“Why, she- she tried to kill us. That, that, that terrible woman! Oh, if I was only a ten-foot mouse, I’d show her.” – Bianca
Let’s finally finish up the 70s and 80s, the period that could be called The Dark Ages if you look at things that way, shall we? While the rest of its brethren sit outside the Top 25, The Rescuers, released in 1977, was to many the lone shining star of the era, the proof that Walt Disney Animation still had the potential to produce quality films without the visionary that had shaped their production for almost 60 years. The Rescuers was a huge hit for the studio, became the highest grossing animated film of all time up to that point, and saved the Disney studio from shutting down its animation department.
The Rescuers begins as Penny, a young orphan who has been kidnapped by a mad woman named Madam Medusa, who uses Penny to search a small cave for a diamond, sends a message in a bottle asking for help. The bottle makes its way to New York City, and soon to the Rescue Aid Society, a collection of mice dedicated to rescuing people around the world. Bianca, the representative from Hungary, requests to take the job, and is forced by the rest of the society to bring a partner. Bianca chooses Bernard, a clumsy janitor. Together, they discover that Penny is located is Devil’s Bayou, down in the deep south, and they must work alongside Penny and the swamp folk to free Penny from her capture.
The Rescuers as a film features extremely strong title characters. I mentioned the greatness of Bernard and Bianca just briefly in my review of The Rescuers Down Under, but I really want to expand upon what makes them great characters in this post.
Let’s start with Bianca. She is so pure, so caring, that you can’t help but to like her. She is this perfect mix of adventurous and caring, of loving the journey and wanting to succeed in the outcome because she genuinely cares. And she remains distinctly female, which adds a lot to her personality. She feels motherly and has such a positive outlook on life, one she wants to share with absolutely everyone, that it is almost infectious. Eva Gabor hits the nail on the head with her performance here. She absolutely creates Bianca’s personality and makes her completely memorable, and the voice absolutely fits the character. Bianca is just wonderful through and through.
Bernard, however, is the real shining star. Bob Newhart gives a hall of fame performance here with the voice performance here. Bernard is such a fun character to watch in action. I love the ways he gets himself into situations that are totally beyond his limits in order to impress Bianca. I also love how this same notion evolves when he is trying to save Penny. He is overly cautious, very superstitious, and a overthinker. Yet, like Bianca, his true ability to care and love is extremely clear, and even through his Bob Newhart plays it perfectly every step of the way, and helps to make Bernard the best character to come out of the 1970s, and arguably the best character Disney made until Ariel. Or at least Basil.
One of the things I really like about the film though is how well the film presents Penny. We don’t just care for her only because she is a helpless little girl. We actually care about her because she is built up as her own, strong little character. She is strong, sassy, adorable, cute, and smart all at the same time, which really says a lot about the effort put into her character. Penny has a lot going for her, and for her to actually help the mice in planning her own escape actually says everything about her. She is a lot of fun to watch throughout the course of the film.
These three characters alone elevate the film. For all the things I’ll talk about in the weaknesses section, the thing that puts this film in the Top 25 are Bianca, Bernard, and Penny, and how good they are, nay, how fantastic they are. Their personalities keep you engaged with the story and the film, and they are truly characters you want to see succeed.
When the film does comedy, it does it well. Bernard’s personality alone results in some great comedic moments, especially in the beginning when he is still attempting to find himself worthy of going on this journey. The film is littered with comedic gems, such as the few minutes that Orville the Albatross is on-screen, or the interactions between Penny, the Gators, and Snoops. Many smile inducing moments all around.
Finally, I like the film’s action overall, even though I feel the film could have done more to make them feel more exciting. They have this perfect blend of drama and comedy that create some of the film’s most memorable sequences. Our heroes vs. The Gators and the final battle are two moments that particularly come to mind.
This film’s really got a boring tone. The weird thing is though, I don’t find it boring, or else it wouldn’t be in this spot. Rather, the film has this muted, low-key tone that stays consistent throughout the runtime. The film is always dark and dreary, and it feels very grounded in a sense. It almost feels like that the film is tricking you into thinking it is boring. While I think this style is good in some aspects of the film, I think it has a whole it hurts the film.
The film lacks any liveliness, and spark to keep the tempo high. The characters are able to masterfully save the film from becoming a bore, and as I said before, elevate the film’s quality, but The Rescuers could have really benefitted from just a couple more comedic moments. This is especially true for the films middle, where the search for Penny is supposed to be heating up, and yet it just feels drab the entire time. There are certainly moments at the beginning and end where comedy could be inserted. The film doesn’t need to be overloaded with comedy, but it really could have used some more funny bits to liven up the mood.
I actually think the film goes for a bit too much emotional pull, and the soundtrack is great evidence of this. The Rescuers has four songs. One of them is the short diddy that is the Rescue Aid Society pledge, and the other three are these highly emotional slow ballads. Having three songs in this single style is really grating by the third time they attempt to pull it off. I really wish they had put a more upbeat song in the middle of the film to really liven up the tone.
I’ve complained before about films that allow the side characters to overtake the main ones. Well, The Rescuers has the opposite problem. The main characters are so good and compelling that the side character almost feel like they are not there at all. This is a real shame because not only are these characters fun, but they also were the characters that had the opportunity to fix the film’s problems. Orville, for example, barely gets any screen time, and leaves almost as soon as he arrives. If he had stayed around to help Bernard and Bianca, he could have really contributed as a vibrant personality that constantly brought laughs. Same thing with the Gators. The Gators have such great comedic potential, and show proof of this through their scenes, but they are underused as a whole. I love our main characters, but I wanted the side characters to stick out as well.
Finally, while Madam Medusa isn’t a bad villain per say, I do wish she was less of a Cruella DeVille wannbe, especially since Cruella pulls off that personality so much better. You could tell that they had originally planned to have Cruella return as a villain after her role in One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and I wish Medusa would have been given more of her own quirks other than own two Gators. She works, but could have been much greater.
(A minor note: I wish the film had made a bigger deal at the end that Bernard and Bianca had succeeded against all odds in the eyes of the Rescue Aid Society. At the beginning of the film, Bianca was seen as the girl who wanted to take matters into her own hands, no matter what other think of her size or gender, and Bernard was just a lowly janitor. This idea should have been a larger part of the plot.)
BEST MOMENT AND SONG
The Best Moment of the film, in my opinion, is the final chase scene that brings everything together. It really is a great scene for all the characters, and is one of the highest energy moments of the film.
I do love a nice slow ballad every once in a while, and the best one in this film is “Tomorrow is Another Day,” which plays as Bernard and Bianca fly to Devil’s Bayou on Orville. It is one of the film’s most beautiful moments.
The Rescuers, to me, could have easily join the films that surrounded it outside the Top 25 if things had gone differently with the film. The tone does not completely sit right me with, and it leaves me wanting the upbeat moments that so many Disney films have and do so well. However, its extremely strong characters and flashing moments of great comedy and action are able to elevate the film into a Top 25 spot. It is worthy of being on that surprisingly long list of films that saved Disney Animation.