For me, cinematically speaking, 1977 was a big year. There was Star Wars, sure -- but more important, it was the year that my beloved "Rescuers" books made their transition to the big screen. Written by Margery Sharp and illustrated by Garth Williams (the Little House books), the series detailed the adventures of a little white mouse who could save the world and boss around her devoted beau Bernard, all while wearing a delicate silver chain and living in a porcelain pagoda. Miss Bianca was a have-it-all feminist long before those goofy Enjoli commercials.
The Disney adaptation only borrowed from the series, and while the animated version isn't necessarily true to any text, it is true to the original spirit of Sharp's books. A kidnapped orphan, Penny, sends a message for help, which is intercepted by agents for the Rescue Aid Society. Miss Bianca and the noble Rescue Aid Society janitor, Bernard, volunteer to take on the assignment. As voiced by Eva Gabor and Bob Newhart, Miss Bianca and Bernard conjure up the sort of 1970s celebrities that popped up on The Merv Griffin Show and Hollywood Squares.
That's not the only way The Rescuers is delightfully anachronistic. The title sequence unfolds against a typical 1970s montage of vivid pastel-on-canvas seascapes, set to a particularly Judy Collins-esque number ("Who Will Rescue Me?") Also, the Rescue Aid Society sits in the basement of the United Nations, and how refreshing to see the U.N. depicted as it often was during the Carter administration, with its snappy column of international flags all waving in optimistic importance.
The Rescuers is one of Disney's more somber films. The villain, Madame Medusa, is a horrific pastiche of aging femininity with her false eyelashes and lumpy figure. Apparently, she graduated from the Cruella de Vil Driving School. But she's a good foil for the truly sad plight of Penny, an unnoticed orphan who continually runs away from her captors in order to get back to the orphanage so she can be adopted.
But while The Rescuers may have its disturbing moments, it's also one of Disney's more innocent efforts. There are few in-jokes for the adults, the animation is at times downright Winnie-the-Pooh-esque, and how nice, after more than a decade of Barbie-shaped princesses, to see that there were real little girl heroines in Disney before Lilo & amp; Stitch.
Publication date: 06/05/03