Saban Entertainment, the company behind TV's "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" and other downmarket kiddie diversions, crafted this cloying talking-critter comedy.
A combination animal-shelter/farm run by kindly Boyd and Edna Callahan (Hal Holbrook, Rue McClanahan) is visited by their younger clodhopper "cousins" Bart and Bertha Bimini (Charles Fleischer, Laraine Newman). The duo demand custody of the Callahan's grandchildren, Tess and Jory (Danielle Wiener,
Blake Foster), and with them control of the rich trust fund set up for the children by their parents who died. Vowing to get the kids, the pair slink off, and later spy wealthy Karl Winthorpe (Ken Kercheval) shopping for a puppy for his own ailing little girl. Winthrope's promise of $300 will help
finance the Bimini's evil schemes, so they sneak back to the Callahan farm and abduct a whole litter of puppies to offer the millionaire. The loss is noticed first by the farm animals--who speak to each other out loud in English. Rusty the dog (voice of Matthew Lawrence), mixed-breed elder brother
of the pups, leads the rescue, even enlisting the aid of wild beasts he meets along the way. He traces the scent to the Bimini's hovel, and Tess and Jory remove the pups, while Rusty rallies all the farm animals in an attack. The strength of Ellie the Elephant and some well-aimed guano by Koo the
Pigeon (both voiced by Jane Singer) send the Bimini's shabby van crashing into a pond, and Bart and Bertha are arrested.
Saban (which also acquired the rights to the character of Casper, the Friendly Ghost for a series of direct-to-video features) has seldom been noted for subtlety or thoughtfulness, but even by their frenetic standards RUSTY: THE GREAT RESCUE is awful. A bunch of goggle-eyed performances, syrupy
sentiment, and dumb scripting demonstrate clearly why underaged viewers often prefer the R-rated company of Freddy Kreuger or the Terminator to such wholesome fare as this. Seemingly inspired by profitable talking-animal features like BABE (1996) and Disney's HOMEWARD BOUND series (canine lead
Lawrence sounds like the latter's mutt hero vocalized by Michael J. Fox), the feature uses high-tech puppetry and computer graphics to make the various species' mouths flawlessly mimic human lips--a refinement of trick-film techniques using live barnyard animals that were masterminded by
cartoonists like Tex Avery decades ago. In addition, the presence of exotic tropical fauna (elephants, alligators) in an American setting passes without comment.
There's a touch of imagination in the offscreen cast, like reuniting Suzanne Somers and Patrick Duffy of the TV sitcom "Step by Step" as husband-and-wife dogs; at least they're less obnoxious by far than Newman and Fleischer (the voice of "Roger Rabbit"), who are way overboard as yahoo villains.
Director Shuki Levy has composed music for many productions, perhaps explaining why the whole film is set to a nonstop score that telegraphs every emotion with blaring bombast or bothersome ballads. The suitable capper is a closing montage that is accompanied by the notoriously painful novelty
tune, "Disco Duck" (written and performed by Rick Dees).
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