The Rescuers is a 1977 American animated feature produced by Walt Disney Productions and first released on June 22, 1977. The 23rd film in the Walt Disney Animated Classic series, the film is about the Rescue Aid Society, an international mouse organization headquartered in New York and shadowing the United Nations, dedicated to helping abduction victims around the world at large. Two of these mice, jittery janitor Bernard (Bob Newhart) and his co-agent, the elegant Miss Bianca (Eva Gabor), set out to rescue Penny (Michelle Stacy), an orphan girl being held prisoner in the Devil's Bayou by treasure huntress Madame Medusa (Geraldine Page).
The film is based on a series of books by Margery Sharp, most notably The Rescuers and Miss Bianca. Due to the film's success, a sequel entitled The Rescuers Down Under was released in 1990.
In an abandoned riverboat in Devil's Bayou, orphan Penny drops a message in a bottle containing a plea for help into the river. The bottle is carried out to sea and washes up in New York, where it is recovered by the Rescue Aid Society, which is formed by mice. The Hungarian representative, Miss Bianca, volunteers to accept the case and chooses the janitor Bernard as her co-agent. The two visit Morningside Orphanage, where Penny lived, and meet an old cat named Rufus. He tells them about a wicked woman named Madame Medusa who once tried to lure Penny into her car and may have abducted Penny this time.
The mice travel to Medusa's pawn shop, where they discover that she and her partner, Mr. Snoops, are on a quest to find the world's largest diamond, the Devil's Eye, and Mr. Snoops is in the Devil's Bayou with Penny, whom they have indeed kidnapped. With the help of an albatross named Orville, and a dragonfly named Evinrude, the mice follow Medusa to the bayou. There, they learn that Penny was captured to enter a hole that leads down into the pirates' cave where the Devil's Eye is located.
Thanks to Miss Bianca's perfume, the mice attract the attention of Medusa's pet crocodiles, Brutus and Nero. Bernard and Miss Bianca escape, and find Penny. Desparate, Bernard orders Evinrude to get the bayou neighbours who loathe Medusa. He does so, only to be thwarted by a flock of hungry bats which delay him. The following morning, Medusa and Mr Snoops send Penny down into the cave to find the gem, unaware that Miss Bianca and Bernard are hiding in her skirt pocket. The three soon find the stone within a pirate skull; as Penny pries the mouth open with a sword, the mice push it out from within, but soon the oceanic tide rises and floods the cave. Miss Bianca, Penny, and Bernard barely manage to retrieve the diamond and escape.
The greedy Medusa steals the diamond for herself, attempting to run off with the diamond, leaving Snoops without any shares, and hides it in Penny's teddy bear. When she trips over a cable set as a trap by Bernard and Bianca, Medusa loses the bear to Penny, who runs away with it. After a struggle with Snoops, Medusa retaliates with gunfire, causing the mice to flee until they are met by Brutus and Nero, her crocodiles. With help from Ellie Mae and her neighbours, Bernard and Miss Bianca trick them into entering a cage-like elevator, trapping them.
Two of the gang set off Mr. Snoops's fireworks, making the boat sink. Meanwhile Penny and the mice commandeer Medusa's "Swampmobile", a motor-boat used by Medusa to travel in the swamp. The Swampmobile resembles the front clip Ford Model T body mounted to a small boat, with a single tractor seat for the driver. Medusa attempts pursuit, but is thwarted. Medusa is left clinging to the boat's smoke stacks with Brutus and Nero attacking below.
Back in New York, the Rescue Aid Society watch TV to hear that the Devil's Eye is given to the Smithsonian Institution and Penny is adopted by a new father and mother. Bernard and Miss Bianca remain partners in the Rescue Aid Society's missions and soon after depart on Orville, accompanied by Evinrude, to a new rescue mission.
The film was four years in the making with the combined talents of 250 people, including 40 animators who produced approximately 330,000 drawings; there were 14 sequences with 1,039 separate scenes and 750 backgrounds.
