Movie 23: The Rescuers

Rescuers_Poster_HQOut 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!

medusa-and-pennyI know this movie has its fans but I don’t get it. If you like it please put in the comments below.  I will mention a few things I like but on a whole I think it is just mean spirited.

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.

swamp car
In the scene this vehicle moves around while the background stays the same. It looks so hokey. And a lot of halos around the drawings in this shot. Looks cheap.

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.

medusa3In 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…

penny's face

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:

sad pennyWe already know she is insecure from the scenes with Rufus so it just is so sad.  Then we get this song, which is devastating:

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:

penny prayer
We also get our Winnie the Pooh cameo red shirt and all in this scene.

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:

devils eye penny in cavediamondOf course Medusa immediately turns on them and her henchman Mr Snoops and threatens to kill them all. (Again…nice in our Disney film).   She even takes away Penny’s beloved teddy bear.

medusa with gunLuckily Evintrude and the Redneck clan come help and there is a fun chase sequence that even involves some alligator water skiing.

crew2 waterskiingEventually Medusa is chased up a pole and Penny gets the diamond.  I actually felt with how bad she is we needed to see an arrest at the end of this movie.  Just this shot wasn’t enough for me:

medusa2We do get a nice scene at the end where we learn the diamond is  at the Smithsonian, Bernard and Bianca are a couple and continuing on cases, and Penny has a family and is adopted.


Movie Review/Conclusion-

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?

26 thoughts on “Movie 23: The Rescuers

  1. Oh and there is a naked woman image in this movie in one of the backgrounds. Disney recalled the movie. Deal…

  2. I don’t like this movie. Not because of any of the dark aspects, rather the dark aspects don’t bother me as I do appreciate dark elements in films and maybe since I’m not a girl, I can’t understand what girls may be feeling when watching this movie. But, I don’t like this movie because it just bores me. I find it very slow and overall, boring.

    Glad I’m not the only one who considers Don Bluth a Disney traitor, 😛 !

    1. I do not pretend to speak for all girls, just this girl writing ;). I know girls who like Medusa and think she is funny so it just depends. I don’t mind some darker elements but particularly scary movies involving abduction and murder aren’t my favorite. I’m kind of a wimp in that way but I bet everyone has those button issues that are hard to watch.
      I oddly enough didn’t find it to be too slow but I was anxious for it to end! With Medusa I feel they should have either gone way over the top like a Cruella or Ratigan, or used a lot less of her like Mcleach in the sequel. He was in the movie actually very little.
      But I get why people like the movie so that’s why I made an exception and gave it 2 grades.
      And Don Bluth total traitor!

  3. I really liked your perspective on the film. I agree that the whole story line is heartbreaking. However, as a child and as an adult I enjoyed this film. I liked the music; it was a bit different from the usual Disney style songs. I also enjoyed the message in the bottle scene. My favourite scene (and it used to be when I was a child too) was the Rescue Aid Society; don’t know why, just always loved the song. I do agree that the themes are quite dark, but I liked how it was different from other Disney movies.

    Once again, great review. Look forward to reading your next one!

    1. Thank you! The bottle scene is really nice and I almost want to get the sheet music because I did like the songs just not the singer so much.
      The Rescue Aid Society is really cute. It’s been a while since I saw it but I feel like the sequel meshes those dark themes and ideas with the adventure and fun a little better. Will be interesting to see.
      That’s why I gave it 2 grades because I think if Medusa isn’t a huge stumbling block like it is for me than you will like it. Maybe even B is better for that perspective.
      I think part of it is just when you have a reaction as a little child it’s hard, at least for me, to set that aside. On a positive way I will have a very hard time being objective about The Little Mermaid because it meant so much to me as a child. But I suppose that is part of the Disney experience is changing children and introducing them to art, music and storytelling.
      Thanks for commenting and reading! These next few should be interesting because all of them I haven’t seen in years and Black Cauldron I have never seen. Should be fun!

      1. I think you’re initial childhood reactions do play a huge part. I think I was probably rather naive watching this when I was younger and was just happy everything turned right in the end. I haven’t actually seen The Rescuers in a fair few years. Watching some of the clips in the post made me have a different opinion of it, but I still think its a great film.

        I actually watched The Black Cauldron a couple of days ago… I won’t say my opinion on it as I’m intrigued as to what your’s will be – especially as you haven’t ever seen it before! 🙂

  4. I think the scene in the cave is very suspenseful, the scene with the organ very funny and I have a thing for villains which hit close to home. I saw it when I was young, too, and it never really bothered me.

    But the main reason I like it is Bianca (see my detailed review concerning her character). Her and Bernard’s relationship is certainly one of the better written in Disney’s canon.

      1. Disagree. Cody has other animals with him to lighten the mood and his spirits. He’s not an orphan. He isnt forced down a cave or berated near as much. We get way less of Mcleach than Medusa. We get enough to know he’s a bad dude but not have it beaten into our heads.
        Yeah might have to agree to disagree on that one.

      2. I know and I would have removed the knife scene but at least it is brief. The crocodile scene was near the end so I had more hope for bernard and it ending well. To me there is no comparison between the emotional abuse which penny goes through just because we see so much more of her and medusa. Mcleach is actually in the sequel pretty briefly.
        Oh well, I’m glad you like the original better.

