Directed By: Wolfgang Reitherman, John Lounsbery, & Art Stevens
Produced By: Wolfgang Reitherman
Based On: Margery Sharp’s The Rescuers & Miss Bianca (1959-1962)
Premiered On: June 22, 1977
Distribution By: Buena Vista Distribution
Now, while not strictly an 80’s film per say what with it having been released in the late 1970’s, The Rescuers is nonetheless shares many of the atypical themes of films of that particular era and is easily one of the more darker Disney Animated Films both literally and figuratively. Contrary to most films before and since, The Rescuers lacked many of the vibrant colors that are often attributed to Disney productions. The chief villain, a Madame Medusa, was also one of the only human Disney Villains to willingly and nigh almost gladly commit murder to get what she wanted and to an innocent orphan child no less.
The story of The Rescuers begins with the age-old message in a bottle trick where said note finds its way into the hands, err that is to say, the paws of the Rescue Aid Society, a group of international mouse organization based inside the United Nations building in New York City. The representative for Hungary, a Miss Bianca, volunteers herself to accept the case and chooses the stammering and highly superstitious janitor Bernard to accompany her as her co-agent.
Together, the two mice piece together the whole sequence of events of Penny’s abduction from the Morningside Orphanage and track the girl down to the Devil’s Bayou where Madame Medusa has had her underling Mr. Snoops try to enter a cave where the world’s largest and finest cut diamond, the Devil’s Eye, is supposedly located. The opening to the cave is too small for either Madame Medusa or Mr. Snoops to enter so they have been using Penny to enter the cave and find it, despite the horrendous risk of the girl drowning whenever the tide comes in.
It certainly doesn’t help matters that Penny’s attempts at escaping are always thwarted by Madame Medusa’s two pet crocodiles, Brutus and Nero, whom while being quite large in size, seem to have a strange affection for mice, or at least those smelling of Miss Bianca’s perfume at any rate.
I’d continue on to the film’s climax and ending but honestly? I cannot truly describe this film to its proper justice without creating a novel adaptation to it. If there was one thing in particular that the animation team as a whole put the entirety of their effort into it was creating dramatic tension and presentation. Especially so during Penny’s final attempt at finding and retrieving the Devil’s Eye, a scene that even now having watched the film as many times as I have, I still can’t help finding myself at the edge of my seat.
Much like previous films before and since, The Rescuers differs quite a bit from its original source materials though in ways that are both really surprising and hilariously amusing. First and foremost, the aforementioned Rescue Aid Society, contrary to what their name might imply, did not in fact actively try and aid in rescues but were instead focused on providing comfort in any way they could to prisoners in their cells.
I… I don’t… What? I mean, it sounds rather interesting to be sure but at the same time, I just… I’m just so befuddled I’ve no words.
The real major deviations are more evident in the villains of the film, at least from those in the original books. Going in reverse order, there’s Brutus and Nero, the two crocodiles, whom were originally Tyrant and Torment, a pair of bloodhounds whom I hope did not live up their names.
Mr. Snoops was changed from a character named Mandrake and his appearance is actually based on the animation historian John Culhane who claims that he had practically been tricked into posing for various reactions but goes on the record by saying that him becoming a Disney character, even an otherwise unpopular one, was beyond his wildest dreams of glory.
I shan’t lie, were I in his shoes, I’d be shoving this movie in everybody’s faces everywhere I went with reckless abandon because that, right there? That’s well and truly awesome.
As to the film’s primary antagonist Madame Medusa… Oh man this is the real diamond in the rough here, Disney fans in a way that I doubt anyone could have expected. Now, originally, the role of villain was to go to Cruella de Vil but Ollie Johnston, one of Disney’s Nine Old Men and co-author to the 12 basic principles of animation, put his foot down on that idea. So it was that Madame Medusa was based on the book’s villain known simply as the Diamond Duchess but that’s not where the hilarity ensues, oh no.
See, Madame Medusa’s chief animator, Milt Kahl, another of Disney’s Nine Old Men, had decreed that this was to be his last film for the studio and he wanted his final character to be his absolute best to such a degree that… Well, quite frankly, he ended up doing almost all of her animation. Given that Madame Medusa was designed to resemble his ex-wife, of whom he held a particularly high amount of dislike towards, I can kind of see why.
As to the music of the film, for the first time since Bambi, who alongside his mother actually cameos in one of the songs in the movie, the singing was done as part of the narrative rather than having the characters suddenly break out into a merry jig. Though, to be fair, not a one of these songs are what I would call a “Disney song” in the strictest sense of the words. Say what you will of Princesses’ “I want” songs or Villains’ “Evil Deeds” songs or even the comedic sidekicks “Hey here’s a laugh” songs, the ones in The Rescuers are…
Mellow? Yes, mellow is easily the best word that I could use to describe them. They are not something that you can break out and sing alongside or even dance to but rather leave you sitting back in your seat and finding yourself strangely contemplative on matters that you otherwise never really think of. Choosing the best song for the film was extremely hard and honestly, it came down to a coin toss. Or two…
Anyway, the song that I feel best fits for the film is the song “Tomorrow is Another Day,” sung by Shelby Flint. Visually speaking, I’d say that this is easily one of the best in a Disney film from the Silver Age and the song itself only makes it even more fantastical to enjoy. It’s like flying through the sky in all of its ups and downs, from cloudy grays to rainbow hues of a new dawn…
Overall, I give this film… eh, seven out of five stars. I’d give it a ten out of five like I have previous films before but I as I said earlier, this film is a product of its era and theirs a bit of grittiness to it that may not be comfortable to show younger audiences now as it had been in previous generations. Despite this, this is well and truly one of the best films to come out of the Disney’s Silver Age of Animation. It’d have to be considering that it is, thus far, the one and only Disney Animated Feature Film to receive a sequel that wasn’t direct-to-video or done by DisneyToon Studios.