That familiar saucer-eared silhouette at the palace window belongs to Mickey Mouse, cast as royalty in a buoyant version of ``The Prince and the Pauper,' the first part of Disney's new holiday double bill, along with ``The Rescuers Down Under'.

Mickey can easily play ordinary souls, but obviously this role as the future King of England demands something of a stretch. Happily, plummy tones and regal condescension are well within his dramatic range.``The Prince and the Pauper' moves directly into a planned intermission, with a counting-down clock that allows 10 minutes for the acquisition of ``tiny little sugar-coated sticky gooey things,' as an announcer says. It is followed by ``Rescuers,' a full-length feature that is longer, more unusual, and a lot less gratifyingly sunny.

With distinct debts to the ``Star Wars' and Indiana Jones films, not to mention ``Crocodile Dundee,' this saga takes its viewers on an adventurous journey into the Australian outback, a place that might be expected to spring to glorious, exotic life thanks to the miracles of Disney animation.

The animation is indeed first-rate, but the story and settings are sometimes incongruously threatening.

``The Rescuers Down Under' enlists the efforts of Bernard and Miss Bianca, stalwart little mice with the voices of Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor. Always available to help children in distress, they are summoned to Australia to save a button-eyed boy named Cody (Adam Ryen) from the evil tricks and heavy sarcasm of McLeach (George C. Scott), the story's towering olive-green villain.

Cody has befriended a 747-sized eagle, a bird that takes him soaring during one of the film's most stunningly animated episodes. McLeach covets the gigantic bird and plans to feed its eggs to Joanna, his sinister blue-green pet lizard.

This plot, a trifle dark and uninvolving for very small children, leads ``The Rescuers Down Under' into a strange melange of styles. The mice themselves are enjoyably dowdy, comfortable throwbacks to a time before earth-shattering conquests were the sine qua non of children's entertainment.

The film's action sequences, on the other hand, provide the dizzying heights and spectacular exploits to which live-action audiences are by now well accustomed, and they seem derivative despite the ingenuity of the animators.

The film's direction, by Hendel Butoy and Mike Gabriel, is spectacularly inventive even when not fully appropriate to either the film's subject or the very young viewers it can be expected to attract.

Review THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER RATING: G THEATERS: Terrace and Brassfield in Greensboro and the Marketplace in Winston-Salem.

Get today’s top stories right in your inbox. Sign up for our daily morning newsletter.

Load comments