waterfall to his death. Bernard dives into the water to save Cody, but fails. His actions, however, buy Jake and Bianca enough time to free Marahuté for her to save both Cody and Bernard.
Bernard, desperate to prevent any further incidents, proposes to Bianca, who eagerly and happily accepts while Jake salutes him with a new-found respect. All of them depart for Cody's home. Meanwhile, Marahuté's eggs finally hatch, much to Wilbur's dismay.
The Rescuers Down Under features three characters from the first film: Bernard, Bianca, and the Chairmouse, all of whom feature the same actors reprising their roles from the original 1977 film.Bob Newhart as Bernard, a male grey mouse; the United States representative of the Rescue Aid Society, promoted from his role as janitor to full-fledged agent after proving a success with the previous rescue.Eva Gabor as Miss Bianca, a female white mouse; the Hungarian representative of the Rescue Aid Society. This was Eva Gabor's last film role before her death in 1995.John Candy as Wilbur, a comical albatross; named after Wilbur Wright. He is the brother of Orville, the albatross who appeared in the first film (named after Orville Wright).Adam Ryen as Cody, a young boy able to converse with most animals, the same as Penny in the first film.George C. Scott as Percival C. McLeach, a sinister poacher who wants to capture Marahute for money.Frank Welker as Marahuté, a giant eagle. Welker also voiced additional special vocal effects and Joanna, McLeach's pet goanna who enjoys intimidating her captives and has a fondness for eggs.Tristan Rogers as Jake, a debonair, self-confident and charismatic kangaroo mouse.Peter Firth as Red, a male red kangaroo imprisoned by McLeach.Wayne Robson as Frank, an erratic frill-necked lizard imprisoned by McLeach.Douglas Seale as Krebbs, a koala imprisoned by McLeach.Carla Meyer as Faloo, a female red kangaroo who summons Cody to save Marahute. Meyer also voices Cody's mother.Bernard Fox as Chairmouse, the chairman of the Rescue Aid Society. Fox also voices Doctor Mouse, the supervisor of the surgical mice who examine Wilbur when he is injured.Russi Taylor as Nurse Mouse, the operator of Doctor Mouse's instructions and a competent second-in-command.
Writing for The Rescuers Down Under began in 1986. Following work on Oliver & Company, Peter Schneider, vice president of Walt Disney Feature Animation, asked supervising animator Mike Gabriel if he would consider directing. At the time, Gabriel declined the offer, stating "Well, after watching George [Scribner], it doesn't look like it would be much fun." After a few months, Schneider offered Gabriel to direct Rescuers Down Under, which he accepted. Following his assignment as supervising animator as Tito on Oliver, which was met with favorable praise from general audiences, Hendel Butoy was added to co-direct Rescuers Down Under with Gabriel. Meanwhile, Schneider recruited Thomas Schumacher, who had worked at the Mark Taper Forum, to serve as Producer on the project. With Schumacher as producer, he selected storyboard artist Joe Ranft to serve as story supervisor because of his "ability to change and transform through excellence of idea". Throughout the storyboard process, Ranft constantly bolstered the creative morale of his crew, but rarely drew storyboard sequences himself. In addition to this, Ranft entered creative disagreements with the studio management and marketing executives, including one disagreement where he optioned for the casting of Aboriginal Australian child actor to voice Cody, which was overridden with the decision to cast "a little white blonde kid." Noting the rise in popularity of the action-adventure genre set in an Australian setting and with Americans becoming more environmentally conscious, the filmmakers decided to abandon the musical format where they found the placement of the songs slowed down the pacing of the film, and decided to market the film as the studio's first action-adventure film where Butoy and Gabriel found visual inspiration from live-action films by Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and David Lean, and their first film since Bambi to have an animal rights and environmental message. In December 1988, original cast members Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor were confirmed to be reprising their roles. However, Jim Jordan, who had voiced Orville in the original film, died so Roy E. Disney suggested the character of Wilbur, written as Orville's brother, to serve as his replacement. Intentionally, the names were in reference to the Wright brothers.
