#23 The Rescuers

#23 The Rescuers

Teamwork makes the dream work

We’re wrapping up the ’70s this week with the film The Rescuers! The film, loosely based on a children’s series written by Margery Sharp, is about two mice, Bianca and Bernard, who set out to rescue a young, kidnapped girl named Penny.

The animation team went through various ideas throughout the ’70s until finally settling on the story elements that would encompass the final version of the film. Instead of taking the plot points/characters straight from Sharp’s books The Rescuers and Miss Bianca, the team used the book characters as more inspiration for the film characters. The villain of the film was planned to be Cruella de Vil in an early iteration of the film, but the idea was dropped as they didn’t want the movie to be a sequel to 101 Dalmatians. Instead, the villain wound up being Madame Medusa, who was based on animator and nine-old-men member Milt Kahl’s then wife. Could you imagine your husband making you a Disney villain? I think I would feel simultaneously outraged and honored. Eva Gabor, who voiced Duchess in The Aristocats, provided the voice of Bianca, while Bob Newhart (legendary comedian/actor and Papa Elf in the critically acclaimed film Elf) voiced Bernard.

Since the beginning of the ’60s and 101 Dalmatians, the animation had a “sketchy” look due to the animation process, but The Rescuers changed that as they were able to improve the process. This movie was also a big milestone for both old and new animators. It was the last film that Milt Kahl worked on, making it one of the last efforts of the nine-old-men. It was also where many young animators got big breaks, including Disney legends Glen Keane (who would go on to be the supervising animator of Ariel, Beast, Aladdin, Rapunzel, just to name a few minor characters) and Ron Clements (who would go on to write and direct for a few small films like The Little Mermaid, Hercules, Princess and the Frog, Moana). This was also the first film Don Bluth worked on as an animator, not just an assistant animator. If you’re a big animation fan, you probably know Don Bluth’s name. If you’re not, you may not – but don’t worry, I’ll go into him more next week, cuz there be some drama. At the start of production, the film was meant to be a project for the young, up and coming animators, but the older legends got involved once production on Robin Hood was complete.

The Rescuers was very successful at the box office and lauded by critics and audiences alike. Reviewers wrote that it was “the best feature-length animated film from Disney in a decade or more” and “the best work by Disney animators in many years”. At that point, after several films that were meant with lukewarm responses at best, The Rescuers seem to signal to audiences that Disney could still make classics, and filmed them with hope for the future. Which, knowing what comes next, is sad to type, but they’ll hit their stride again in 10 years. The Rescuers was so successful that it was the first Disney animated film to get a sequel, which was released 13 years later. And you thought Frozen 2 took a long time! As far as the Disney Parks go, representation for this movie has always been hard to find. There isn’t currently much besides merchandise, though Bernard and Bianca occasionally make character appearances in non-American parks.

The Rescuers also had a scandalous nudity incident! When the movie was re-released on VHS in 1999, Disney had to recall the tapes because someone during the editing process slipped in an image of a naked woman in a window when Bernard and Bianca are taking off on Orville. It was too quick to see if you were just watching the movie normally, but it was there, and so Disney had to fix the problem. It was never released who the creep was that put nudity in a kids movie, but hopefully they were fired.

To be honest, I don’t know if I’ve seen The Rescuers. If I did, I was very young. I remember certain visuals and plot points, but not actually watching the film, so I could have just read a Disney goldenbook at some point.

My thoughts on The Rescuers:

