Crying at the Movies is a series of essays in which Annual staffers delve into the films that have made them cry—why they cried, what was going on in their lives at the time. Which is all to say, there will be spoilers. Maybe a dog died, maybe two characters got together—just don’t come crying to us when we write an essay about crying when the shark blew up at the end of Jaws.
As a child, I was very interested in nature, as most young boys are. I would spend my summers searching under every rock, rolling over every branch, and digging up any “treasure” I came across in the woods behind my parent’s house. Whether it be a rock I misidentified as an “Indian Arrowhead” or an old drinking bottle that was once used by the ancient “Budweiser,” I loved the outdoors and making up stories in my head about where everything came from. Except for gypsy moth caterpillars.
Seriously – it was my goal to go out and hunt down every gypsy moth caterpillar I could find. If I saw one while walking, I would stomp it; if I saw one while riding my bike, I would veer to run it over; if god forbid I saw one while playing whiffle ball, I was swinging for the fences. I’m not sure if I was actually ever told this, but my alcoholic memory leads me to believe that my father set the title of Gypsy Moth Destroyer on my shoulders, in order to save the innocent bushes and trees that grew in our neighborhood (read about them – they are little shitheads). I was maniacal; I loved watching their little caterpillar bodies explode with green guts, trying to see how far I could get it to spray. If you think I might have been a tad crazy; you’re probably right. But things were about to change.
As a kid in the 1990’s, I rarely saw movies based on the fact that I wanted to see them, and more based upon when my parents decided they could use a couple quiet hours to relax. Disney movies are very enchanting, regardless of age, so one afternoon it was decided I needed to see The Rescuers: Down Under. This film is actually the sequel to The Rescuers, which I had never seen, but then again kids don’t really need to see character development from prior films in order to enjoy a new one.
*Plot summary below for the heathens that have not seen it yet. Also SPOILER ALERT for a movie that is 25 years old, since apparently people need spoiler alerts for anything and everything these days*
The Rescuers Down Under was released on November 16th, 1990, the same day as Home Alone and Rocky V. I would have been three years old at this time, so I can’t be sure if I actually saw it in theaters, or if the giant collectable Disney VHS case became a staple of our movie collection by other means. Either way, the outcome was the same – this movie rocked! I loved every second of it. You’ll see why.
There’s this young boy, and he loves the outdoors; he’s exploring, he’s having a blast, all the things my tiny mind also enjoyed. I was almost jealous of this kid – he also lives in the Australian outback, so he’s got plenty of room to run around. Any who, this kid is exploring, and comes across a GIANT EAGLE. This thing is big enough to ride and it wants to be the kid’s BEST FRIEND. Let me repeat that: YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND IS A HUGE GOLDEN EAGLE. This movie already has Kid’s Choice Awards written all over it. After they bro it up for a while, the kid goes home, but is abducted by a poacher! Oh, and the poacher has a pet goanna (big lizard) that bro’s out with the poacher, only it’s an evil bro-out. They get the kid, and find a golden eagle feather on him, and golden eagles mean big bucks for poachers. Luckily, the kid is NOT giving up his eagle friend, and word gets around that he needs help.
Enter our heroes: Bernard and Bianca, two ballin’ mice who work for some animal agency that helps animals and human kids get out of trouble just like this. So they are like “hell yes let’s save this kid, but we need to get to Australia, and they hire out a comedic-relief albatross, voiced by John Candy!” He’s certainly no Robin Williams-riffing-as-a-genie, but this albatross was a ton of laughs for everyone involved, hitting all the right buttons (pilot joke). The Ablatross gets them to Australia, where they meet their Australian contact, and of course he is exactly like Crocodile Dundee, only he is some sort of mouse crossed with a kangaroo (because hey, it’s Australia). The contact immediately begins hitting on Bianca, but Bernard is in love with her and wants to propose.
To re-cap, we have relatable young adventurous kid, awesome eagles as best friends, poachers/guns/lizards, talking animals, comedy, and now Australian accents and kangaroo stuff. If you aren’t on board already, you’re never getting on this train to awesome town.
