Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Disney Discussion - The Rescuers

Over the course of the year, we'll be spending our Wednesdays with Walt, having a discussion about each of Disney's animated films...

Movie #23 of The Disney Discussion
The Rescuers (1977)
Featuring the voice talents of Bob Newhart, Eva Gabor, Geraldine Page, and Michelle Stacy
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, John Lounsbery, and Art Stevens
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***
Summary (in 150 words or less):
When a bottle with an SOS note washes up on the shores of New York City and is discovered by a group of mice, the Rescue Aid Society (a United Nations-type organization made up of rodents) takes on the case of Penny, the young girl who wrote the note.  Penny, an orphan, just wants to be adopted by a loving family, but has instead been taken by the crazed Madame Medusa to Devil's Bayou, a swamp where Penny must search day and night in tiny and tight caves for the gigantic Devil's Eye diamond which Medusa longs to get her hands upon.  Bianca and Bernard, mice members of the Rescue Aid Society, travel to Devil's Bayou in order to save Penny and rescue her from the watchful eye of Medusa.

Facts and Figures
The Rescuers is the Walt Disney Company's twenty-third full length animated feature and it was released on June 22, 1977.

At the time of its release, The Rescuers was the highest grossing animated film of all-time and held the distinction of having the highest grossing opening weekend of any animated film until 1986's An American Tail was released.

The film was nominated for one Oscar for the song "Someone's Waiting for You," but it did not win.

The Rescuers holds the honor of being the only Walt Disney Studios animated film to have an "official" sequel released to theaters.  We'll be discussing The Rescuers Down Under in a few short weeks.

Weird fact:  In the initial storyboards of The Rescuers, Cruella deVil was set to be the villain making a return appearance!

Let the Discussion Begin...
This Disney Discussion venture is actually my second attempt at completing this task.  When I initially started over three years ago, I wasn't watching the films in order and The Rescuers just happened to be a film I watched.  I remembered thinking very fondly of it and I hoped it would retain that positive vibe this time around.  Sure enough, it did.  The Rescuers is top notch Disney with a unique story, clever characters (including a realistically evil villain), and great animation.

The only fault of the film is its music...the discussion of which we'll get out of the way right now.  If you're in the mood for smooth 70s easy listening jams, The Rescuers may fit the bill when those late night infomercials featuring the songs of Bread, Christopher Cross, and Anne Murray aren't available for your viewing pleasure.  Unfortunately the songs (which aren't sung by any characters, simply in voiceover as various montages play out) are the film's definite weak points, but, perhaps knowing this fault, the director(s) kept them to a minimum.  The Oscar-nominated "Someone's Waiting for You" is definitely the best of the bunch and its inspirational lyrics come at a fitting time in the film, but it's still a bit too sugary for my taste.

The Rescuers begins with a prologue -- the first Disney animated film to contain one -- in which we see a kidnapped young girl named Penny on a dilapidated riverboat dropping into the water a bottle which contains a desperate plea for help.  Even in these initial moments, we're already won over by Penny whom the animators draw with such charm and innocence that we can't help but feel for her plight.  Certainly aiding in our rooting interest is the spot-on voice acting from Michelle Stacy whose cadence and tone is spot-on for a six or seven year-old girl character.  Quite frankly, this may be the most believable kid vocal I've heard in an animated film and the movements of Penny realistic depict those of young girl.  Excellent work.

Of course we care for Penny because her innocence stands in such stark contrast to her rather frightening captor Madame Medusa.  Medusa is tall and gangly (much like Cruella deVil), but she exudes depravity and desperation more than any other villain we've encountered previously.  Perhaps it's the run-down riverboat or her bumbling chubby partner-in-crime Snoops or her trashy outfits and make-up, but the "skeeziness" of Medusa surprisingly bases her villainy in a kind of lower-class reality despite the fact that she keeps two alligators as pets.  Medusa's insatiable need for the Devil's Eye Diamond creates a maniacal character that doesn't rely on sorcery and magic, but instead on a realistic drive for fame and fortune which makes the character even scarier as she's seemingly based more in reality than many other villains we've previously encountered.

But what would a film titled The Rescuers be without some rescuers?  Mice Bernard and Bianca (voiced by Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor) take on the savior roles and I must admit that I truly enjoyed them both despite the attempts at forced romance thanks to the sex appeal the animators gave Bianca.  (Seriously...Bianca is alluring with her tailored fancy clothing and Hungarian accent.)  Together, the two mice have a nice repartee that makes their scenes a joy to watch.

Sure, the animation isn't exactly top notch here, but it's charming that the simplistic story has somewhat simplistic animation.  With The Rescuers we see a nice change from the humor-based films of late like The Aristocats and Robin Hood to the more serious-tinged films of the past like Bambi.  Granted, The Rescuers doesn't have the emotional depth of Bambi, but it does have a lot of heart and a story that never feels a minute longer than its 77-minute run time.

Random Thoughts
...while watching the film...
  • The crocs Nero and Brutus are like precursors to Flotsom and Jetsom in The Little Mermaid.  Madame Medusa's appearance gives off a slight Ursula vibe as well for some reason
  • Some of the swamp animals look just like some of the audio animatronics in Splash Mountain.
  • The nasty child labor going on here is admittedly a bit uncomfortable.  Poor little Penny having to search for the Devil's Eye diamond in the face of rising water and the risk of drowning...scary stuff...
  • I'm not a cat person at all, but goshdarnit Rufus, the feline at Penny's orphanage, wears glasses and a scarf -- how can I not like that?
Final Analysis
(Does It Belong in the Revered Disney Pantheon and How Does It Stack Up to Past Films?)
The Rescuers was a genuine treat to watch again.  It's fast paced and has two main characters in Bernard and Bianca that are utterly charming thanks to some pleasant animation and nice voice acting from Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor.  The character of Penny, whom the story revolves around, is captivating and moving, tugging on your heartstrings with every word she utters.
The disappointing song selection which dates the film squarely in the late 1970s is really the film's biggest flaw, but its simplistic story still manages to captivate and create tension.  It's easy to see why this film garnered a sequel considering the ease at which you could tell another story involving the two title characters.

I was thrilled to discover that The Rescuers held up on this repeated viewing and I found myself enjoying it even more this time around.  In the previous Disney Discussion, I ranked the film a "B," but as you can see, I've upped that ranking quite a bit and now firmly plant it in the grand Pantheon of Disney animated films.

The RyMickey Rating: A-

Join us next Wednesday for The Fox and the Hound, the 24th film in The Disney Discussion.
***The Fox and the Hound is currently streaming on Netflix, so watch and join in on the discussion!***

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