Out of all the pictures I would be rewatching for this project The Rescuers is probably the one I was looking forward to the least. When the sequel came out in 1990 they re-released the original into theaters and my mother took me. I didn’t go to many movies as a kid and I saw even fewer scary movies. That is why The Rescuers and Return to Oz stick out as the most unpleasant movie-going experiences of my young life.
Why you ask? Because I was 9 and it is about a little girl who is abducted by a ghastly lady, beaten, shot at several times and forced to go down a small cave and told she won’t be rescued if the water comes up. I mean that is terrifying stuff for a little girl!
I honestly do not know what Disney was thinking with this one….
The Rescuers was released in 1977 just months after Winnie the Pooh (what a contrast! We even get a brief Pooh cameo in the movie). It was based off of a series of books by Margery Sharp about a mouse named Miss Bianca who solves crimes. Disney changed it around and made it about a pair of mice who are part of a UN-like organization, the Rescue Aid Society.
The 70s trend of celebrity voices continued with Eva Gabor returning to Disney animation after the Aristocats and Bob Newhart as Bernard, the high/low society couple who is sent on the case. They are fine as the voices and Eva’s accent is toned down from the Aristocats. and i didn’t have any trouble understanding her. She is still kind of a bland socialite but has more spunk and personality than in Aristocats.
It was a landmark movie in many ways for Disney staff. It was the first movie that Don Bluth (future Disney traitor and competitor) animated, Also first for Glen Keane, Ron Clements and Andy Gaskill who would all be very influential in the upcoming Disney renaissance.
It was also the last film with the legendary 9 old men and Wolfgang Reitherman of Jungle Book fame as director.
However, the most exciting change The Rescuers brought with it is the beginning of the end of the sketchy xerox phase, which although I like some of the movies it is typically in spite of the animation, not because of it. They had worked on the xerox technology and now outlines could be made in softer tones and not the hard blacks of the sketch movies.
Unfortunately they were clearly working on the technology because sometimes the animation shows it’s weaknesses. In a lot of the scenes you can see a little halo effect on the characters. A white streak that separates them from the background. I did a screen shot below and put arrows so you can see the white lines in many shots. It seems like a little thing but for a studio like Disney I expect better than Saturday morning animation.
There are also moments where it is clear the backdrop is stationary and the subject is being moved over the background. It makes it look very cheap and doesn’t have the rich feeling driving a car or a swamp machine should have. It kind of looks like a driving scene from a sitcom in the 50s where you can tell they are in front of a screen in a stationary vehicle.
For Medusa it is obvious they started with Cruella De vil, even down to her crazy driving. In my research they even discussed doing a 101 sequel but they decided they didn’t want to do sequels (which is interesting because The Rescuers gets a sequel in 1990). The thing about Cruella is it was about puppies, and as much as we all love puppies there is a difference between dognapping and kidnapping, at least to me. What was funny or cooky in Cruella was shocking with Medusa.
In the world of Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Duggard I don’t think you could get away with a character like Medusa. I know some people love her antics but I think it crosses a line into mean spirited and terrifying.
Disney had done scary in the past but it had always been in a far away time like with Headless Horseman or with a fantasy world like with the Devil or Pink Elephants on Parade. Pinocchio would be the next scariest as it is about a little boy but it is still a fantasy world where foxes walk around with cats and people live in whales. I know what I thought when I was 9 and I know what I think now- Medusa is too much. Kids need to feel secure and safe and they do not need to worry about being abducted and abused in their trip to the Disney theater.
Badly done Disney!
That said there are some things I like in the film. The introduction is different for Disney. Instead of a book or a narrator it has still paintings that tell the story of Penny sending bottles out to get help (another traumatic thought for a little girl sending bottles for help!).
The music was written by Sammy Fain, Carol Connors and Ayn Robbins and sung by Shelby Fint. It is the first background songs since Bambi and the songs are nice but I’m afraid the singer does not age well. The voice screams ‘Karen Carpenter wantabee’ and I just don’t care for it. But, I own that is my personal preference and there is nothing outright wrong with it. The lyrics and melody are quite good.
Eventually Penny’s bottle ends up in the United Nations mouse division called The Rescue Aid Society. It is a cute scene.
Bernard and Bianca are put on the case and they have a lovely repertoire together and they are very clever with following the case to Penny’s orphanage where they meet a cat named Rufus who piles on the heartbreaking tale. The poor girl has lost all hope. Feels unloved. It’s pretty intense stuff (this is no Little Orphan Annie plot line here…)
Off they go to find Medusa and her Pawn Shop. I don’t know if I was thinking of Annie but I thought for years Medusa was voiced by Carol Burnett who is Miss Hanigan in Annie but it is actually Geraldine Page . It is a very grating and shrieking performance without enough humor like a Cruella had.
I think what makes Medusa terrifying in an unpleasant way is it feels like a woman like her could and does exist. Nothing that happens in the Rescuers except for the mice is that outlandish like skinning 101 puppies or turning children in to donkeys (terrifying as that scene is Medusa could actually happen)
Bernard and Bianca end up at the airport but instead of a plane they take an albatross to the Bayou. These scenes are very funny with the albatross named Orville voiced by Jim Jordan. The comic relief is sorely needed in this film.
As they are flying there is some nice animation.
After some fireworks they arrive at the Bayou and meet some of the local redneck rodents (more comic relief) including a cute firefly named Evinrude
We see several scenes of Penny running away, getting caught and getting sent down the cave. It’s all played for alarmingly little comic affect and is cold and shrill. I mean look at the fear in Penny’s face. That will terrify little girls of strangers for years…
There is also a brutal scene where Medusa tells Penny ‘why would anyone want to adopt a homely little girl like you’. This has to be one of the most heartbreaking images in all of Disney:
Even though I hate the singer it is a pretty song but it is just too much. I was bawling by the end of it and not in the cathartic way a good tragedy invests you. More in the Nicholas Sparks manipulate the viewer kind of way. Again a girl is kidnapped, abused, told she is worthless and is crying, which is enough to get me crying and definitely not what I want out of my Disney film.
We do get one of the only instances I can think of where a Disney character prays and it is quite heartfelt and lovely:
It is after the prayer she meets Bernard and Bianca, and they start scheming to get her out of there. Unfortunately they are unable to put their plan in the works before another trip down the cave. This time Medusa threatens to leave her if she doesn’t find the diamond.
After struggles with water and getting diamond out of a pirates skull they, Bernard, Bianca and Penny, find the diamond, and Medusa has her prize:
So here’s the deal on this movie. If you can stomach the plot and Medusa than you will like this movie. I could not at 9 or 33. It is too much. It is too real. It is too cruel. I don’t like that Penny is abducted to begin with but then told repeatedly she has no value and is unwanted and unloved. She is yelled at, dehumanized and forced down a cave despite her clear fear multiple times.. I think it is a mean spirited movie, and while I like Bernard and Bianca, their warmth is not enough for me to like the picture.
The music is nice even though I don’t care for the singer. Some of the animation is good but other parts show their age with the halos and static backgrounds. At least they were trying to do something different and not just imitating the past like with the Aristocats.
I like there are some messages of faith, prayer, hope and eventual rescue but it is too little too late for me.
So I am going to give this film 2 grades.
If you can tolerate Medusa and the plot C+ but for me personally I give it an D-, and I never want to see it again.
I do have a notoriously low tolerance for scary movies involving murders, abductions, exorcisms and evil spirits. So most scary movies I do not care for. Even some popular comic book villains I am not a fan of. Oh well! Each his or her own.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. What do you think? Can you tolerate such a grim plot, such a cruel villain?