Thursday, March 31, 2011

DAF #29 - The Rescuers (1977)

Bianca: "Doesn't he fly beautifully? And you wanted to take the train, you fraidy cat. "
Bernard: "Fraidy cat? No, uh... it's just that I like trains. I mean, they serve Roquefort."

Title: The Rescuers
Year: 1977
Rated: G
Run Time: 1 hour, 17 minutes

Eva Gabor as Miss Bianca
Bob Newhart as Bernard
Geraldine Page as Madame Medusa
Michelle Stacy as Penny
Jim Jordan as Orville
John McIntire as Rufus
Joe Flynn as Mr. Snoops
Pat Buttram as Luke
Jeanette Nolan as Ellie Mae
Plot: Two mice of the Rescue Aid Society search for a little girl kidnapped by unscrupulous treasure hunters.
Based on: The children's novels The Rescuers and Miss Bianca by Margery Sharp.
Setting: New York City and Louisiana, the 1970's.

Tagline: A girl in danger... A cry for help... And two marvelous mice who will risk anything to save her!

First Viewing:
Oh crap, let's just go with the 90's.

A while back, I stated that the 80's were not a good decade for Disney. Well, that was true until the coming of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and The Little Mermaid in 1988 and 1989, when Disney went back to holding the American family film viewing crowd by the balls. Before that, however, was the 70's which was a barren wasteland in comparison, at least in terms of animated fare. Four DAF's were released in that groovy decade, all of which have been reviewed here in a rather tight succession. (Coincidence?) However, I've saved the best for last. I am speaking of The Rescuers, the only bright spot (a.k.a. the only money-making DAF) of the decade.

After the death of Walt Disney in 1966, Disney Animated Features pretty much went down the crapper. The Aristocats was the first of the DAF's to be released without being touched by The Man himself, although the story was reportedly approved. Then came Robin Hood, which seems like the whole thing was made in a hungover stupor. And finally, the hap-dash quick fix, Winnie the Pooh package film. As you can imagine, these films did okay at the box office. (Never underestimate the crap parents will take their kids to to shut them up). But, The Rescuers did pretty fucking good. It was even one of the highest grossing movies of know, just a tad bit behind Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The film begins in an abandoned river boat in Devil's Bayou when little orphan Penny throws a message in a bottle into the river. Through a series of matte paintings (and a wicked awesome song!) we see the bottle's journey to New York City and eventually into the hands of the Rescue Aide Society, a UN type of organization of mice who's main concern is, well, rescuing wayward humans.

The message is read by the sexy Hungarian representative, Miss Bianca, who eagerly volunteers for the case. However, the bumbling and over protective janitor Bernard thinks she ought to have a man go with her and she consents. The two visit the Morningside Orphanage where Penny originally lived. They talk to the old house cat, Rufus, who says a woman named Madame Medusa was trying to lure Penny into her car and was probably kidnapped by her.

Bianca and Bernard go to Medusa's pawn shop and learn that she and her inept sidekick Mr. Snoops are in search of "the world's biggest diamond", the Devil's Eye. Penny is somehow a pawn in this quest and is down in Louisiana with Snoops. Bianca and Bernard waste no time in hitching a ride to The Pelican State on the back of an albatross named Orville.

Upon arriving, the mice meet a bevy of swamp folk including Evinrude the dragonfly, the resident sea captain and Ellie Mae and Luke, Disney's answer to Ma and Pa Kettle. Bianca and Bernard are directed to the riverboat where they meet Penny. She explains that she's ritualistically sent down a hole into a pirate's cave where the Devil's Eye is rumored to be located.

Due to a botched escape plan, Penny is forced down the hole the next morning. Luckily, Bianca and Bernard accompany her and soon find the stone. Once Medusa has the diamond, she attempts to steal it without letting Snoops in on the deal. She hides it in Penny's beloved Teddy bear. However, with the aid of the swamp folk, the mice and Penny take back the diamond leaving Medusa at the hands of her pet alligators.

Back in the Big Apple, the Rescue Aide Society watch a news broadcast and learn that the Devil's Eye was given to the Smithsonian Institution and Penny was adopted. (How in the hell did they get back to New York?) Bernard and Bianca remain mission partners and set out on a new adventure, this time with Evinrude.

Upon re-watching The Rescuers, I was surprised at how "Post Women's Movement" it was. Before I open up the Disney Sexism file, let me just state that every movie ever, Disney or not, is a product of its time. Social mores change and sometimes some unfortunate, politically incorrect ideas (to us in the 21st century) are frozen onto celluloid. However, since Disney movies are specifically targeted at children, they usually get the Responsible Film Making finger wagged in their face more than say, Paramount or Universal.