Now, the poacher is like “damn, this kid won’t tell me where the eagle is…but he’s just a kid! If I let him go, he’ll probably take me right to the damn thing!” So the poacher lets the kid go, and he immediately heads for the eagle. About this time, our “Rescuers” come on the scene, and they help distract the poacher and his lizard. Eventually, they knock the poacher and lizard off a cliff into the crocodile infested waters, and just in case you thought they would survive, they also go over a cliff. The Rescuers saved the day and the kid and the eagle and everyone is happy (except for all the fellow poachers in the audience).
I’m exhilarated just talking about it. But what’s missing from this post? Ah yes, the crying.
During the course of The Rescuers Down Under, you discover that there were only two golden eagles left in the world. IN. THE. WORLD. This is worse than the current panda population. The female eagle had befriended our young hero at the beginning, with no mention of a mate. But what’s this? She has eggs! What happened to the male? That’s where the poaching backstory comes into focus.
While watching the film, you realize the male eagle was captured and sold by the poacher, presumably killing the bird in the process. This just leaves mom and her eggs. But what’s worse? We also learn that the poacher’s pet lizard LOVES TO EAT EGGS, just slightly less than Gaston from Beauty and the Beast.
When the poacher and his lizard follow the kid up to the eagle’s nest, the mom is trying to head them off, the other animals we met during the movie need to keep the eggs warm (all the animal abuse that has occurred in the film adds to the somber mood). Ultimately, all of the Rescuers become preoccupied, leaving the eggs open to attack!
The moment the eggs became vulnerable was unbearable for me; these were eagles! GIANT. GOLDEN. EAGLES. The last of their kind! They couldn’t go out like that! It wasn’t fair.
The lizard stealthily approaches the eggs; “Don’t do it!” I say in my head. “They didn’t do anything to you!” The lizard opens its mouth, its tongue flicking side to side, licking its lips, ready to taste the sweet, buttery golden eagle juice. It grabs an egg in its scaly hands, unhinges its jaw, ready to swallow the egg whole – I cover my eyes with my fingers. If I even knew who God was, I was already offering to trade all my future birthday presents and desserts as long as those eggs would be ok. The jaws came down – here it comes! I can’t look. A sickening crack. The tears come. It’s not fair, they didn’t stand a chance. How could the Rescuers give up so easily, with so much at stake? The eggs needed protection! They were the chosen ones! Even worse – why didn’t the poacher care? What happened to him as a child that led him to this life? He is literally the cause for the extinction of giant, golden, rideable eagles, and all he can think about it the couple bucks the eagle feathers will fetch him. I just wanted to scream. I wanted to find this poacher and his stupid lizard and squash out their brains like the gypsy moth caterpillars I mentioned earlier. But there was nothing I could do; it was a movie. But like all curious movie-goers, I just had to see how it ended, get it over with, for closure.
The lizard chomped down on the eggshell-white colored egg; its eyes grew wide – something was not as it seemed. A broken tooth fell out of the lizard’s mouth; the egg was a decoy! In the midst of the fighting and confusion, the eggs had been replaced with egg-shaped rocks! Oh happy day! The lizard, now furious scrambles amongst the rocks and cliff ledge, searching for the real prize, but they were too well hidden! More tears came, these of joy. You stupid lizard! You stupid poacher! You could never outsmart the Rescuers! When they fell into the crocodile water and over that cliff, I couldn’t have been happier. Just to go that quickly from caring about these eagle’s lives, to absolutely not caring about the lives of a human being and a lizard, well that shows you where my priorities are.
That movie changed me. I no longer wanted to go out and hunt down gypsy moth caterpillars for sport; in fact, killing any animal is hard for me, even by accident. But killing someone who has hurt animals or other people? Someone who is a poacher by profession? I feel like that would come easy. Maybe if we all take a little more time and think about what it really means to kill, especially if we don’t need to do so in order to survive, that might make us more “human” than we already are.
In closing, I still hate gypsy moths, but I’d much rather move them someplace where a bird can easily eat them than kill them myself.