A Second Look: The Rescuers
In 1977, Art Stevens, John Lounsbery, and Wolfgang Reitherman released the animated adventure film The Rescuers, based on the book of the same name as well as Miss Bianca by Margery Sharp. Starring Bob Newhart, Eva Gabor, Michelle Stacy, Geraldine Page, Joe Flynn, Jim Jordan, John McIntire, Jeanette Nolan, Pat Buttram, and Bernard fox, the film grossed 71.2 million at the box office. Nominated by the American Film Institute for its list of Top 10 Animated Films, it was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. However it lost to “You Light Up My Life” from the film of the same name.
Madame Medusa is trying to get her hands on the world’s largest diamond hidden in a swamp. But she needs someone who will fit in a small space and kidnaps an orphan named Penny who sends for help via message in a bottle. The message is intercepted by the Rescue Aid Society who send the mice Bernard and Bianca to save her.
One of the few box office successes for the Disney Company following Walt’s death and before the Renaissance, The Rescuers was the highest grossing animated film at one point. Quite the feat for a film as depressing as this one. But that’s sort of what really makes it such a great film. Many of the films following Walt’s death had been pretty depressing considering the animators had been trying to come up with and make good films without the leadership of their once fearless leader. It really seems like they were trying to make a film to show how essentially lost and directionless they were emotionally. It’s not difficult to draw up a comparison between them and Penny, feeling abandoned without anyone at the helm, in over their heads and drowning and in need of salvation. The turmoil Penny and the mice go through could be comparative of the emotional turmoil and insanity they were trying to wade through. But what’s really notable is the fact that eventually Penny was saved and adopted through the workings of Bernard and Bianca. What really makes that point is the fact that originally when Walt was reeling from the loss of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, he came up with Mickey Mouse that turned his fledgling operation into an empire. Fast forward to the 80s and The Great Mouse Detective convinces Eisner to keep the animation studio. Here, the company and animators seemed to know that eventually everything was going to be all right, using mice to portray that. Really, it seems that whenever Disney is in hard times and dire straits, all they need to do is have a project with mice.
Further, the animation really fits the film’s mood. Apart from the scenes taking place in the Rescue Aid Society headquarters, a lot of the colors really seem washed out. It really helps to perpetuate the aforementioned theory as it really complements the depressing nature of the film. The viewer can really see where the animators were in their attempts to continue their work in the wake of Walt’s death only a decade prior.
And the above is quite the theory, but whether or not it’s true, it’s not the only aspect of the film that really makes it a good one. There’s also the villainous duo who mesh perfectly together. For one, Snoops is the perfect bumbling fool who really needs a swift kick in the rear to be able to get anything done competently. He also seems to have some semblance of compassion as he’s initially shown to actually value Penny’s life and well-being in terms of listening to her cries for help when the tide comes rushing in. But what makes his incompetence well-done is that he’s really funny in his bumbling, which goes well with the terrifying and sadistic demeanor of Medusa.
Driven only by the promise of fortune, Medusa is one of those monstrous villains that really doesn’t care who gets in her way, even if it’s an orphan child that she has to kidnap to further her goals. In essence it feels like she really doesn’t have any morals in contrast with Snoops’ attention to Penny’s health, seeing as she not only initially kidnapped the girl and yelled at Snoops to be harsher with her, but makes her almost drown to get the diamond and then holds her and Snoops at gunpoint to ensure that she doesn’t have to share in her ill-gotten gains. What’s more is that there’s an unstated possibility that Penny wasn’t the first orphan Medusa had gotten her hands on. She’s got shotguns and crocodiles and it’s the bayou with plenty of places to hide any bodies or remains for easy insurance to make sure that no one told any tales. See, many villains slide down the slippery slope. Medusa practically jumped off it from the word “diamond.”
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