Saturday, July 26, 2014


RELEASE DATE: Friday 22nd June 1977

The 1970s was a tricky time for Disney animation. On the one hand, the artists wanted to keep the legacy of their now deceased founder going. They wanted to continue making quality family films filled with that Disney "magic." On the other hand, money was tight and the animation legends who had been with the company since the beginning were growing old and getting ready to retire.

Some people felt that The Aristocats and Robin Hood were not up to the usual standard of Disney animated films, and word was spreading that Disney's best days were behind it.

Then along came The Rescuers, to rescue the animation department from obscurity. It was a big success; the first big box-office success since The Jungle Book 10 years earlier. It is also one of the rare Disney animated films to get itself a sequel, The Rescuers Down Under, released 13 years later. (More on that another time...)

The Rescuers opens in a very different way to previous films. Before the opening credits even begin, we see a little girl dropping a bottle off a balcony. The opening credits are also very different to any of the movies that had come before: a set of static paintings provide the backdrop while the credits are overlaid on top. It's an interesting concept; not one that Disney ever repeated, but it gives the film an original tone right from the offset. 

We then go to New York City (The first contemporary city setting in an animated Disney film? I think so!) and the United Nations building. We're not following the humans into the building though. The camera shows us another entrance; one out of the everyday point-of-view. This is where mice from all around the world gather for the meeting of the Rescue Aid Society. This is a group of mice whose purpose is to offer help when no one else can. Arriving late is Miss Bianca, the delegate from Hungary. She passes Bernard the janitor on her way through.

As the Rescue Aid Society open the bottle dropped by the little girl, they discover that her name is Penny and she is being held hostage. Miss Bianca offers to take the case to rescue Penny. As an assistant, she chooses to take Bernard with her, a move that shocks everyone, since he is just a janitor. They first go to the orphanage where Penny used to live. They learn some of her history from Rufus, the resident cat.

He sends them to a local pawn shop owned by a woman called Madame Medusa. They overhear Medusa talking on the phone. She admits to keeping Penny hostage in a place called Devil's Bayou, in order to find a valuable diamond. The mice vow to follow her there.

An interesting note: one of the original story ideas was to have Cruella De Vil as the villain of this movie, making it a kind of semi-sequel to One Hundred and One Dalmations. This idea eventually got scrapped, and instead Medusa was inspired somewhat by a character from the original Rescuers books called the "Diamond Duchess." Like Cruella, Medusa is quite unhinged, completely irrational and a terrible driver.

To get to Devil's Bayou, Bianca and Bernard must travel by flight... By albatross, to be exact. Their pilot Orville does not inspire the superstitious and worry-prone Bernard with much confidence.

With a spectacular dive off the top of a building, the Rescuers are off the save Penny!

Meanwhile, at the bayou, Penny has run away. Medusa sends her two pet alligators - Brutus and Nero - to find the little girl and bring her back.

Meanwhile, Bianca and Bernard meet up with some of the locals who arrange some transport for them: a dragonfly called Evinrude who powers a leaf-boat.

The alligators find and return Penny, much to the delight of Medusa's bumbling assistant Mr. Snoops.

When the mice finally arrive at Medusa's boat, they are persued by Nero and Brutus, who can smell Miss Bianca's perfume.

That night a sad Penny says her prayers as she gets ready for bed. (An observant viewer might notice a couple of familiar figures out in the bayou... it's Bambi and his mother!)

Bianca and Bernard finally meet Penny and begin to devise a plan to escape. They send Evinrude to get help, but he is waylaid by a flock of hungry bats.

The following morning Penny is sent down into the cave once again to look for the diamond. Losing her patience, Medusa ransoms Penny's beloved teddy bear for the diamond. This time however, Penny has a couple of extra little helpers.

After some dangerous searching, they finally locate the diamond, wedged in an ancient skull. They give it to Medusa and continue their escape plans.

Evinrude finally makes it back to the local yokels and convinces them to come and help rescue Penny.

The final rescue finally takes place! Nero and Brutus are trapped in the elevator and Penny escapes with the diamond!

At the end of the story, Medusa is left alone with a burnt down boat and no diamond, Penny is eventually adopted by a loving family and Miss Bianca, Bernard and Evinrude prepare for a brand new rescue mission.

