Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Movie Review: The Rescuers (1977)

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 York City, where it is found by the Rescue Aid Society.

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."

So despite the dated animation, the movie still has its charm.  If you have missed The Rescuers, do yourself a favor and watch it today.


  1. Another reason as to why the film looks "dark" is the fact that the Blu-ray and DVD versions have not yet been faithful to the original theatrical release. The home video releases look much darker and even "murkier" than the original version, which was "gloomy" (due to the foggy atmosphere), but not necessarily dark.

    1. That's interesting and something I obviously didn't know. Thanks for sharing.

    2. Yes, and I wish more reviewers were aware of and would bring this up in their reviews because most people don't realize it. Most consumers now believe that the home video releases have been an accurate portrayal of the film (in terms of color; the DVD had more issues than just the messed-up colors) so few are complaining to Disney. Since Disney has not received complaints, they don't feel the need to update the film's presentation as they have done to other films. This Blu-ray edition was produced from the same print used for the 1998 VHS and 2003 DVD releases, not from a brand new copy straight from the original masters as they generally do for other films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwards, Bambi or Cinderella.

    3. In all fairness, the movie came out when I was 2. I've only ever seen the home video releases. Does that count as a good excuse? :)

    4. Of course it does, haha. I was born around the time of the second theatrical re-issue, so I never saw it in theaters. My findings come from ten years of research on this particular film. The 1992 VHS release is the closest to the theatrical version (the movie had had less time to deteriorate), but even that one is fairly off.

    5. I wonder why they haven't restored this one. They've certainly spent lots of time restoring some of their films. I wonder why not this one.

    6. Well, there's a few good reasons. One, Disney doesn't consider it a big seller, even though the DVD sold reasonably well considering the fact that it got zero publicity, and two, with people not noticing the flaws in the given picture presentation Disney does not feel the need to restore it in order to boost sells and consumer interest; for whatever reason, people have accepted the film's poor presentation as the "way it was made," backed up by the knowledge that the film was facing financial difficulties during the period of production. It really is a shame.

    7. Yeah, if no one is calling for it to be restored, they won't restore it. It's not like it is one of the classic Princess movies. Those would get restored no matter what.