The Rescuers (1977)

 

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Oh boy. These next few reviews are going to be really hard to write. Not because the next handful of Disney movies is bad per se, it’s just that well… they typically rank pretty low on everyone’s list of Disney movies. This movie, The Rescuers, is the last movie Walt had any sort of anything with. Honestly, I’m guessing that his involvement with this was very minimal, because I think if he had been involved, it wouldn’t have turned out quite like this. You can see the beginnings of some very Walt-ish ideas, but then different forces took over and led it another way.

The Rescuers signifies a turning point in Disney animation that would rule for the next decade. A lot of people call this time the “Dark Ages” of Disney, but I personally don’t think it should be called that. Are the movies made in the late 70s/80s great? No. But I’m a big believer that each of them has redeeming qualities. I’m going to talk about my very first completely underrated Disney movie (to which I believe there are a lot…) in the next few reviews. I’m going to try not to be too harsh on these movies, because in the end, I DO like them. I mean, I still own them all. Every single one.

All these movies in this time period (I’m talking about The Rescuers, The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, and The Great Mouse Detective) have a few things in common. 1) they’re MUCH darker. Disney ditches the fairy tales for dark, dramatic story telling with mixed results. 2) they have very few if any songs, and most the songs are not sung by characters but instead in the background.

So let’s dive in:

The Rescuers is actually based upon a series of books written by Margery Sharp (wow, I learn stuff every day). It centers around two mice named Miss Bianca and Bernard. They’re members of a mouse society whose soul purpose is to help children in need. After a bottle with a note washes up on shore, the two mice are on the case to find a missing girl named Penny. Their detective work sends them to an orphanage, a pawn shop, and finally the Louisiana Bayou where they find out she has been kidnapped by a jewel-loving Madam Medusa. She wants to use Penny to find The Devil’s Eye, an extremely large diamond that is located in a deep hole that only Penny can reach. It’s up to two mice to rescue the girl and outsmart Medusa and her band of crazy critters.

This movie actually was a huge success at the box office, which honestly I kinda find hard to believe. It was their first big hit since The Jungle Book (what?? no love for Robin Hood??) and it’s last until The Little Mermaid. Yeah. Crazy.

Anyway. Ok, ok, this movie isn’t that bad. It actually has a lot of redeeming qualities. For one, the main characters are actually very good. Bianca (voiced by Eva Gabor) and Bernard (voiced by Bob Newhart) are actually two of my favorite Disney characters. I love their interactions. I love their quirks. Bernard is paranoid about the number 13. He’s super careful, and very hesitant about everything. Bianca is laid back and has her heart set on one thing: saving this girl. She’s caring and loving and is willing to do anything. At the same time, she’s very ladylike to the point you can’t believe someone like her is even willing to get down, dirty and dangerous. She’s not afraid of anything. She packs three suitcases with her on the trip, and Bernard is such a gentleman he carries them, all the while worrying that the stairs have 13 steps. These two are great. I’ve barely scratched the surface on these two, but they are amazingly fleshed out characters. The movie is worth watching just to see these mice.

And for me, that’s it. Seriously. The other characters I could take or leave. Penny’s a little annoying. She has an obsession with a bear and treats it like its real. Yes I know real kids do that but is it just me or does she seem a little too old for that…? Her voice is also annoying. We have a cat named Rufus who helps them find where Penny went. He’s ok I guess. Good for the 5 minutes he’s on screen. We have a band of bayou critters that help out. One’s obsessed with moonshine. There’s a dragonfly who flies a boat around. As you can see I’m not too attached to these characters…

How about the villains? eh… Medusa is scary I guess….

Ok I take that back, she's really scary. How is Penny not running for cover?

Ok I take that back, she’s really scary. How is Penny not running for cover?

I mean, she did kidnap a kid. She’s completely insane, and that always makes for a good movie. I could forgive it, except the entire movie all I think about when I watch her is Cruela De Vil. I seriously feel like they recycled her, instead giving her a diamond obsession instead of a fur obsession.  She’s not exactly like her in looks, but it’s reminiscent. She’s bony and skinny like Cruela would have been under her fur coat. She has an odd shape, long fingers, and a long nose that just adds to her ridiculousness. She’s a bit more unstable than Cruela, which I guess is interesting. To me, she’s not that memorable of a villain, which is kinda sad, because she is just so insane.

Her accomplices are just… ugh. Mr. Snoops is her clumsy stupid business partner, and he’s just… stupid. Brutus and Nero are her pet Alligators, which are actually ok. They’re scary enough (especially at the end when they decide to randomly turn on her). They seem like the most put together members of our villain party, which is saying something cause they don’t talk.

There are two songs: The Rescue Aid Society song, actually sung by mice, and “Someone’s waiting for you,” which is sung in the background when we see Penny struggling to be forced to live with the crazy people. Neither are really catchy. In fact, the latter I would file under “songs that put me to sleep as a kid” along with the love song from Robin Hood and that one from Sleeping Beauty.

Despite my hatred of most of these characters, this movie does not rank at the very bottom of my list. Bianca and Bernard save it for me. And there are some funny jokes. There’s also a scene which I think it just freaking awesome, even though it’s so simple: Bianca and Bernard are in the boat (a leaf) with Evinrude the dragonfly and see Penny being taken by the two alligators. They head off after them and end up in front and get caught in the wake between the two swimming reptiles. It seems like something so simple yet to the mice it’s like a freaking tsunami. I LOVE that scene. It makes danger out of something so seemingly simple. It’s so cool.

I don’t know what else to say about this movie. It’s not horrible, but for me, it’s such a change that it’s hard for me to digest. The colors are drab and dramatic. The tone for me is just not a Disney movie. It’s more expected of a Don Bluth movie (and that makes sense – this is the first movie he ever worked on…). It has it’s fans, but except for our two mice, I’m not one of them (wait till I talk about the sequel though…)

I give The Rescuers (1977) 3 out of 5 stars. Solid effort, but without Walt there, it went way too dark.

Up Next: The Fox and the Hound (1981)

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