  5. This is actually my favorite Disney movie. I like how dark and brutal the material can get because it makes us take the film much more seriously and see Medusa as a truly effective ruthless antagonist. It is awful and Penny is treated horribly, and that makes the movie-watching experience all the more compelling. My reaction to it is that I admire the raw vivid emotion. Also Penny is not actually beaten in the film, as opposed to Cody having knives thrown at him in the sequel. I admit to obviously relating to Cody more due to never having been a little girl, but everything Cody goes through in that film, particularly getting lowered into alligator-infested waters, makes me more angry because it’s being treated as fun adventure that makes the movie more interesting as opposed to horrific child abuse that no one should react to in any way but abject horror.

    I love how bravely Penny takes her ordeal, trying to escape and expressing only anger and spite at the crocodiles, as opposed to Snoops being genuinely terrified of them, which she points out. Doug Walker played a clip of her in his review to showcase how annoying he considered her, but I found myself laughing loudly at it upon re-watch. Cody was portrayed as a strong boy simply because boys want to believe they would be so strong in these circumstances. The movie did a good job making Penny strong while simultaneously letting her cry and always having the audience’s sympathy.

    The opening honestly establishes the tone very well by showing how serious Penny’s situation is, which mixed with “The Journey” creates a macabre beauty to it that elevates it above most animated features. I think the escape from Devil’s Bayou is a marked weakness in what a step down it is from the tension-fraught scene in the mine.
    I get that you couldn’t really top that, but it still comes off as something out of a Saturday morning cartoon.

    The slow-paced nature of it is one of my favorite aspects. The “Tomorrow is Another Day” sequence is beautiful and one of my favorite film sequences in how it functions as an effective intermission, allowing us to simply lie back and embrace the journey, knowing the terrible bayou with the kidnapped girl has yet to come, if only for an absolutely minute time, something that is beautifully duplicated in the film’s final shots. 2001: A Space Odyssey is my favorite film and I like just lying back to watch a movie-going experience unfold.

    I recommend Confused Matthew’s The Incredibles review for you. Perhaps you’d be one of the only people to understand it, if not agree.

    1. Thank you so much for your great comment! You make a lot of valid points.
      I guess what makes the difference for me compared to the sequel is how much of Medusa we get. Mcleach is actually in the sequel for only about 15 minutes of screen time and Cody is rarely alone where Penny is completely isolated. We get so much of Medusa belittling and yelling at Penny that I grew weary of it but I can see how you would respond the way you did. I like a darker toned film from time to time. For example, a lot of people thought Where the Wild Things Are was depressing but I loved it showed that darker brooding side of childhood, so I get what you are saying.

      The music is good. The singer is a little ‘Karen Carpenter’ wantabee for my personal taste but the songs are well written with good melodies. I like that Penny prays and I’ve always liked Bernard and Bianca.

      That’s why I gave this 2 grades because I know if people can bond with Medusa, find her an entertaining villain they will enjoy the picture. I am glad you did and thanks for sharing.

      I will have to check out that Confused Matthew review. I love The Incredibles.

      I think part of it is I saw this movie as a child when I was in the midst of a terrible bullying period so it was just the wrong time to see a movie about a little girl getting manipulated and forced down a cave and treated meanly. When a film has that kind of impact on you as a child it sticks with you. I knew going into it I would have a hard time being objective but I tried my best.

      Anyway, thanks for reading and I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of my reviews. Welcome to the site! 🙂

  6. I didn’t read everyone’s comments. I started with your hated movies; not expecting The Rescuers. I saw the movie the first time as an adult. I see how for you it would hit you at age 9. For me, I loved the little mice and the prayers and her little Pooh Bear. I loved the touching song; but most the happy ending. I really like the movie. I see your points but I didn’t notice all of the animation things you mentioned.

    1. Everyone has those movies where one character is just hard for them to stomach and kind of ruins the movie. I totally agree on your positives. I think that’s why I like Rescuers Down Under better because it has all those positives, with better animation and a less present villain.

      This it starts off so sad at the orphanage and Medusa is so brutal. I just cant stomach her. And a big part is that personal memory which stays with you.

      Like I said in the review if you can tolerate Medusa you’ll probably like it. I’m glad you did. You should start with the good! So few I dislike. I gave 30 A and Bs.

  7. Acc. to the Wikipedia page for this film, ideas for it floated around as early as 1962 until Walt shelved it for fear that it was too overtly political. But then after his death his successors revisited the project.

  8. Ah this movie. Mmm, you know this is one movie I have a confused reaction to. As a little James I didn’t care for it because it just paled compared to Disney movies before and after it. It can’t exactly rise up to the majesty to the likes of Little Mermaid and Snow White. But at the same time it has more life in it than the Aristocats and at least it is a more original tale rather than repackaged Lady and the Tramp and 101 Dalmatians. It still gets overshadowed by Robin Hood and Winnie the Pooh though. The art style is very rough and not charmingly used like in the two aforementioned movies.

    So…I really have no idea what to think about this movie.

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