It wasn't for lack of interest that I had not seen The Rescuers until now. I just never got around to it, or its sequel, The Rescuers Down Under. If memory serves correct, despite the idea that The Rescuers is one of the Disney Studios' lesser films (no amusement park rides based on the film versus Splash Mountain built around Song of the South, safely buried deep inside the Disney Vault), it is the first Disney animated film to spawn a theatrical sequel before the direct-to-DVD craze hit the House of Mouse. Having at last seen The Rescuers, I will say that while it doesn't rank among their masterpieces such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Beauty and the Beast, the film has its own charms and surprisingly dark elements to make it stand on its own.
Penny (Michelle Stacy) sends a bottle with a note out to sea, and it is picked up by representatives of the Rescue Aid Society, a group of mice that meets at the United Nations. Various nations and cities are represented there (I saw representatives from 'Vienna' and 'Africa') and the most beautiful and glamorous one is the representative from Hungary, Miss Bianca (Eva Gabor). She is tasked with rescuing Penny, and while all the other male mice are eager to join her, she makes a most unlikely choice: the slightly bumbling and superstitious janitor, Bernard (Bob Newhart). He's not a field agent (or field mouse for that matter), but Miss Bianca thinks he'll be perfect as her aide.
Off they go first to the orphanage where Penny was last before she disappeared, and the old cat, Rufus (John McIntire) tells them Penny was extremely sad that no one wanted to adopt her. As such, her disappearance is most confusing. She did not run away as it was first thought, but was kidnapped by Madame Medusa (Geraldine Page) and her own bumbling sidekick, Mr. Snoops (Joe Flynn). Penny is small enough to go into a pirate's hideout, where Medusa wants to find The Devil's Eye, a fabulous diamond worth millions.
Off then to the appropriately-named Devil's Bayou, where Bernard and Miss Bianca face more hurdles as they battle the wicked Medusa and Snoops while comforting Penny and her beloved teddy bear, Teddy. It's a daring rescue that comes to a successful conclusion: Penny donates The Devil's Eye to the Smithsonian, and she gets adopted at last. It's now that the Rescue Aid Society gets notice of someone else in danger, and so Miss Bianca and Bernard are off to the rescue, back with the less-than-stellar flying skills of albatross Orville (Jim Jordan) and back for more adventures.
The Rescuers is a cute-enough film, with a simple story told well. I can't say that I was overwhelmed with it, but found it charming. A good deal of that charm is probably due to the two leads, who play well off each other. Newhart has been that buttoned-down figure for decades, and his Bernard is both a bit of a 'scaredy cat' and highly respectful though smitten partner to Miss Bianca. Gabor, for her part, is all European elegance and sophistication as Bianca, almost always calm and quietly self-assured about her abilities. The only times where she was not was when her life was in danger, which makes her panic understandable.
Page seems such a curious choice as the villainness Medusa, who I don't think has ever ranked high in the list of Disney villains (no Descendant for her, so to speak). She struck me, at least physically, as being a very broad version of Carol Burnett, and her motivations, while simple, weren't clear for a long time. Mr. Snoops was an even weaker villain, one who today might be held up as an example of 'fat shaming', given that the heavyset Snoops was bumbling and dimwitted.
However, Page did make Medusa threatening, always a good hallmark of villains.
In a curious turn, I noticed that almost none of the songs in The Rescuers were sung by the characters save for The Rescue Aid Anthem, and that was, well, an anthem. Most are sung by one person in essentially voice-over, and more surprising is that the opening song The Journey (or Who Will Rescue Me?) was sung over illustrations rather than actual animation, which I found quite curious.
The Rescuers doesn't tell us what happened ultimate to Medusa or Snoops. It also introduces a group of Cajun-type critters who appear to pop in and out as needed whom we don't really get to know, except for the dragonfly Erinrude. I found it slightly dark and menacing for children, with kidnappings, creepy bayous, and ravenous crocodiles roaming the place.
Still, it was charming and cute enough to make for pleasant viewing. At last, having finally seen The Rescuers, I think well enough of it to think it was worth the crying children.
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