  • Ooh, this movie is starting ominously with this sunken boat and a child on it with gators/crocodiles
  • “Suggested by” I’ve seen inspired by and adapted from but what does suggested by mean?
  • Character animation Glen Keane?!! Ariel and Rapunzel Glen Keane? An icon
  • I know things eventually work out but it stinks Penny’s note was found by mice and not like actual law enforcement officials
  • The UN! I worked by the UN in NYC, walked by it a few times. It looks pretty much the same
  • How did these mice manage to stay on long flights and go through security unnoticed? Well, I guess this was 1977
  • Still, with ticket prices, unfair they get a free ride
  • Do all animals have their own versions of the UN? Or just mice? And why just mice?
  • Aww they have their own little song
  • What determines a call for help that they have to answer? Because Penny’s not calling specifically on them. If I’m walking down the street and say “I need help finding an apartment” do the mice jump into help? 
  • Was Pizza Rat just bringing a pizza to someone in need?!!!
  • So Penny was trying to reach New York and did (not the orphanage but still the city is impressive)
  • “Its not like the old days when it was a mans world” HERE HERE let Bianca go and kick butt on her quest! She don’t need no man
  • “I don’t think Bianca should go it could be dangerous” nobody asked you Bernard, go back to sweeping or whatever tf you do, she can do it!
  • Why would Bianca actually choose Bernard, though? He hasn’t demonstrated any skills that we know of. And she thinks this job is important and wants to help. This just seems irresponsible. I’m gonna need a reason for this strange character decision
  • Bianca’s the one who wanted to take the shortcut through the zoo, she’s the one who said it would be nbd, she should be the one to go first
  • Bianca “wait for me!” Also Bianca: Stands in place. RUN LADY
  • Wouldn’t the animals be in cages, though? They should be safe
  • Bernard is taking the lead on this mission a lot when Bianca is the actual agent, or at least the more experienced one
  • That is a GREAT mustache on that cat
  • Penny could TALK to the cat?! 
  • Penny talking about how the other little girl got adopted because she’s prettier than her :((( this poor baby
  • Rufus is so sweet, giving her a pep talk
  • “A weird lady tried to give Penny a ride but she wouldn’t have anything to do with trashy people like them” WHOA Rufus, I mean stranger danger awareness is good but that was savage
  • Did…did actual adults tell the police about the strange couple trying to give the child a ride? Cuz i feel like this shouldn’t have been investigated
  • Can Rufus talk to other people besides Penny?
  • Why would you want to go by Madam Medusa?
  • VERY convenient that MM reveals she has Penny and the location she’s keeping her at AND is immediately leaving town as B&B are there
  • Medusa just drove off without her suitcase! What about her clothes??? Her belongings? You think someone as greedy as her would care
  • OF COURSE they’re running late because Bianca overpacked because women always overpack and are high maintenace

Bianca over-packing her bag:

  • Bianca: “you worry too much” Were you NOT the one spearheading this mission? YOU were the one who wanted to go on this mission and now you don’t care if you get to Penny in time?! 
  • The sardine can is clever
  • But what if more than 2 mice needed to fly? Is it limited to mice? Do other animals use the albatross?
  • “Just went through a red light” Bernard you’re FLYING there are no cars that are going to hit you in mid-air, i get you’re paranoid but that’s extreme
  • Bianca: “I do it all the time” you what?!
  • Bernard is all anxious on this flight is he gonna see a colonial woman on the wing? Will she be churning butter, dressed in traditional colonial garb?
  • Ahh the sights of New York City!
  • Orville’s really doing them a solid, this has got to be a long flight, I hope they’re paying him well
  • Where did Bernard get the book from? I respect the research though
  • Bianca is not taking this mission seriously AT ALL 
  • I don’t care about their romance in the slightest I care about the small child who is kidnapped in a bayou
  • Medusa going out to get the job done herself, she saw Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmatians and said I will NOT trust my bumbling sidekick
  • Oh no B&B just fell out of the sky!!!
  • There is a mouse drinking moonshine in this kids movie
  • “This new batch really packs a wolop” omg!!! 
  • Now he’s giving it to Bernard i love this guy he’s open to sharing
  • On the one hand, it’ll make Bernard loosen up; On the other, the one person actually working on the mission will be toasted
  • Orville is trying to get out of dodge and i don’t blame him
  • No the gators/crocs found Penny
  • Nice to see Bianca caring again
  • I LOVE this dragonfly/leaf motorboat situation
  • How ARE the mice going to take on the gators?
  • Penny telling her teddy not to cry :((( This poor child why was the only person who cared about her a cat?!
  • “All she ever thinks about is that bear” dude she’s like FIVE 
  • Penny sassing snoops i love him get him girl!!
  • “I can go by myself. Thank. YOU.” GO OFF MISS PENNY!!!
  • Penny sneaking out messages, Penny managing to escape, Penny has more courage and capability in her at 5 than a lot of Disney characters I stan

Me talking about Bernard and Bianca:

Me talking about Penny:

