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March 29, 2014

The Rescuers

by Franz Patrick


Rescuers, The (1977)
★★★ / ★★★★

A little girl named Penny (voiced by Michelle Stacy) inserts a message in a bottle, drops it in the water, and hopes that someone will read her plea for help. She was kidnapped by Madame Medusa (Geraldine Page), along with her henchman, Mr. Snoops (Joe Flynn), because Penny is the only one small enough to fit into a hole on the ground which houses great treasures. Madame Medusa will do absolutely anything to have the Devil’s Eye, a humongous diamond that once belonged to pirates, in her possession.

The bottle is intercepted by Rescue Aid Society, a group of mice from all over the world stationed in the United Nations in New York City. Polished Miss Bianca (Eva Gabor) volunteers to take the case and chooses Bernard (Bob Newhart), the janitor, to go with her.

Based on a series of books by Margery Sharp, part of the appeal of “The Rescuers” is the overflow of fascinating characters, visual-wise or through sheer energy, that never overstay their welcome. From the old and lethargic but loving cat in Morningside Orphanage to the zigzagging dragonfly being chased by hungry bats in the Devil’s Bayou, Bernard and Bianca always have someone to play against in order to get the little girl to safety.

There are some unexpected darkness considering that the film is aimed toward young children. Medusa is a truly nasty villain, one who just might be able to pass as Cruella de Vil’s twin sister. But instead of wanting to kill dogs just so she can wear their fur, Medusa happens to have two pet crocodiles, is comfortable with a shotgun, and likes to force even a child to remain in a dark hole as the tide moves higher and threatens to drown whatever was in its way.

There are also scenes that end up being surprisingly moving. In a flashback sequence, Penny sits on the bed looking completely dejected. When asked by the cat what is wrong, Penny says that she is so excited to be adopted. Instead, the prospective parents choose another orphan in the lineup. The only reason she can think of that they chose the other child is because the lucky girl is more beautiful.

What did not work for me, however, are the songs. None of them are truly memorable. While they communicate a character’s inner turmoil, I would rather have listened to a character speak his or her mind as the little girl does when she expresses her great disappointment to the orphanage’s cat. When the characters speak, I found that the nuances in the voices match the complexities of the hand-drawn facial expressions. The songs often force the audience to look away from faces and turns our focus on the trees, the swamp, or the sky. It should not be this way because the film, directed by John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman, and Art Stevens, is about a little girl who needs to be rescued from crooks.

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