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Breanna - a lifelong Disney fan - is a writer who lives on a cattle ranch in Alabama. She wants a t-shirt that says, "Where Were You When Mufasa Died?"

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

“If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again”

             The Rescuers is a film that marks a couple of firsts but mostly lasts for the Disney studio.  It was one of the first films to feature some familiar names under character animation, namely Ron Clements and Glen Keane.  This marks the first time color Xeroxing was used to create line work of different colors, a big achievement for the Xeroxing process.  The Rescuers proved to be the first animated theatrical film successful enough to warrant a full theatrical sequel, The Rescuers Down Under.  It’s also set to be the first 1970’s era Disney film to see a Diamond Edition release in 2013.  This was also the last film for some of the original nine old men, like John Lounsbery (who passed away before the film’s release) and Milt Kahl (who retired).  It would also be the last Disney animated film to receive an Oscar Nomination until The Little Mermaid was released in 1989, with “Someone’s Waiting for You” for Best Song.
            Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston actually went so far to say that The Rescuers was the best film that they made after Walt’s passing.  Truth be told, I never got to actually see The Rescuers as a kid.  I had a book and a cassette tape that I would listen to that told the story of The Rescuers and I remember watching The Rescuers Down Under quite a bit, but I never got to see the first film until it was released on video in 1999.  For some reason, it was a film that never really stuck with me then, but after watching it this time, I can understand why this film is loved by so many.
            For one thing, I was close to tears for almost all of Penny’s scenes.  I know that many of you have gathered that I’m a bit of a crier, and you wouldn’t be wrong, but I say if there’s one thing that’s actually worth your tears, it’s a film that’s moved you.  Penny was the emotional lynchpin holding this film together.  It’s impossible not to feel for this little girl who only has two friends in her life; one of them is an old cat and the other one is her teddy bear.  There have been a fair few animated children up until this point, but with Penny Disney animation reached a whole new level on animating kids.  There were a lot of little moments with her that added layers of realism to her character, like the way she pulled on her nightgown and how she carried Rufus.  The audience wasn’t watching a cartoon of a little girl; they were watching a real little girl yearning for love and a family.

            Penny was only a slight indication of the quality of animation in this film.  Just about all of the main characters were joys to watch, in particularly Bernard and Bianca.  Bianca was Eva Gabor’s second foray into Disney (the first being Duchess in The AristoCats), and though she was technically just being herself, she made Bianca a chic delight that men could not help but fall in love with.  She was the perfect combination of brave and classy.  There have been quite a few sharply dressed Disney heroines, but I don’t think any of them can top Bianca for being so fashion forward.  The hat and coat that she wears when she and Bernard fly down to the Devil’s Bayou looked absolutely perfect on her. 

            But the movie would not have been the same without Bernard, who was given an amazing everyman voice by none other than Bob Newhart.  Though he was hesitant to take on the mission of rescuing Penny, Bernard proved himself to be an affective investigator since he was the one primarily making the deductions and asking the questions at the orphanage.  His superstitious nature was a really cute aspect for his character, but in the end he proved himself to be more than worthy of leading man status.  If any of those official dignitaries from the Rescue Aid Society had gone with Miss Bianca instead of Bernard, they might not have been able to start the swamp mobile when the pressure was on.
            For a studio built upon the foundation of a mouse, The Rescuers marks the first time mice made up the majority of the cast.  I loved the international mice making up the Rescue Aid Society and the use of everyday objects was really creative, like the broken comb Bernard uses as a ladder.  The film is so incredibly effective at conveying what a dangerous, big place the world is to a mouse.  Their size and other physical limitations are stretched to the limit, in particularly when Brutus and Nero are trying to play them out of the organ.
            You do have to question the sanity of a woman who keeps two oversized, vicious alligators as pets.  But what do you expect from a woman named Medusa?  Milt Kahl’s swan song, Madam Medusa proves to be a force to be reckoned with, more in the vein of Cruella DeVil than the more comedic villains we have been treated to lately.  In fact, I would say that it’s downright impossible not to think of Miss DeVil when watching Madam Medusa, and that’s not a coincidence either. 
            Originally, Cruella DeVil was going to be the villain of The Rescuers (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076618/trivia).  Suddenly, the startling similarities make sense, right?  The horrible driving, the unholy willingness to let innocent creatures be harmed to achieve their own selfish means, the lust for luxurious unattainable items, the skimpy dresses, and the bad hair.  The Cruella connection doesn’t stop there either.  Kahl (who supposedly based Medusa on his ex-wife http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rescuers) told Marc Davis that his Madam Medusa was going to blow his Cruella out of the water in terms of villainy.  Apologies to Mr. Kahl, even though he came closer than anybody else ever has, I’m not sure he quite toppled Cruella from her title.
            That being said, Medusa, much like Cruella DeVil was Davis’ last work, is among Kahl’s finest animation.  I thought her body shape was probably the most interesting aspect of her character design.  Cruella was slinky and straight, but Medusa has curves galore, but she’s not heavy either.  She’s probably one of the first examples of an animated character being “pear shaped” which allows for her to move in a very specific way.  There’s no way for her to walk and not move those hips twice a second. 

