July 2002 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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The Rescuers Down Under  
  DISNEY 60759-7   [44:57]


Thirteen years after Walt Disney's animated feature-film version of Margery Sharp's "The Rescuers", the 1990 theatrical release of its sequel, "The Rescuers Down Under", opened against "Home Alone". As it obviously lost the box office battle, Bruce Broughton's clever soundtrack disappeared along with it... Except among several film score devotees, including those that pursued the album long after it went out of print. But, hey, now it's back.

Telling the story of a boy from central Australia who finds himself caught up in an animal poacher's plans and requires the aid & rescue of the creature-cast Rescue Aid Society, this adventure based on Sharp's books includes several recognizable voices: Bob Newhart, Eva Gabor, John Candy, George C. Scott, Bernard Fox, and Peter Firth. Another recognizable voice is Broughton's music, whose tight, almost militaristic sense of rhythm and melody always contrasts well with his broad orchestrations. It is a comfortable combination.

Broughton pits a symphonic orchestra against Australian ethnic instruments (and some approximations) with varied results. While entertaining, the sound occasionally veers toward being overly episodic, even considering the cartoon nature of the film. None of this matters when his main theme--a bold, highly adaptable ditty--makes its bounding appearance in 'Cody's Flight'. It speaks well of Broughton's skills that an average melody from him can still bring a smile. There is a related theme with a buoyant tone introduced in 'Message Montage' (along with Carol Connors' 'R-E-S-C-U-E, Rescue Aid Society' from the original), and a bemused love theme first developed with 'At the Restaurant'. Large chunks of the score emphasize native rhythms to cheerful effect, making the intrusion of decidedly non-native rockabilly into 'Wilber Takes Off' a confounding entry in the composer's approach.

For thrills, it must be said that the pure action writing in "The Rescuers Down Under" is exhilarating, and dignified. When he casts aside the Mickey-Mousing, Broughton aims squarely for exciting grandeur, something rare in today's filmusic scene. Whereas most action scoring goes for extremes of either primal clanging or silly overstatement, here is a score that brings majestic derring-do and some level of innocence to the dangerous proceedings. It could win over a kid or two.

Production of the album is as basic as one can get and still have something to release. On the plus side, it includes playing times--always a fair and welcome aspect to see among a track listing. And as a reminder of the movie's place, three surprisingly well-mixed but not especially well-written songs by (and performed by) Carol Connors from the 1977 predecessor end the disc as "bonus" tracks.

Although Bruce Broughton hardly broke conventions with "The Rescuers Down Under", it is more than just background music or mere pleasantness. It is flawed, light, fun, and charming. So is the soundtrack worth checking out? It's worth a shot, mate.

Jeffrey Wheeler


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