Today I watched Wolfgang Reitherman, John Lounsbery, and Art Stevens’ The Rescuers (1977)
The Rescuers is one of the less talked about entries in the Disney canon, which I think is rather unfortunate. It is loosely based on a series of books by Margaret Sharp and follows two mice who are members of an international agency of mice dedicated to rescuing kidnapped people around the world. The two mice in question are Lady Bianca, a fashionable Hungarian socialite mouse, and Bernard, an American janitor mouse. This odd pair volunteer for this film’s particular case, a message in a bottle from a missing orphan named Penny. The trail takes them to a southern bayou where the villainess Medusa has kidnapped Penny and is using her to find a giant diamond in a tidal cavern.
While The Rescuers certainly has that uniquely Disney sentimentality, it also has a griminess to it that is quite rare for this company. This is most notable in the setting, side characters, and the villain, a raggedy woman with two giant pet crocodiles. Medusa is like Cruella DeVille’s impoverished, white trash sister and is played brilliantly by Geraldine Page. With much of the rest of the cast being made up of moonshining muskrats and other slightly sordid folks, the film really does have a salt of the earth quality to it.
Perhaps most importantly in that is our heroic duo, who are each, in their own way, underdogs. A janitor and classy socialite are not typical heroes, their diminutive mouse forms only adds to this. Eva Gabor as Bianca and Bob Newheart as Bernard are rightly the heart and soul of this film, both wonderfully colourful characters who fit into a classic theme of unlikely heroes. I find Bianca most interesting as a feminist, while Disney is often held to task for it’s portrayal of females, (and rightly so I might add) characters like Bianca do push the boundaries in their own way, yet are often overlooked in favour of flashier, newer role models.
The film’s fault lie mostly in pacing and character development, as even at an hour and fourteen minutes it still feels like it is padded for time. I blame most of this on the character of Peggy and her completely shallow portrayal. I think she just exists to be cute and adorable, though I found her more grating and insufferable. I also felt that Bernard and Bianca could both have used a little more in the way of character arcs, their internal stories being mostly the cleverly understated romance between the two. I think the film makers were just more interested in detailing the admittedly very creative world than the characters, which is unfortunate because those characters do end up driving much of the film. Otherwise it is quite a worthwhile watch and adventure. 4/5