Animation and design
Members of the production team including art director Maurice Hunt and six of his animators spent several days in Australia to study settings and animals found in the Australian Outback to observe, take photographs, and draw sketches to properly illustrate the outback on film. There, they ventured through the Ayers Rock, Katherine Gorge, and the Kakadu National Park where Hunt's initial designs emphasized the spectrum of scale between the sweeping vistas and the film's protagonists. Serving as the supervising animator on the eagle character Marahute, Glen Keane studied six eagles residing at the Peregrine Fund in Boise, Idaho, as well as a stuffed American eagle loaned from the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History and an eagle skeleton. While animating the eagle, Keane and his animation crew enlarged the bird, shrunk its head, elongated its neck and wings, and puffed out its chest. Additionally, Keane had to slow the bird's wing movements to about 25–30 percent of an eagle's flight speed. Because of the excessive details on Marahute who carried 200 feathers, the character only appeared in seven minutes during the opening and ending sequences. Furthermore, in order to have the film finished on time, Schumacher enlisted the support of the Disney-MGM Studios, which was originally envisioned to produce independent cartoon shorts and featurettes. On its first assignment on a Disney animated feature film, seventy artists contributed ten minutes of screentime, including supervising animator Mark Henn. Serving as one of ten supervising animators, Henn animated several scenes of Bernard, Miss Bianca, and Percival C. McLeach. For the mice characters, Henn studied the mannerisms made by Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor during voice recording sessions, and looked to George C. Scott's performance in Dr. Strangelove for inspiration while animating McLeach. To create believable realism for the Australian animals, additional animators traveled to the San Diego Zoo to observe kangaroos, kookaburras, and snakes, while an iguana was brought in by the staff at Walt Disney World's Discovery Island for the animators drawing Joanna.
The Rescuers Down Under is notable for Disney as its first traditionally animated film to completely use the new computerized CAPS process. CAPS (Computer Animation Production System) was a computer-based production system used for digital ink and paint and compositing, allowing for more efficient and sophisticated post-production of the Disney animated films and making the traditional practice of hand-painting cels obsolete. The animators' drawings and the background paintings were scanned into computer systems instead, where the animation drawings are inked and painted by digital artists, and later combined with the scanned backgrounds in software that allows for camera positioning, camera movements, multiplane effects, and other techniques. The film also uses CGI elements throughout such as the field of flowers in the opening sequence, McLeach's truck, and perspective shots of Wilbur flying above Sydney Opera House and New York City. The CAPS project was the first of Disney's collaborations with computer graphics company Pixar, which would eventually become a feature animation production studio making computer-generated animated films for Disney before being bought outright in 2006. As a result, The Rescuers Down Under was the first animated film for which the entire final film elements were assembled and completed within a digital environment, as well as the first fully digital feature film. However, the film's marketing approach did not call attention to the use of the CAPS process.
With the new Mickey Mouse featurette The Prince and the Pauper as an added attraction, The Rescuers Down Under debuted to an opening weekend gross of $3.5 million, ranking fourth in its opening weekend after Home Alone, Rocky V, and Child's Play 2; and below the studio's expectations. As a result, then-Walt Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg decided to pull all of the Rescuers television advertising. The film eventually went on to make $27,931,461 in the United States, making it the least successful box-office performance of Disney's renaissance era.
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, The Rescuers Down Under has an overall approval rating of 68% based on 25 reviews collected, with a weighted average score of 6.2 out of 10. The critical consensus states: "Though its story is second-rate, The Rescuers Down Under redeems itself with some remarkable production values – particularly its flight scenes".
