Flash back to 1977, and think of the state of the Walt Disney Company. Walt Disney had been gone for 11 years, and the company had not been the same since. Classic films like Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella had been replaced by The Aristocats or Robin Hood. Good films, but not the classic Disney audiences were used to seeing.
Then, along came The Rescuers. The story of Bernard and Bianca, two mice who take on a case of rescuing a young girl, Penny, became the most successful animated film ever released by Disney. It showed people that Disney could make good animated films again, according to all critical accounts. Watching it now, I wondered how it would stand up to the test of time.
My answer is not going to be a popular one. I don’t feel The Rescuers holds up to modern animated storytelling. It has a very dated feel that did not appeal to me while watching. I think a good part of that dated feel is due to the heavy influence of Don Bluth.
This film was one of the last done by the classic animators like Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and the like. Don Bluth was the young buck who had been working with them for a while, and he got to step into the big leagues with this film. The movie bears his imprint, especially if you know of his later works.
Bluth left the studio to found his own company and made films like The Secret of NIMH and An American Tail. The Rescuers has the same sort of dark and foreboding feel that those films have. It is a film that lingers in the darker moments, and the score reflects that as well.
A great counterweight to that darkness is the quality of the animation. Penny, Bernard, Bianca and the other characters are wonderfully animated. The actions of Madame Medusa, the main villain, are so perfectly rendered that it makes her evil all the more menacing. All of the characters are full of motion and great comic acting.
The problem is that I just didn’t get into the story. It was hard to focus on Penny’s predicament because the main characters were Bernard and Bianca. On the other hand, it’s hard to focus on the mice because you wonder what’s happening with Penny. I wasn’t able to fully invest in either storyline due to the conflict in the other.
The main thing critics loved about The Rescuers was that it had heart, which had been lacking from the earlier films I mentioned. In that respect, they are correct. There is a warmth to the characters that wasn’t there before. We see Bernard’s superstition, Bianca’s devil-may-care attitude, and Penny’s courage come through and make us love the characters more. That is the redeeming quality of the film.
Overall, though, I didn’t care for The Rescuers. I could see how others would love it, though, because it has that heart and memorable characters. I’m a story man, myself, so I focus on holes (who closed the door on the alligators?) above how much I love the characters themselves.