CHILDHOOD REVISITED – THE RESCUERS


Don't tell me you aren't turned on, too. This is the internet, after all.

Don't tell me you aren't turned on, too. This is the internet, after all.

THE RESCUERS – (1977)

Director: John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman, Art Stevens
Starring: Bob Newhart, Eva Gabor, Geraldine Page
Screenplay by: Larry Clemmons, Ken Anderson, Frank Thomas, et. al

We do so love it when little critters try to do big things. Whether it’s mice saving children, rodents taking over the world, or chipmunks stopping evil scientists, there is an almost universal appeal of the underdog (undermouse?) success story, especially in animated, anthropomorphic form. I need not say that stories like these give us faith and hope for ourselves when, within our lives, we are faced with insurmountable odds. And in times like these, with a faltering economy and dangerous global landscape all around us, maybe faith in the little guy is exactly what we need.

The Rescuers was the first posthumous-Walt Disney animated film to be released, and was a huge success, even outselling Star Wars in some parts of Europe. At this time, many original Disney animators were growing old and soon to be moving on, while a young, bright-eyed Don Bluth arrived to learn a thing or two about that drawing thingamajig. Combined original and re-release returns total 48 million dollars at the box office. Surely with that much talent and critical acclaim, this movie still holds up. Right?

NOSTALGIC LENS: I remember the Rescue Aid Society song, and even began singing the song last week. I remember the ending involving a wacky fireworks display, and the flying via a seagull. Overall, I remember enjoying it, but never really loved the movie as much as my nostalgic lens would have me believe. In other words, I have no inclination to say, “Remember when animated movies used to be GOOD?” in reference to movies like this.

DOES IT HOLD UP: YES. And yet, no. Hmm, this requires some explanation.

Cinema from the late sixties and seventies is a unique breed; more geared toward strong, stylistic aesthetics and visual impact (Panned zooms! Muted colors!) over tightly coherent stories and intricate character development. Now, it may be asking a bit much to receive a strong story from an animated film and nine different writers, but compared to other Disney films, the story here seems to be more a means to an end—a beautifully animated film—over making a tight screenplay. The celluloid beat the written page.

That makes me sound harsh, but I truly mean that in the nicest way possible. As great as this movie gets (and at times this movie is GREAT), minor flaws here and there stand out so much, storywise. I feel like a coach trying to get one hundred percent talent out of potential player only giving ninety percent. You love what you’re getting, but you know you could have gotten much more.

First, the good: the animation is gorgeous. Lush, detailed backgrounds; excellent human models; smooth, tight animation and fluid movements—the great Disney animators really went all out with this one, and it shows. It’s like watching a famous painting by Da Vinci in motion. The voice work is pretty excellent, too: Bob Newhart’s stuttering and stammering as Bernard the janitor mouse and Eva Gabor’s sultry but determined line readings as Miss Bianca are complete opposites but complement each other so well. Even the side characters are excellent: Orville the seagull, Rufus the cat, Penny the orphan girl, Medusa the villain—clearly the actors and actresses really enjoyed their work.

And the music is, quite possibly, the best music from any animated film, ever. It hasn’t been pop-culturally destroyed like “A Whole New World” and it doesn’t pander itself better than it actually is like “Colors of the Wind”. Instead, it perfectly balances the lush animations and filmic moments, fitting together like the perfect puzzle. The flight sequence with Orville as “Tomorrow is Another Day” plays is hypnotically exquisite (Note this isn’t the actual clip from the movie, just an mp3 of the song played over the scene): The Song (sorry, the youtube poster disabled embedded videos).

The incredible intro scene is amazing as well, foregoing the smooth animations and concentrating on a montage of chalk-like pictures as “The Journey” plays:

Now, watch that opening scene again. Penny runs out and drops the bottle into the water. But…. Where did that bottle come from? She clearly is not holding it a few seconds earlier.

That’s where my nit-picks come from (and yes, I fully admit they are nit-picks). The movie has a number of these awkward moments. They are small, slight, and most likely wholly forgettable, but they are there. Early in the film, for example, Miss Bianca and Bernard try to take a shortcut through the zoo, but due to scary lions, end up taking the long way. Other than a tiny (har-har) character moment, the scene seems superfluous. Other “meh” moments include The Swamp Brigade, who pretty much appear from thin air and rush in to save the day, which is something that might as well have been played against “Yakety-Sax”. Evinrude, the dragonfly engine and clear precursor to Zipper in “”Rescue Rangers” has a random flight encounter with bats, which is not really tense… just there. Interesting and wonderful animation, but it seems shoehorned in to me. Again, I don’t mean this as a bad thing. Just merely to point it out.

I REALLY hate over-thinking the intricate plot details of the movie, which involves an evil pawn shop owner named Madame Medusa, who kidnaps an orphan girl from New York and sends her down to what I assume is Louisiana, to find a special jewel in a pirate cave (I mean, Florida is closer). Miss Bianca, bless her bleeding, Hungarian heart, opts to save her, and because she likes her men clumsy and superstitious, chooses Bernard to go with her. It’s interesting to see the subtle growth of Bernard, who seems to push past his bouts of paranoia and do some pretty brave things. Bianca, however, is what us black folk would call a “trick”: she would talk crazy shit in a bar and antagonize everyone, and then send her “boyfriend” to take care of it. And, sadly, women like that never change.

One more point: I do like the implied social elements of the missing children dilemma, in how some missing children from well-to-do families are plastered all over the news, while the missing poor children are essentially shrugged off. An upset Penny cries over not being adopted because she wasn’t pretty enough; Rufus tries to reassure her, but I can’t help but think that there’s an air of truth to this very sad statement the creators wanted to convey (also, the implication that Penny can understand the animals is a nice touch—a poignant reflection of her state by giving her the ability to only befriend animals). It’s only AFTER Penny returns with an expensive diamond and becomes newsworthy is she adopted. It’s suspect, and maybe not intentional; but with Bluth involved, you never know.

IN A NUTSHELL: Please don’t get the wrong idea. I LOVED watching this movie. It looked great, sounded great, and almost made me cry. The little things that I pointed will not take you out the movie at all. (If you said I pointed those things out to fill two-and-a-half pages, I probably wouldn’t argue!) But, again, with all the wonderful experiences this movie musters, you just wish, deep down inside, that they tightened the bolts on a beautifully made ship.

June 22nd: The Rescuers Down Under
June 29th: The Adventures of the American Rabbit

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  1. #1 by How I Make $300 a Day Online on June 18, 2009 - 5:00 am

    Hey, great post, very well written. You should blog more about this.

  2. #2 by Robor on June 23, 2009 - 4:20 am

    Not sure that this is true:), but thanks for a post.
    Robor

  3. #3 by Pett on June 24, 2009 - 2:02 pm

    Hello,
    Ugh, I liked! So clear and positively.
    Pett

  4. #4 by KonstantinMiller on July 6, 2009 - 5:09 pm

    I have been looking looking around for this kind of information. Will you post some more in future? I’ll be grateful if you will.

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