IRVYNE: The Rescuers, while yet another story about talking animals, is very different in tone to any of the previous Disney movies. It's actually quite dark and threatening (probably a bit too scary for younger kiddies) but it does have moments of comedy as well.

We have a fantastic villain in Madame Medusa. I actually prefer this character to Cruella De Vil, although it seems she has been all but forgotten over the years. Medusa is just hideous, both in looks and personality. And yet, she spends a lot of time making herself look glamorous, with her make-up and false eyelashes applied. Apparently animator Milt Kahl modelled Medusa on his ex-wife... Ouch.

Penny, the little girl who needs rescuing is almost sickeningly adorable. Saccharine. But fortunately our two heroes are wonderful characters. Miss Bianca's level head and positive attitude are a great match for Bernard's anxious and superstitious nature. I would have liked to have seen a bit more development on Bernard. Even though he's only a janitor, he seems to do the job of a detective just fine, and there's never any reference to him being "unqualified" after his initial assignment. This could have been a cause for him to doubt himself, but this plot thread is never played out. Which brings up the question - why have him as a janitor at all? Why couldn't he just have been another Rescue Aid Society delegate? But anyway...

The supporting cast - Mr. Snoops, the alligators, Evinrude - are all entertaining without threatening to overtake the main story.

The story itself is fairly basic and sometimes oddly paced, but it does work. There's no denying though, that it is quite dark. (Figuratively and literally...) The songs are all sad songs, and the characters spend most of the movie in real peril. It's a little bit depressing. But it does have a good through-theme where people say, "what can two little mice do?" But in the end (with some help) they achieve their goal and rescue the little girl. It's a good life lesson that even when people tell you something is "too hard" or a challenge is "too big," it's still worth striving for. You just might succeed!

I must give a bit of credit here - I think this is a better-looking movie than One Hundred and One Dalmations or Robin Hood, but it has many of the same shortcomings. The Xerox process of painting cels actually doesn't seem to stand out as much in this film (on most characters anyway... Medusa and Mr. Snoops in particular come across looking very sketchy)

The colours are often dark and moody in the dingy bayou, but there are moments where they pop nicely. The animal characters are all animated well with lots of character.

For the first time since Bambi, none of the characters in this film sing. (Unless they are singing the "Rescue Aid Society" jingle, but that hardly counts!) There are songs throughout the film, but they are simply laid over the action to set a mood. The songs are performed by Shelby Flint.

"The Journey" is the opening credits song. "Tomorrow Is Another Day" is the travelling song, set to the flying montage. "Someone's Waiting For You" is a song that plays when Penny is losing all hope of ever being rescued. This song was nominated for Best Song at the Academy Awards.

These three songs are nice, but they set a really sad, melancholy tone to the film. They are also very, very "seventies." The background score works fine and is unobtrusive, but there are actually many scenes that go completely unscored, which is fairly rare for Disney.

Watching The Rescuers this year, I found it actually better than I remember it. Its dark, sad tone might be enough to put some people off, but there is a lot to like here, particularly some great characters and a fantastic villain.
I do like The Rescuers, but it's not in my top-tier of Disney classics. It was a very odd time for Disney. The animation department was in a state of uncertainty, and this shows in the movies of this era. No one quite knew where the department was headed, or what kind of movies the company should be making. The result of this uncertainty is a trio of oddball movies: The Rescuers, The Fox and the Hound, and The Black Cauldron. The Rescuers is most likely the best of these three, and it was the most successful.

PASCAL: There are only little parts that I remembered of this from previous watchings. Most of it seemed new to me.

WENDY: It's nice in these films that humans can talk to animals.
IRVYNE: Well, kids can anyway.

WENDY: The little girl is gorgeous.

IRVYNE: You don't think she's sickeningly gorgeous?

WENDY: No, I sympathise with her. And Medusa is fun as well. She's so theatrical.
IRVYNE: She definitely needs a bra though!


PASCAL: I want a pet dragonfly just like Evinrude. He's so cute! The poor little thing gets so puffed out when he overworks himself!

IRVYNE: Then there's the yokel mouse, who teaches us that alcohol consumption solves everything!

PASCAL: Nero and Brutus remind me of Flotsam and Jetsam in The Little Mermaid. I love the way Penny tells them off.

IRVYNE: It will be interesting to see whether we prefer this movie or its sequel after we've watched them both.

No comments:

Post a Comment