It certainly has been a long time since I have watched this Disney classic. The Rescuers is one not mentioned too much when recollecting the classics of the Disney catalogue. Often forgotten among other films like 101 Dalmatians and Lady & the Tramp, it never truly got the recognition by a widespread audience and many people today might remember the film but more in a passing lapse of remembering it. “Does that give the Rescuers a disservice or does it truly deserve to stand out?” is really where I feel the discussions always lean towards. Now where does that leave me…well let’s just say I think The Rescuers is a difficult thing to pin down.
Bianca (Eva Gabor) and Bernard (Bob Newhart) are two mice who are tasked by the Rescue Aid Society to help save a little girl from two treacherous kidnappers. While that is a very straightforward summary of the film, and it does follow along that linear structure, it meanders quite a bit before even attempting that goal. The first part of the film is all about meeting our protagonists, while establishing the predicament of the orphan, Penny (Michelle Stacy), and going down some procedural mystery shenanigans. Then it makes the shift into the more adventure heavy section when they enter the bayou and face off against the villain and try to save Penny.
At first The Rescuers relishes in the smaller moments between Bernard and Bianca, building on their sweet chemistry and how they contrast one another quite well. From when they are in the Rescue Aid Society, with all those racially insensitive stereotypes (we can never forget those can we), all the way to the ride on Orville’s back we see little moments here and there that create this charm to its main cast. Learning about the cowardly Bernard and the adventurous Bianca and how they play off each other, Bianca truly making up for what Bernard lacks, is what makes this film work to some degree. Where it loses me is when they lull back into this police procedural narrative structure where they interview a cat about the missing girl, search Madame Medusa’s (Geraldine Page) house and visit a zoo.
All of these segments have moments in between that build on the relationship of Bernard and Bianca, yet the problem comes with these scenes as they are easily replaceable with anything else because none of them are truly memorable. You could honestly have cut out the zoo scene altogether, since all it attributes to is “I guess we won’t find anything here, let’s go to the orphanage to look for clues”. The orphanage should have been the first place! The other scenes are nice especially in the orphanage, but if it wasn’t for Michelle Stacy’s performance I would have forgotten it all together. The child actor for once doesn’t feel bland, yes at times the line delivery feels off yet I feel she still has this genuine sweetness to her that makes sitting through that bland procedural section almost worth it. Where we really see a chemistry between Bianca and Bernard is when they ride the seagull, Orville, and it is just a great scene all around. It’s funny due to the banter of Bernard not feeling safe and Bianca not caring and just enjoying the rush. It’s charming because we see them contrast each other and complement each other, but also sincere due to how much it never needed big emotional scenes to sell their bond.
The second part of the film, within the bayou, is where it gains some momentum creating some rather inventive sequences that are quite thrilling. It throws away the more boring procedural element for a more exciting and adventurous tone. The action jumps with the inclusion of Madame Medusa and her band of cohorts, including two crocodiles and the always clumsy Mr. Snoops. Easily the weakest element of this group is Madame Medusa herself as she feels like a cheap knock-off of Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians. It’s noticeable when you see Medusa ride her Sea-Doo knockoff vehicle on the water resembling Cruella when she was in her car. She has the same eccentric charm of a gaudy woman obsessed with materialism, but Cruella De Vil is remembered because she had more iconic moments and more scenes to truly showcase her villainy. Madame Medusa is more of a single note villain, losing the terror she has when all you hear her talk about is that Devil’s Eye diamond. Villains need great lines, and well Medusa gets shafted in that regard especially since she is never given more time to delve into why she wants the diamond in the first place. Nor does it choose to really give a proper answer as to why she concocts this elaborate and inane scheme of using a child to reach the places she can’t to search for the diamond. Cruella had a vision that was well painted throughout the film, Medusa is just given a very generic and broad point to her making her forgettable at best.
Unfortunately that goes for Snoops and her crocodiles, Nero and Brutus, as well even though those three are given better comedic and action sequences. They are given lively scenes, and because they are merely henchmen, they don’t need as much development and thus can just be used as elements to create fun scenes for the audience like the crocodiles playing the organ to catch Bernard and Bianca. It sounds weird and downright surreal, but trust me it is fun to watch. I feel like the secondary villains are given room to have fun, and thus create memorable moments around them, where Medusa loses all dimension in order to try and recreate Cruella’s unique type of villainy.
Now while the second part of the story in the bayou may have a lackluster villain, the action scenes themselves are truly fun to watch. The animation is noticeably more interesting with its shot composition, and takes it’s time to truly sell the small things in scenes such as the terrifying nature of Medusa or the sadness of Penny hoping for a true family. Medusa may be a bad character, but the way she is animated is downright eerie with her long winding fingers dancing smoothly as she speaks. She is the type of character that must talk with her hands, as they are always doing something and the way they move just gives one the chills. It’s like watching a great schemer plotting something and tapping one’s fingers together, and Medusa looks the part even if she doesn’t act like one.
They also dedicate time to building up the sorrow of Penny as well, and that is where I feel like the film goes a bit overboard trying to make us feel for her. Back in the procedural portion, there was an excellent scene that encapsulated Penny as a character and where I wanted to see more of the defiant and daring Penny in the second part they merely retread the same elements yet again. I like Michelle Stacy as Penny, and she can sell a sad scene along with the small touches to her movements the animators give, it’s just you can tell when something is trying too hard to make you feel sad for a character. It comes awfully close to manipulation I feel, as retreading similar beats never develops the characters. It just feels like the director felt that Penny didn’t sell her scene enough in the beginning, but I felt it gave us enough depth to her sorrow that it only needed to touch upon it in the second part. It even dedicates an entire song sequence to it and that feels like overkill.
Even though the action sequences in the bayou were fun, a lot of it is padding and certainly could have been cut. When one looks at the overall character building in the film, there really isn’t a lot and it shows primarily in the second part. It focuses more on the action than it does creating memorable character moments. There is a heap of characters introduced, but many barely even count as having personalities besides their stereotype or singular purpose. Characters can be defined sometimes by their stereotype and none is more telling than the Southern animals that help Bernard and Bianca in the end of the film. If the only good characters in the film are the main cast, and none of the supporting cast truly stand outs, this can make a lot of the film dull to watch as you can only handle so many stereotypes turned into characters in one film before you lose interest.
If it wasn’t for Bernard and Bianca I would say this film would have sunk itself. The story is next to non-existent and is hard to truly go into extensively when the film itself doesn’t. It doesn’t seem to grasp that good characterization and development can save a lot of bad films, yet consistently neglects it for sloppy writing when it comes to other characters besides Bernard and Bianca. The Rescuers chooses to create two different tones for two halves of the film, making one feel like they aren’t watching the same movie at times. The animation is decent at best, and most of it is just water colour painted backdrops using minimal animation. Action sequences were nice, and it knew how to sell subtle character building scenes in regards to Penny, Bernard and Bianca. There is just too much wrong with this film that overwhelms its small charms and makes me see why not a lot of people bring it up nowadays. It’s a decent film that feels fun purely for a look back at the more classical Disney catalogue, yet there are other films that capture that feeling better.
While I do enjoy Bianca and Bernard a lot I guess the film itself didn’t hold up well, often relying too much on them to sell the movie. I can understand why people can enjoy this film, it is quite charming after all, I just wanted a little bit more from its characters and creating a more engaging story along with it. Have you watched The Rescuers? Who are your favourite anthropomorphic animals in a Disney film? Leave a comment down below and have yourself a great day!