Film Review: The Rescuers – 7/10

‘Sure wish we’d taken the train…’

I’ve never fully considered before how as a child, nobody really knows any contextual information about the stuff that they watch. As far as I was concerned The Sword in the Stone (1963), The Rescuers (1977) and Aladdin (1992) all came out at the same time. They were all just cartoons that were around when I was a kid. Only now when revisiting The Rescuers is it clear that it is a lot less sophisticated than Aladdin or The Lion King or any other more modern Disney classics. Luckily, sophisticated isn’t always better…

As this is a classic Disney film, it begins with an orphan. In this case the orphan is Penny (Michelle Stacy) a lovable young girl who keeps failing to be adopted. Indeed, not only is she not adopted, but she is eventually kidnapped by the villainous Madame Medusa (Geraldine Page). For some reason, it falls to two mice, Bernard (Bob Newhart) and Miss Bianca (Eva Gabor), to save the day.

In this day and age, we expect our villains to be nuanced and three dimensional. You can expect discussions about an antagonists motivations. Watching this film again after all these years actually made me long for a time when the baddies were just bad and that’s all she wrote. Madame Medusa has no backstory. She just shows up, flanked by two humongous crocodiles, and casually steals a child in order to attempt to recover a lost diamond. Her name is Madame Medusa for God’s sake. Disney villains really were the best.

That being said, this is a slight film. Clocking in at less than 80 minutes, the action whizzes along with barely any time to get to know the characters, but then they are so archetypal that it barely matters. The direction team of John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman and Art Stevens waste no time in establishing what’s what. It takes one scene to portray that Penny is sassy and resourceful, Bernard is fussy and cautious and Bianca is fabulous, darling. None of this is a criticism as such, but an extra 20 minutes or so to drill down a little bit into these characters wouldn’t have gone amiss.

As is typical of the era, the hand drawn animation is gorgeous (the art department here was headed up by Don Bluth who would go on to direct such classics as The Land Before Time and An American Tail), and the voice cast properly commit to the project. Whilst The Rescuers would struggle to crack the top 10 or maybe even the top 20 Disney animated movies, it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Here’s to The Rescuers Down Under!

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