            In that way, Medusa brings a certain amount of sex to her character.  From her low-cut dress to her excessive makeup, the audience can’t help but draw conclusions about this woman.   One really small moment that I thought had some great character animation was when Medusa comes in from searching for Penny and then plops down on the sofa.  She slouches and holds one leg up while Snoops automatically pulls her boot off.  It’s a very suggestive position for her to assume and it was something that I was surprised to see in a Disney film.
            But there was apparently something else that in The Rescuers that people were surprised to find in a Disney film: a photo of a pair of real human breasts.  In the scene where Bianca and Bernard are taking off on Orville, there are two frames where a nude woman is visible in a window in the background.  Considering that an animated film runs on average of about thirty frames per second, I think that only the most ardent viewer would have caught something like that.  A person would literally have to be watching the entire film frame by frame in order to accidentally stumble across the offending image.  Considering that a lot of really ardent extremist groups already attack Disney films for supposedly hiding suggestive messages in their films, having an image of a real naked woman hidden in a film only adds fuel to their Disney hatin’ flame.
            That would be a shame because nothing should detract from this film.  Do you want to root for a couple of Disney underdogs?  You can’t do much better than two little mice.  Do you like mystery and intrigue?  The mystery in this film I think is almost more mystery-like than One Hundred and One Dalmatians; in that film, it was kind of obvious who the culprit, in The Rescuers there’s some actual sleuthing required.  Want some moving character moments?  Check out the scene between Rufus the cat and Penny; it was one of Ollie Johnston’s finest works and it will leave you smiling and in tears.  So the next time you notice that you have a mice problem in your house, think of how many children that mouse could help if you don’t set out a mousetrap.  Now everyone all together now:
Rescue Aid Society
Heads Held High
Touch the Sky
You Mean Everything to Me  


  1. The Rescuers is a great movie. I like so much of it. I agree that Penny is a very fully realized little girl; I like her endearing awkwardness. And that bit where "they choosed the little red-haired girl 'cause she was prettier than me" is very sad. I thought they did a good job with the modern day feel of it. The New York scenes look good, and I like that the Xerox process and the harsh line of the backgrounds make it feel dirty in a way that we wouldn't see again until Oliver & Company.

    The music in this film is really lovely, even if it's not a traditional "musical". Is this the first Disney film without characters breaking into song, excluding Fantasia or other package films? "Someone's Waiting For You" deserved its Oscar nomination. I'm also fond of "The Journey (Rescue Me)" under the credits. It's a good credit sequence because it tells a story, but is done in these lovely stills, bridging the passage of the bottle from the animated Penny to the animated mice that find it. And there's the added touch that the song is the voice of the bottle; it's the BOTTLE asking for rescue.