  • Oh yikes oh yikes the gators found the mice
  • Ooh these gators are smart, playing the organ to get the mice out
  • Are these like supergators?
  • Between their intelligence, the talking cat, and the mouse UN, I’m starting to think this is a world where animals have special abilities
  • Medusa is SHOOTING at the mice, a little extreme don’t ya think lady?
  • “What can two little mice do” leave an anonymous letter with the police letting them know where Penny is
  • Medusa calling Penny homely and implying no one will ever adopt her, I’m ready to throw hands!
  • Penny may be the character I feel bad for most of all so far
  • Penny can understand the mice, too
  • I feel like her ability to talk to animals is more exploitable than whatever Medusa is having her do
  • “Didn’t you bring anyone big with you? Like the police?” No, Penny, because that would have made sense. You continue to have all the brain cells
  • The awkward look Bernard and Bianca give each other like “hmm…that would have been a good idea…”
  • Penny coming up with the elevator idea, she’s so clever!
  • Penny mimicking Medusa, a great actress!
  • Also, her goofing around just reinforces how young she is and how dark this movie is
  • So B&B aren’t even going to help, they’re sending for help, and Penny has to stay with Medusa longer
  • How are they rescuers exactly?
  • Medusa in this scene is terrifying because she doesn’t have magic or fantasy about her, she’s just pure human evil
  • Just take the whole skull, Penny! I know it’s gross but it’s the only way to get the diamond to her
  • Thata girl
  • OMG she is threatening to drown this child this is disturbing
  • Penny is doing ALL the legwork here, and I get it’s because B&B are two little mice but they’re really useless
  • Now Penny has to save THEM?!
  • She’s literally struggling against rushing waters with one hand holding the diamond and the other holding the mice
  • This movie should be called The Rescuer and it’s just about Penny
  • Medusa wants to keep the diamond all to herself, a surprise to no one except her henchman apparently
  • The dragonfly has revived via moonshine did alcohol just save the day?
  • Go bayou animals go!
  • Medusa stealing the teddy bear? She’s truly EVIL
  • Bernard and Bianca tripped Medusa! They did something helpful!!
  • Bayou animals going in on Medusa, I love to see it
  • And now B&B trapped the gators! Great job guys!
  • Noo the moonshine had to be used to power the boat 😥 RIP
  • Pour one out?
  • Look at Penny driving that boat, she’s like a character from The Fast and the Furious
  • “We did it Bianca” eh….you were there when the escape happened is more accurate tbh
  • PENNY GOT ADOPTED! She’s called a hero on the news! She has people cheering for her! She has her teddy bear! I’m so happy!
  • “I didn’t do it all by myself” don’t be modest Penny, you pretty much did
  • So Penny confirms on air that she can talk to the mice and the newscaster is surprised, so…does she really have a special ability??
  • I wanna see a movie about superhero Penny and her ability to talk to animals
  • And B&B continue on for more adventures, hopefully by 1990 they’ll be better at the rescuing part

Wow, okay, so I have a lot of mixed feelings about this movie. Overall, I enjoyed it and thought it was pretty good. Obviously, I loved Penny, I thought she was a great character: adorable, clever, sassy, proactive. I thought the bayou animals were very funny and they helped save the day! Medusa was a villain that didn’t make a lot of stupid mistakes, and she was very terrifying to me because she wasn’t a fantasy villain, so to speak; she didn’t have magical items, or turn into a dragon, or anything like that, she was just pure, real-world evil. Child abuse and exploitation is such a horrendous thing that occurs in the world, and so Medusa is one of the scariest villains in the Disney cannon to me because she represents a real horror. The plot was exciting and a fun adventure, but I did feel really sad for Penny throughout the movie, again because she just made me think of real abused and abandoned children. But that complexity mixed in with the cartoon shenanigans was something that I thought was well-done. So, lots of things in this movie I like and appreciate. However, I really couldn’t stand Bernard and Bianca. They were both on opposite ends of the spectrum (he complained too much, she was too frivolous) but their dynamic wasn’t that humorous to me. They also didn’t do much to help Penny, besides be there with her when the bayou animals saved the day. At first, I was excited because the men in the Rescue Aid Society didn’t think Bianca could handle a mission on her own, and I was looking forward to seeing her step up and take charge. But then she didn’t. And Bernard, who had no experience, was depicted as being more logical and competent than her (though he wasn’t exactly Ethan Hunt himself). It was just lazy writing and playing into stereotypes. And I wasn’t looking for Bianca to be a superhero or anything, it was just weird that they set it up like these curmudgeony old guys saying “no she can’t” and then you watch the movie and, oh, no she actually can’t? I just wanted the two to work together as a successful, competent team. And the time period can’t even be blamed because Pongo and Perdita kicked (and bit) ass back in 1961. So, The Rescuers: I think it’s great. The Rescuers: not so much. I’m looking forward to how they work with the story and characters ten years later.

Next week starts the ’80’s when I cover The Fox and the Hound!! If you’re like me and thought The Rescuers was dark, get ready, because Disney is just getting started with their angst period.

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