Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and a fun movie overall
Cons: A bit on the dark side of things so not as young kid friendly
The Bottom Line:
Bit dark for Disney
But story, characters great
So well worth watching
"Two Little Mice? What Can You Do?"
Despite my life long love of all things Disney, I didn't see most of the animated movies until I was in college or older. I don't remember seeing The Rescuers until I was out of college. It has some dated animation, but I find it charming and think most families will as well.
The movie opens with a shot of a little girl throwing a bottle into the water in a bayou. As the opening credits role, we follow the bottle as it journey's up to New
where it is found by the Rescue Aid Society. York City
Now the Rescue Aid Society is made up of mice from all over the world. As the message is read, Miss Bianca (voiced by Eva Gabor) the delegate from Hungry, volunteers to go. This causes a hubbub since no woman has ever gone on a mission before (the film was released in 1977 after all), so it is decided she needs a co-agent. She picks Bernard, the janitor who is afraid of most things (Bob Newhart).
Following the few clues they do have, this duo track Penny (Michelle Stacy) down to the Devil's Bayou, where she is being held by Madame Medusa (Geraldine Page). Medusa wants Penny to find a special diamond for her in a tidal cave. Will Bernard and Miss Bianca and some friends they make along the way be able to help them find the diamond and free Penny?
This movie feels a bit dark for a Disney movie, and I'm not quite sure why. One reason is the lack of humorous sidekicks. There are a few of them and a few comedic scenes (the pipe organ scene is a classic) but these scenes are also filled with suspense. Of course, Disney movies have always had their darker elements, and this one isn't quite as dark as some of them, so kids should be okay with it.
Another reason it feels dark is the color pallet. Much of the movie takes place at night, and that infuses all the colors of the film. It's a very effective move that makes us feel the danger our characters are facing.
During the 1970's, Disney animation took a turn toward two dimensional backgrounds and even some watercolor. That's absolutely in display here. Actually, some of the watercolor backgrounds are strikingly beautiful. It's a style choice that dates the movie, but it's not one I mind. It takes some getting used to when compared to the later hand drawn movies and is certainly different than the computer animated movies we're used to now, but give it a chance. Fans of Don Bluth won't be surprised to learn he was heavily involved in this film before leaving Disney to start his own animation studio since the style is so similar.
Part of that dark tone to me is the lack of magic. Yes, the animals talk, even to Penny, but it feels a tad on the ordinary side. That's not to say the movie isn't fun, but it doesn't quite capture the imagination as some of the other animated movies do.
So let's start talking about what works, because there is much that does. The story is good. While we see Penny at the very beginning, we don't find out for sure where she is or why she is there until Bernard and Miss Bianca do, so the first half feels like a mystery as they piece things together. Then it's pure adventure as these two mice and a little girl plot a daring escape.
As a bit of trivia, Cruella de Vil was originally going to be the villain. Frankly, I still see quite a bit of that in Medusa. There's her obsession with getting the diamond and her over the top personality. But the clearest similarity is Medusa's lousy driving but on land and on her swamp mobile.
The film is filled with great characters. Bernard's fear and superstition is quite cute, and Miss Bianca is charming. It's easy to feel for Penny. Along the way we meet Orville the Albatross, a dragonfly named Evinrude, and Madusa's pet alligators Brutus and Nero who are all fun. And Medusa makes a great villain since she is easy to root against. She's not too scary, but scary enough to be taken seriously.
Of course, the cast deserves credit for bringing these characters to life. The voice talent is perfect, Eva Gabor and Bob Newhart especially as the leads.
And I haven't even mentioned the music. Sadly, none of the songs here seem to have become popular. The cast itself only sings "Rescue Aid Society," but I am fond of "Tomorrow is Another Day" and the Oscar nominated "Someone's Waiting for You."