    My only complaint about the film really is the question of why Penny can talk to animals. I can sort of buy that "mice can talk like anybody", but she also routinely talks to a cat. And he talks back! I almost want some sort of "All Dogs Go to Heaven" reaction to this, since a little girl who talks to animals is not normal. The sequel does this too. It's an element of this universe I don't quite get.

    Let's mention the swamp critters. Funny how Disney doesn't discourage the alcohol consumption here. And the scale of the animals makes no sense at all. there's an owl that's smaller than a rodent, but the same size as a turtle?

    I love the sequence in the cave with the water coming in and all. There is some great tension there, and it makes Medusa seem really sick to leave a kid to find treasure or drown.

    Oh, and regarding the nude lady. She doesn't appear on the original VHS copy. She is on the VHS re-release, which resulted in it being recalled. Disney claims they don't know why but it's only in some prints, which suggests that none of the animators or such were responsible. It's a very odd thing.

  2. I really like this film. The Xerox quality almost makes it feel speckled somehow. Maybe I'm looking for the word grainy?

    Penny is such a cutie. So attached to her teddy and she innocent. Yet even though she's scared she's willing to go in to protect that teddy. I love it!

    Medusa definitely gives off the Cruella vibe. Especially with that crazy driving of hers.

    Of course we have to talk about Bianca and Bernard. I feel so bad for Bernard. I feel like he's always being roped into something. XD Poor thing. Bianca's such a sweetheart though and she's so adament about helping Penny.

    There are really only two things that bother me about his movie. The main thing being the music. The only song I actually like, which I like very much actually, is "Someone's Waiting for You." Well, I also kind of like the Rescue song. There's just something about the other songs that rub me the wrong way.

    I also laugh at the crazy proportions of the animals. It kind of weirds me out.

    However, it's such an enjoyable movie that it's very easy to look past all that. Bianca and Bernard make such an amazing duo!

    As for the nude lady, I heard that she was in the laserdisc opening for like a split second. I feel like to find it someone would have really have to go looking for it. Not that I condone it in the least, but I really feel like whoever first found it was trying to find something.

  3. I just watched this movie last night, and it was the first time in many, many a years. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it! A lot more so than I remember enjoying it as a child.

    Like you, Penny just broke my heart. She was too adorable for words and I just can't fathom how anyone could pass up the chance to adopt the little sweetheart.

    I have to say my 2 favourite scenes were the one with Penny and Rufus, and the scene where the 2 alligators were chasing Bernard and Bianca.

    When Rufus was retelling the last time he saw Penny, I just fell apart. Not only because it's such a sad scene, but Rufus telling Penny not to give up hope? That she is a wonderful little girl? That was one of the sweetest, most precious things I'd ever seen.

    As for the Alligator scene? I laughed so hard I had to pause the DVD and re-watch it once I'd settled a bit. The sight of those 2 'gators playing an organ to catch Bernard and Bianca was hilarious! Obviously from a mouse's POV it's terrifying, but from the audience's POV, it's absolutely perfect.

    I always loved Penny's attitude towards the alligators. For such a little girl, she's surely not afraid of them. I think she's more afraid of Medusa than she is of them. And the scene were Penny imitates Medusa? I swear the more I think about this movie, the more I love it!

  4. I adored "The Rescuers" growing up, though we didn't have a video copy of our own for a long time. No, we had the story book, which my dad read to us all the time. If I close my eyes, I can still hear him screeching in an absurd mimic of a feminine scream, "Brutus! Nero! Stop that racket!"

    Penny was such a loveable little girl that it broke my heart to think that no one would want her. And Bernard and Bianca made the perfect team. She was a sophisticated delight, while he was someone you could relate to. Poor Bernard, taken completely out of his comfort zone and thrown into one perilous situation after another, but he pushes on for the love of Miss Bianca and their mutual concern for Penny.

    On a completely unrelated note, one reason this movie was special for us was because it took place in two different locations that held significance for our family. Though we were all born and raised in NYC (where my parents met and fell in love), my mom was born down South in a part of the country known for its bayous and alligators. Odd to see a movie that gave a nod to both, otherwise unrelated, halves of our family identity.