R-E-S-C-U-E, Rescue Aid Society

I had seen The Rescuers in my childhood, but I remembered very little about it. It features an international organization of mice with headquarters at the United Nations, the goal of which is to rescue those in need. Two of its members, Bianca and the janitor Bernard (voiced by Eva Gabor and Bob Newhart, respectively), set out to save an orphan girl named Penny from the villainous Madame Medusa. Medusa has taken Penny from New York to the bayou, so that she can retrieve the world’s biggest diamond from a former pirate hideout. With help from a kindly old cat named Rufus and an albatross called Orville, they reach the bayou and save Penny, but not until after a madcap chase scene that seems a little out of place in a movie like this.

This film expands upon some ideas we’ve seen in past Disney features, particularly the society of animals that’s hidden from but in many ways parallel to that of humans. In the world of the mice, an airplane is a bird with a sardine can strapped to its back for passengers, and a motorboat is a leaf driven by a dragonfly. It’s also interesting that Penny is able to talk to animals, or at least to Rufus and the mice. Medusa’s two alligators, Brutus and Nero, don’t talk at all. Neither does the dragonfly Evinrude, who just buzzes. I see him as a precursor to Zipper from Rescue Rangers.

Madame Medusa is pretty similar to Cruella de Vil in her movements and temperament as well as her single-minded obsession, and apparently Disney actually considered reusing Cruella before deciding to go with a different villain. Her partner Mr. Snoops has some of the traits of the bumbling sidekick, but really comes across as more of a dorky type than the traditional brutal idiot. I have to wonder how the two of them got to working together in the first place.

As the film was from the late seventies, I’m a little surprised that we see alcoholism played for laughs yet again, in this case with the character of Luke, a muskrat who’s constantly shown drinking moonshine.

His voice actor, Pat Buttram, was also Napoleon the hound in The Aristocats and the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood, and for once his Southern drawl is actually appropriate for the setting. There’s also quite a bit of gunplay, although fortunately Madame Medusa appears to be one of the world’s lousiest shots.

Overall, it was a pretty good movie, and a nice departure from the sillier animated features Disney had been producing in this era. Not that there wasn’t a fair amount of slapstick, but it wasn’t as central to the plot as in, say, Robin Hood. I found the songs to be pretty forgettable, though. According to the Wikipedia page, it was Disney’s biggest animated hit since The Jungle Book and until The Little Mermaid.

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