It was the first Disney film that combined the talents of Walt Disney's original crew of story writers and animators (including Walt Disney's "Nine Old Men") with a newer, less experienced crew that Walt Disney Productions had recruited in the mid-1970s.
The film marked the last joint effort by veterans Milt Kahl, Ollie Johnston, and Frank Thomas, and the first Disney film worked on by Don Bluth as an animator, instead of an assistant animator. Other animators who stepped up during production were Glen Keane, Ron Clements, and Andy Gaskill, who would all play an important role in the Disney Renaissance of the 1980s and 90s.
The Rescuers was also the company's first major animated success since The Jungle Book and the last until The Little Mermaid. The film marked the end of the silver age of Disney animation that had begun in 1950 with Cinderella. This also marked the first successful animated film that Walt Disney himself had not worked on.
During the 1960s and early 70s Disney films took on the trend of comedy, rather than story, heart, and drama. The Rescuers marked the return of the animated drama films the studio had previously been known for, such as Bambi and Dumbo. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston stated in their website that The Rescuers had been their return to a film with heart and also considered it their best film without Walt Disney. Also unique to the animation was the opening credits: this film marked the first time that practiced camera movements over still photographs were used to make the opening credits. Prior to this, the studio had used the cels with the credits motionless over different still backgrounds, sometimes over one single background, as was done in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). The Rescuers was also the first Disney animated film to feature a prologue, or part of the story prior to the opening credits sequence, making said sequence part of the storyline.
The film marked the end of the studio's so-called sketchy animation period of the 1960s and 70s. The new xerographic process restored a softer outline that previously was not possible with the technology, which so far only had been able to produce black outlines. This allowed the use of a medium-gray tone and even a purple tone for outlines, such as that used for Miss Bianca.
Bernard was inspired by the character of the same name in Margery Sharp's The Rescuers series and much of his personality and character were kept. In the novel Miss Bianca, however, Bernard plays a very minor role.
Penny was inspired by Patience, the orphan in the novel. Mr. Snoops is a version of Mandrake, a character of the book. His appearance is a caricature of animation historian John Culhane. Culhane claims he was practically tricked into posing for various reactions, and his movements were imitated on Mr. Snoops' model sheet. However, he stated, "Becoming a Disney character was beyond my wildest dreams of glory." Brutus and Nero are based on the two bloodhounds, Tyrant and Torment in the novels.
A pigeon was originally proposed to be the transportation for Bernard and Bianca, until animator Ollie Johnston remembered a True Life Adventures film of albatrosses and their clumsy take-offs and landings, and suggested the ungainly bird instead.
Originally, Cruella de Vil from One Hundred and One Dalmatians was to have been recast as the villainess in The Rescuers, but this idea was dropped since the studio was not interested in producing sequels at the time. She was replaced by a retouched version of the Diamond Duchess in Miss Bianca. The two characters share surprisingly few similarities, other than perhaps the tendency to drive recklessly. The motive to steal a diamond originated in Margery Sharp's 1959 novel, Miss Bianca. Her appearance was based on animator Milt Kahl's ex-wife, whom he didn't particularly like. This was Kahl's last film for the studio, and he wanted his final character to be his best; he was so insistent on perfecting Medusa that he ended up doing almost all the animation for the character himself.
The Rescuers was re-released to theaters on December 16, 1983 along with a new Mickey Mouse featurette, Mickey's Christmas Carol, Mickey's first theatrical appearance after a 30-year absence. In anticipation of its upcoming theatrically released sequel in 1990, The Rescuers saw another successful theatrical run on March 17, 1989.
To tie in with the film's 25th Anniversary, The Rescuers debuted in the Walt Disney Classics Collection (WDCC) line in 2002 (not to be confused with the Walt Disney Classics video series) with three different figures featuring three of the film's biggest stars, as well as the opening title scroll. The three figures were sculpted by Dusty Horner and they were: Brave Bianca, featuring Miss Bianca the heroine and priced at $75, Bold Bernard, featuring hero Bernard, priced also at $75 and Evinrude Base, featuring Evinrude the dragonfly and priced at $85. The title scroll featuring the film's name, The Rescuers and from the opening song sequence "The Journey," was priced at $30. All figures were retired in March 2005, except for the opening title scroll which is still widely available.