We've all heard it before:  Disney perpetuates negative feminine stereotypes. As an adult, I can accept Cinderella's passiveness as an example of the re-femininization of women after World War II. I can also accept Mulan's all around badassery is a product of late 90's Gurrrrl Power. But when a little girl watches Cinderella and Mulan back to back, she is not going to know (or care) that one movie was made in 1950 and the other in 1998. So, I sort of get the bra-burners' argument.

I am here to argue that up to this point in the DAF canon, The Rescuers has the strongest female characters. At the forefront is Miss Bianca, the composed, elegant, and intelligent Hungarian mousetress. She is brave, ready to take on any mission but undeniably feminine at the same time. Bianca falls to the same womanly wiles that plague us all! She wears perfume and packs to many things whilst traveling. On board Orville, Bernard says to buckle her seat belt to which she responds, "I can't. It will wrinkle my dress." In these respects, Bianca is one of the most girly (and annoying) of Disney heroines. But her Bianca shows us there is a happy medium. So don't feel bad if you're not a karate chopping, sword wielding warrior princess. We can have adventure, thrive on our wits, and look and smell good while doing it.

On the other side of the good vs. evil spectrum is one of the most underrated villains, Madame Medusa. She often falls into the skeletal shadow of Cruella de Vil. (Seriously, why must she be the go to Disney villainess?) Both are greedy, both are horrendous drivers, and both have over the top personalities. But unlike Cruella, Medusa actually interacts with the her oppressed little victim. She sweet talks Penny while at the same time hitting on her weaknesses: "What makes you think anyone would want a homely little girl like you?" and thus cementing her control.

Of course, Disney villainesses are always strong and independent so my little Feminist argument is kind of wash with Medusa. But let's take a look at Penny. It's probably safe to say she is the most annoying of all Disney children because of her slight lisp and all around treacly nature. But she is does take initiative. Yes, she was dumb enough to get kidnapped (although did she willingly get into Medusa's car? Do they ever fully explain that?), BUT she is also strong enough to attempt escape. It fails, but she's a seven year old girl, of course she's going to failing. AND instead of surrendering to Stockholm Syndrome and a life with Mommy Medusa and Papa Snoops, she sends for help. I don't like Penny, but I respect her.

And finally, there's Ellie Mae, a small character, but still the leader of the Rescue Aid Society: Hee Haw Chapter. So you see? Strong female characters all around. It's interesting because it was only four years prior that Robin Hood, with it's most weak and distressed damsel ("Help, Robin! Help!") was released. Was Maid Marian complained about? Is that why every lady in The Rescuers is so strong? Or is it the source material? Hmmmmm...

Despite the last few paragraphs, there are other things about this movie I like. Say like the blossoming romance between Bernard and Bianca. It is mainly a B story, but always enjoyable when a flirtatious moment pops up. They are opposites, surely, and why, out of all the mice men, Bianca would pick Bernard is the stuff of nerdy male screenwriters. But just like all of Disney heroines can't be meek princesses, all the Disney heroes can't smooth-talking charmers.

And finally, there's the music WHICH I ABSOLUTELY LOVE!!! Here were are given the most 70's soundtrack possible. Well, easy listening 70's. There's no disco or progressive rock. (Damn it!) "The Journey", "Tomorrow is Another Day", and "Someone's Waiting For You" are all sweet, meandering little songs that would work perfectly in a dentist's office, each sung with breathy vocals and a sort of drunk, optimistic attitude. I can't help but smile when I hear these songs. It only makes me sad Disney didn't hire the Carpenters to do the music. Now that would have been the shit!

The Rescuers is a great Disney film. You don't hear many people say "The Rescuers. Pfft. I hate that one." because you can't hate it. There's nothing to outwardly dislike other than maybe Penny. It's easy to see why, out of all the DAF's, this one was the first chosen to have a sequel.

"The Journey" - Shelby Flint
"Rescue Aid Society" - Bernard Fox (Chairman), Bob Newhart (Bernard) and Robie Lester (Bianca)
"Tomorrow is Another Day" - Shelby Flint
"Someone's Waiting For You" - Shelby Flint

Favorite Song: “Someone's Waiting For You”
Favorite Moment: Medusa emotionally abuses to Penny.

Favorite Character: Bernard

Next DAF: The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

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