Sunday, March 11, 2012

Let's Review a Movie: The Rescuers (1977)

Released in 1977 The Rescuers is Disney’s twenty-third full length animated feature.  Telling the story of two mice, Bernard and Bianca, who go to rescue a young girl named Penny from the clutches of the evil Madame Medusa.   This unfortunately is a movie that hasn’t aged well for me.

I watched this movie all the time as a kid, but looking back on it now I have to say that it’s not as great as I remember it being.  This film certainly isn’t horrible though so let’s see what I enjoy about it first.

First of all I do think the music is very nice.  Having one singer for almost everything gives the film a nice cohesive feel.  The only song that I found iffy is the Rescue Aid Society theme.  As a kid I loved this song and it remains very catchy, but it really doesn’t seem to be something that an adult based organization should be singing.  Of course since they called the emergency meeting before seeing what was actually in the bottle, in case you didn’t need agents from Hungary and France to help out, maybe I’m giving this society too much credit.    

I love the beautiful stills of Penny’s bottle traveling over the ocean in the opening credits; wonderful pastel drawings done by the legendary Mel Shaw.  Reading the credits themselves is also interesting for looking at the make-up of the studio when this film was in production.  For instance Don Bluth hadn’t left yet to start his own company, and that the older animators like Ollie Johnston were starting to mix together with the young trainees that would take over in the 80’s and 90’s like Glen Keane and Ron Clements.   

The animation hits the well-known Disney standard.  There are some good angles in a lot of the film, including some wonderful shots of Brutus and Nero in the swamp; and Medusa is marvellous handled by the genius that was Milt Kahl.  My favourite part is her taking off her make-up when she is talking to Penny in the houseboat.  Ollie’s animation of Penny and Rufus shows us a likable, caring, insecure, young girl and Rufus as the loving, wise old cat.  The side characters are fun, if under developed, and the overall look of the movie is pleasing to the eye.  The dark streets of New York, Medusa’s Pawn Shop is especially creepy, and the long snarled trees and other plants in Devil’s Bayou work well with the heavy lined Xeroxed style Disney was still using at this time, even though it is a softer version of it.

Okay I’ve talked about the good stuff let’s get to the bad.

First off the plot isn’t all that deep or engaging.  Medusa wants this diamond that somehow is stuck in skull in a cave, and needs Penny to get it because she is small enough to fit in the opening to the cave, so how does Medusa even know the diamond is even down there?  Bernard and Bianca have to rescue her and fall in love along the way.  That’s it really.  Hindering this further is that there are no real character arcs for anybody.  Penny doesn’t change, Bernard doesn’t change, and Bianca was apparently perfect from the get go.  Seriously every man in Rescue Aid Society thinks she’s beautiful and wants to be with her, and she can do no wrong.  The romance between Bernard and Bianca basically happens off screen because it occurs during the song sequence of them traveling to Devil’s Bayou.  Bernard is shown to be superstitious but nothing comes of that.  We know that this is Bianca’s first mission, and Bernard’s too for that matter, but nothing comes of them being inexperienced or something of that nature.  Medusa, while she is animated really well, is not that engaging of a villain.  We don’t know why she wants the Devil’s Eye, and I don’t get what having that big diamond has to do with owning a pawn shop.  I don’t know why she needs Snoops as her bumbling minion, and her personality comes off as a clone of Cruella De Vil.  Medusa even drives the same car!  And Milt apparently wanted to out do Marc Davis in the villain animation department so that probably accounts for some of this. 

Also because Woolie Reitherman is one of the directors there is a lot of reused animation in here.  Now some of that is fine, like the Bambi cameo, but seeing things like Orville’s take off used twice in the same film just screams cheap and lazy to me.  Finally the stereotyping of women as appearance obsessed people with Bianca putting on perfume before she enters the meeting and not wanting to wear a seatbelt because it will wrinkle her dress.  Flighty, again with Bianca being late to the meeting and the plane, people who can’t drive, represented by Medusa and Bianca when she says she always goes through red lights is grating.  Maybe there was some grain of truth to this is the 70’s, I doubt it, but watching this over thirty years after it was made I find it really annoying.

In essence the movie, if you’ll pardon the pun, is small.  The characters are static, the plot isn’t all that deep, the animation is good, but not outstanding.   The music works well, but it certainly doesn’t have the memorable lyrics of many of the later Disney movies.  It is good, but it’s not great and certainly, I think, one of the weaker efforts from Disney.

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