51 Days of Disney (Day 23): The Rescuers

The Disney Studios released two animated films in 1977, the first was of course the package film, the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The second was a film based off of a series of novels written by Margery Sharp, most of which came from two books, Miss Bianca and the one that the name of the film is taken from, the Rescuers.

The story begins with an unknown little girl throwing out a message in a bottle with a simple message on it: help. We then shift to the United Nations Building in New York City and the Rescue Aid Society that is run by mice in the basement of the building. Bernard (Bob Newhart, who I recognize most as being Papa Elf from Elf) is a janitor working for the Society who Miss Bianca (Eva Gabor), an agent at the society, chooses to go on the mission with her to help the little girl. The two travel to the Morningside Orphanage that the help note was originally intended to be sent to. We find out from a cat named Rufus (John McIntire) that the girl’s name is Penny and that she was kidnapped by a woman named Madame Medusa (Geraldine Paige) and Mr. Snoops (Joe Flynn). The two are using Penny to look for a diamond called the Devil’s Eye in a place ominously called Devil’s Bayou.

Bernard and Miss Bianca get a ride to the bayou on Albatross Airlines with their captain, Orville (Jim Jordon), in a very contrary decision to Bernard’s insistence to take the train. We find out that Penny has run away from her captors, but Madame Medusa sent out her pet alligators, Brutus and Nero, to find her. Medusa and Snoops reveal that the reason that they kidnapped Penny is because the Devil’s Eye is in the bottom of a hole that only she is small enough to get in and out of. The mice find Penny and figure out a plan to capture the alligators and finally escape from the clutches of Madame Medusa and Snoops.

The introduction was a very interesting choice as to what they did with it. The pastel drawings are gorgeous to look at, but one really has to wonder why the decision was made to do it like this. It was probably done to keep the budget down, as this film had a budget of only around 1.2 million dollars. To put that in perspective, Alice in Wonderland cost around 3 million and One Hundred and One Dalmatians cost 4 million. What is amazing about this opening credit sequence is how suspenseful it is, part of the reason for this is definitely part-in-parcel to the use of the fantastic song “The Journey (Who Will Rescue Me).” This also marked the first time that the opening credit sequence was actually part of the story, as it was the prologue.

The role of Madame Medusa was originally going to be played by Cruella De Vil, but the idea was scrapped as at this point in time, the Disney Studios were not interested in making sequels at that point and time. A number of similarities can still be noticed between the two characters such as the fact that both of them are terrible drivers and both have similar character ticks such as their anger problems and forcefulness. This was the last animation role for Milt Khal, and he wanted to go out on a high note. He ended up doing all of the animation for Madame Medusa, which unsurprisingly enough was one of his best pieces.

A number of soon to be big name animators started animating on this movie. Animators like Don Bluth, Andy Gaskill, Ron Clements, and last but certainly not least, Glen Keane. Most of these names will be coming up in the future, so you should commit them to memory. The animation was back at the same quality as it was in the 60’s and the xerox method was refined enough at this point to make the lines smaller and some even had colour besides the standard xerox black. The sketchiness was also tamed very well, which made the Rescuers look like it was made in the 60’s along with classics like the Sword in the Stone and the Jungle Book.

Even the story was reminiscent of a previous time. In the more recent years, Disney had been focusing more on comedy than on writing a heartfelt and dramatic story. It harkened back to the days of Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Bambi with a more mature story that had more dire subject matter. This change in tone along with the higher quality animation led the Rescuers to be the largest critical and commercial success since the death of Walt Disney, but the Disney Studios would not have a success like this again until 1989.

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