Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Disney's The Rescuers

Funny enough, The Rescuers was released just a few months after The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. At the time, Pooh was not part of the canon, but with it's inclusion, 1977 along with 1941 are the only two years that Disney released two canon films within the same year. 2000 holds the record with three Disney films however. Disney pulled out all the stops for The Rescuers. They wanted to bring the studio back to a time when their stories focused less on humor and more on heart. To do this, they used all of the remaining "Nine Old Men" plus a new group of animators and story writers. The new group was inexperienced, but would later create the movies of the Disney Renaissance. The film did mark the last time that Milt Kahl, Ollie Johnston, and Frank Thomas would work together on a movie. One career that was just taking off though was Don Bluth's. He had been an assistant animator for Robin Hood and was now a full fledged animator. If you don't recognize Bluth's name, then you may remember a few of the films he would go on to direct in the 80's, namely: The Secret of NIMH, The Land Before Time, An American Tail, and All Dogs go to Heaven. Basically all the other animated films I grew up with. So, suffice to say Bluth's days at Disney didn't last forever.

This movie is filled with finales. Along with this being the last production that most of the Nine Old Men worked on, it's also the last movie that Wolfgang Reitherman would direct. It's also the last performances of Joe Flynn who voiced Mr. Snoops and Jim Jordan who voiced Orville the albatross, the former died right afterwards and the latter retired from movies altogether. This was the last to have the sketchy look of the 60's and 70's, though it did use a better xerographic process to give the animation a softer look. It's also sad to say, but this is considered the last movie of the Silver Age of Disney Animation, starting with Cinderella and ending here. That means we're about to go into the dark ages of Disney before we reach the renaissance. Hmmm...not a good sign.

The Rescuers isn't exempt from the dreaded forgotten films of Disney though. If you ask anybody from my generation, they generally know very little about the movie. This is unfortunate, because it is a pretty good film. It's not a favorite or anything, but it is a breath of fresh air. It's a great adventure story that has more conflict in it than the last couple films, especially Winnie the Pooh, though I hardly count not having enough honey as a serious conflict. If you aren't familiar with the story, it's basically the inspiration for Chip N' Dales Rescue Rangers. I'm appealing to my generation now! A little girl is kidnapped so she can get a priceless jewel out of a cave, and two mice set out to rescue her, hence the title of the movie. The movie does have some memorable characters, including Orville the albatross and one of my favorite characters: Evinrude the Dragonfly. I have no idea why, but I love that bug. Although it didn't mean much to me when I was a child, both main characters were voiced by big stars at the time. Eva Gabor was Bianca, the Rescue Aid Society mouse from Hungary, and Bob Newhart voiced the mouse janitor Bernard. If you read my post on Aristocats then you know what Gabor is famous for, but for anyone who has no idea who Bob Newhart is, he was a famous and very funny stand up comedian and TV star of The Bob Newhart Show and Newhart. I would consider this Disney's first star-studded cast, but that's just me. Some, like my sister, disagree and say that The Jungle Book was an earlier example.

The film was inspired by the novels The Rescuers and Miss Bianca by Margery Sharp with also some inspiration coming from the animators themselves. Some of the differences between the book and the novel are that fact that the Rescue Aid Society, called the Mouse Prisoner's Aid Society in the book series, was located in an unspecified location, while the setting in the movie is under the United Nations building in New York City. Penny is called Patience in the book and is not drawn in the book as child-like as the movie makes her appear. The character of Madame Medusa was the Diamond Duchess in the books who lived in a palace made completely of diamonds (la de da!). Mr. Snoops was also changed from Mandrake, who was the Diamond Duchess' majordomo instead of her colleague. A majordomo is apparently a funny name for a butler. In the book, the character of Patience is not kidnapped to retrieve a diamond, but is there to polish diamonds. It sounds like she had her work cut out for her. The two alligators in the film are absent in the books, instead being two bloodhounds. One of the most disappointing differences between the books and the movie is the fact that Bernard and Bianca are not romantically involved at all. In fact, in the second book, Bernard plays a very minor part in the story.

Bernard's character from the book actually carries a lot of the same personality as Bernard in the movie, keeping his character the closest to the book's portrayal out of all the characters. Mr. Snoops' appearance is actually a caricature of animation historian John Culhane. Without Culhane knowing, they had gotten reaction shots of him and mirrored the character's movements on his own. Culhane was a little perturbed that he was tricked into being a caricature, but considered it a great honor to have a character that looks like him being in a Disney film. A character that could of been much different than the final product turned out is Orville. Initially he was going to be a pigeon, but Frank Thomas remembered watching a video of an albatross taking off and landing clumsily and thought that it would fit the film better. One of the most hilarious inspirations for a character comes from Madame Medusa. She is basically a cartoon version of Milt Kahl's ex-wife, someone he didn't care too much for. Because this was his last movie, he wanted to make sure that Medusa came out perfect and did all the animation for her, not even letting his assistants help. The caricature's didn't stop there though, as Ollie Johnston was represented by Rufus the cat. Another funny way that who you cast basically decides who the character is going to turn into is the example of the character Bianca. She wasn't going to be Hungarian until Eva Gabor showed up. It would of been hard to have her character be from anywhere else with that sort of accent though.

The Rescuers took four years to make with animated work from some of the best in the business. This all led up to a release in 1977 to rave reviews. Luckily for Disney studios, the movie was a huge success with crowds and critics. With better animation, a star-studded cast and a movie that had heart and less humor. Don't get me wrong though, this movie is plenty funny. The movie earned $48 million in it's initial run becoming the highest grossing movie for Disney so far. It also broke the record for highest gross for an animated film in opening weekend, something it would hold till Bluth's An American Tail came out in 1986. The film was the last film that was a huge success since The Jungle Book, and was unfortunately the last till The Little Mermaid. It was also the last Disney film before The Little Mermaid to be nominated for an Academy Award. More than anything, the success of the Rescuers proved once and for all that Disney studios could go on without Walt. The Rescuers would go on to make even more being re-released with Mickey's Christmas Carol and again in 1990, before the sequel came out.

One last thing to mention about this film is the controversy that surrounds a certain scene. In 1999 when it was being released the second time around on VHS, Disney suddenly pulled all the copies off the shelves and announced a recall. Why? Because if you paused the movie at a certain point when Bianca and Bernard are on Orville and passing a building's windows, you can see a naked woman in one of the windows. You would have to really be sharp to catch it, but it was there if the player went slow enough. The image has apparently been there since the release in 1977 and the first batch of VHS's was apparently made from a different print. Disney re-released the VHS sans naked lady later in 1999. There are some who speculate that Disney may have made the fact come to light in order to boost sales of the movie. Controversy always helps sales! By the way, I'm not posting the alleged pic here. Go find it yourself if you're really curious. Instead, here's a picture of a crocodile playing an organ.

1 comment:

  1. I came across this because I'm looking for info on the Rescuers as we come up on the 40th anniversary. I guess that not many love this one, but I have to say Penny is my all time favorite Disney character.
    Disney doesn't seem interested in commemorating her much this year. (Again. She always gets a back seat to Bianca, Bernard and Medusa.)
    I'm hoping to find more about this movie. Especially anything that talks about the animation, story boards, with lots of sketches and concept art. Maybe something like the Film Archives book- but for the 70s...
    Know of any resources?