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