The staff of Halliwell's Film Guide gave it two stars out of four. "[This] slick, lively and enjoyable animated feature," they wrote, "[is] an improvement on the original." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film 3 out of 4 stars and wrote, "Animation can give us the glory of sights and experiences that are impossible in the real world, and one of those sights, in 'The Rescuers Down Under,' is of a little boy clinging to the back of a soaring eagle. The flight sequence and many of the other action scenes in this new Disney animated feature create an exhilaration and freedom that are liberating. And the rest of the story is fun, too." Likewise giving it three stars out of four, Gene Siskel of The Chicago Tribune summarized the film as a "bold, rousing but sometimes needlessly intense Disney animated feauture [sic]" where "good fun is provided by a goofy albatross (voiced by John Candy), one in a long line of silly Disney birds." Janet Maslin, reviewing for The New York Times praised the animation and the action sequences, though remained critical of the storyline labeling it "trifle dark and un involving for very small children", though acknowledged its "slightly more grown-up, adventurous approach may be the reason it does not include the expected musical interludes, but they would have been welcome." Also finding error with "such a mediocre story that adults may duck", the staff of Variety, nevertheless wrote The Rescuers Down Under "boasts reasonably solid production values and fine character voices."
TV Guide gave the film 2½ stars out of four, saying, "Three years in the making, it was obviously conceived during the height of this country's fascination with Australia, brought on by Paul Hogan's fabulously successful "Crocodile" Dundee (1986). By 1990, the mania had long since subsided, and this film's Australian setting did nothing to enhance its box office appeal. Further, the film doesn't make particularly imaginative use of the location. Take away the accents and the obligatory kangaroos and koalas, and the story could have taken place anywhere. Another problem is that "the rescuers" themselves don't even enter the action until a third of the film has passed. And when they do appear, they don't have much to do with the main plot until near the film's end. The characters seem grafted on to a story that probably would have been more successful without them. Finally, the film suffers from some action and plotting that is questionable in a children's film. The villain is far too malignant, the young vigilante hero seems to be a kiddie 'Rambo,' and some of the action is quite violent, if not tasteless."
Josh Spiegel echoes that point and expands on it further, explaining, "The Rescuers Down Under tanked with barely $3.5 million in its opening-weekend take, Katzenberg removed all television advertisements for the film. By itself, that's not the worst possible fate, but it proves that he had zero confidence in its ability to perform at a seemingly ideal time of year. Here's the thing: the more demoralizing fact isn't that Katzenberg yanked the marketing. It's that Disney set The Rescuers Down Under up to fail, opening it on the same weekend as a little film called Home Alone, otherwise known as the highest-grossing film of 1990. He may not have been able to predict its long-lasting impact on popular culture, but Katzenberg likely had enough tracking information to tip him off that Home Alone would be a monster laying waste to everything in its path. The Rescuers Down Under was forced to take the hit, then and afterwards." Conversely, Ellen MacKay of Common Sense Media gave the film four out of five stars, writing, "A rare sequel that improves on the original".
The Rescuers Down Under was released in the Walt Disney Classics video series on September 20, 1991, in a pan-and-scan transfer, while The Rescuers was released on VHS a year later in September 1992. Unlike the original film, however, The Rescuers Down Under was not included in the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection. Both home video editions went into moratorium on April 30, 1993. Launching in January 2000, Walt Disney Home Video began the Gold Classic Collection, with Rescuers Down Under re-issued on VHS and DVD on August 1, 2000, making it the last time it would ever be released on VHS. The DVD contained the film in its 1.66:1 aspect ratio enhanced for 16:9 television sets and 4.0 surround sound, and was accompanied with special features including a storybook and trivia as well as an "Animals of the Outback" activity booklet. It was first released in the UK in 1992 followed by a re-release alongside The Rescuers in 1997.
The Rescuers Down Under was released alongside The Rescuers on Blu-ray in a "2-Movie Collection" on August 21, 2012 to commemorate the first film's 35th anniversary in the United States.
The score for the film was composed and conducted by Bruce Broughton. Unlike the vast majority of Disney animated features, the film had no songs written for it (however, "Message Montage" includes a quotation from "Rescue Aid Society" by Sammy Fain, Carol Connors, and Ayn Robbins, the only musical reference to the first film). This was the second film not to include any songs in it, the first one being The Black Cauldron. AllMusic gave the soundtrack a 4.5 out of 5 star rating.
In 2006 Walt Disney Records reissued the album on compact disc, including the Shelby Flint songs "The Journey", "Someone's Waiting for You" and "Tomorrow Is Another Day" (from The Rescuers). In 2016 Intrada Records released the complete Broughton score, including material (in italics) not used in the movie.