1 The Mickey Mindset: Disney Animation Reviews #23 - The Rescuers

Monday, April 7, 2014

Disney Animation Reviews #23 - The Rescuers

Disney Animation Review: 23/53 - The Rescuers

Ryan Dosier - Disney’s 23rd animated feature, The Rescuers (1977), is an interesting beast. There are a lot of strong elements in it, yet it has an overwhelming sense of something missing. Very little about the film actually works and every time I watch it I fail to see the appeal.

A lot of this can be attributed to the weak characters, which lack the patented Disney charm and usual brilliance. Bernard and Miss Bianca, the protagonists, are harmless enough, but they never succeed at being anything but bland despite their various quirks. The blandest character by far is Penny, the little girl. She fails as a character when compared to phenomenal Disney children characters such as Mowgli, Bambi, or Pinocchio.

The villain of the film, Madame Medusa, is also hard to enjoy. She lacks the subtlety and brass wit of Cruella De Vil, whom Medusa is clearly inspired after. Medusa does not build up to being completely unhinged and crazy—she starts that way. Most Disney villains have some sense of style or panache that makes them entertaining characters and Medusa has none of that.

Story is also notably lacking in The Rescuers. Very little is surprising in the film and everything is easily predictable. Even the pairing of Bernard and Miss Bianca can be seen from the very beginning. The Rescuers lacks the element of pleasant surprise and excitement that makes Disney animated features so wonderful.

The little music that is present in the film is only good for sedation. Gone are the upbeat, sing-and-dance-along songs of The Jungle Book and Robin Hood. Instead, The Rescuers drones out three or four completely dull and lifeless ballads that have nothing to do with the plot or the characters. Music is such an essential Disney element that the lack of it in The Rescuers obviously makes the film suffer.

For all its bad qualities, The Rescuers still possesses some extremely strong animation. As one of the final films with animation from most of Walt Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” The Rescuers has a place of distinction. Unfortunately, the brilliant animation deserves a severely better film—which, of course, it never gets.

Overall, The Rescuers does not even feel like a Disney feature. It lacks so many of the traits that make Disney features incredible. While watching, I was increasingly reminded of Don Bluth animated films (e.g. An American Tale), not Disney. The Rescuers kicked off the weakest period in Disney animation by far.

1.5/5 Albatrosses

1 comment:

  1. Critical reviews at the time this movie premiered were actually full of praise. Critics lauded the smooth animation, the voice characterizations, the character development, the more linear plotline than had been the norm for quite a while in Disney features, and it received quite a bit of positive attention in the press--a "return to form" as many suggested.

    It may also be helpful to put this film into the context of its time. There wasn't much Disney product available, certainly no home video, and the weekly Disney hour on Sunday nights rarely (only about twice a year) featured Disney animation, and these were recycled older programs. The previous Disney animated release, Robin Hood, while successful at the box office, had been a critical flop, and the Disney artists were criticized for having lost their edge. "The Rescuers" was looked upon as a turnaround.

    This is not to say that I am disagreeing with your review, only that some of one's perspective depends upon context. Today we have ready access to all of the Disney classics, plus there is a generous helping of classic shorts animation available as well. It's easier to make comparisons. Back in the 70's, all people had to rely on was their memories.

    I agree that "The Rescuers" is very problematic. My personal pet peeve is the film's insistence that we have to feel sorry for Penny, who as Disney children go, is rather pathetic. The character design had also by this point fallen into a "Disney formula," giving most of the characters a "generic Disney" look. And the thick,sketchy lines with which the characters were drawn had gotten old by this time. I also agree that Madame Medusa is over the top, even for a Disney film, and she is never fully realized as a villain. The film expects the audience to hate her and laugh at her, and yet the effect never comes off, mainly because we're so obviously expected to feel a certain way about her.

    Sticking closer to the source material might have helped. The relationship between Bernard and Miss Bianca is more egalitarian than in the books, and the original story is about the rescue of a poet who is a prisoner. The original books have much more drama, humor, and suspense, and there is no Madame Medusa or Penny.

    But on the plus side, the songs are actually pretty good, especially "Someone's Waiting for You" and "Tomorrow is Another Day." Eva Gabor and Bob Newhart do a fine job with their voice work.

    While highly predictable and certainly not a "classic" in the truest sense, I do feel that "The Rescuers" still has its merits.