The Rescuers was the inspiration for another Walt Disney Classics Collection figure in 2003. Ken Melton was the sculptor of Teddy Goes With Me, My Dear, a limited edition, 8-inch sculpture featuring the evil Madame Medusa, the orphan girl Penny, her teddy bear "Teddy" and the Devil's Eye diamond. 1,977 of these sculptures were made, in reference to the film's release year, 1977. The sculpture was priced at $299 and instantly declared retired in 2003.
In November 2008, a sixth sculpture inspired by the film was released. Made with pewter and resin, Cleared For Take Off introduced the character of Orville into the collection and featured Bernard and Bianca a second time. The piece, inspired by Orville's take-off scene in the film, was sculpted by Ruben Procopio.
The Rescuers was successful upon its original theatrical release earning $48 million at the box office and becoming Disney's most successful film to that date. The film broke a record for the largest financial amount made for an animated film on opening weekend, a record it kept until 1986, when An American Tail, directed by Rescuers animator Don Bluth, broke the record. The Rescuers was Disney's first significant success since The Jungle Book and the last until The Little Mermaid.
The film was received with praise from critics and was also well-received by audiences. The Rescuers was said to be Disney's greatest film since Mary Poppins in 1964 and that it seemed to signal a new golden age for Disney animation. The film was ranked 20th out of the 48 canon Disney animated features in a 2009 countdown at Rotten Tomatoes, where it holds a "fresh" 84% rating.
In his book, The Disney Films, film historian Leonard Maltin refers to The Rescuers as "a breath of fresh air for everyone who had been concerned about the future of animation at Walt Disney's," praises its "humor and imagination and [it is] expertly woven into a solid story structure [...] with a delightful cast of characters." Finally, he declares the film "the most satisfying animated feature to come from the studio since 101 Dalmatians." He also briefly mentions the ease with which the film surpassed other animated films of its time.
The film received an Academy Award nomination for the song "Someone's Waiting for You", which was nominated in 1978 at the 50th Academy Awards. The song lost to "You Light Up My Life" from the film of the same name.
Jack Shaheen, in his study of Hollywood portrayals and stereotypes of Arabs, noted the inclusion of delegates from Arab countries in the Rescue Aid Society.
The American film Institute nominated The Rescuers for its Top 10 Animated Films list.
The Rescuers premiered on VHS and Laserdisc on September 18, 1992 as part of the Walt Disney Classic series. It was re-released on VHS as part of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection on January 5, 1999, but was recalled three days later and reissued on March 23, 1999 (see "Controversy"). The Rescuers was released on DVD on May 20, 2003.
The film has been, along with a small number of other Disney films, added to Walt Disney Home Entertainment's "Platinum Collection" line and will be released as such on DVD and Blu-ray on March 12, 2013.
ControversyOn January 8, 1999, three days after the film's second release on home video, the Walt Disney Company announced a recall of about 3.4 million copies of the videotapes because there was an objectionable image in one of The Rescuers background cels.
The image in question is a blurry image of a topless woman that appears in two out of the film's more than 110,000 frames. The image appears twice in non-consecutive frames during the scene in which Miss Bianca and Bernard are flying on Orville's back through New York City. The two images could not be seen in ordinary viewing because the film runs too fast — at 30 frames per second on video.
In 1999, two days after the recall was announced, the London press site The Independent reported:
A Disney spokeswoman said that the images in The Rescuers were placed in the film during production, but she declined to say what they were or who placed them... The company said the aim of the recall was to keep its promise to families that they can trust and rely on the Disney brand to provide the best in family entertainment.
The Rescuers video was reissued March 23, 1999 with the offending image edited out. On May 20, 2003, the film was released on DVD.
The songs were written by Sammy Fain, Carol Connors, and Ayn Robbins, and performed by Shelby Flint. For the first time since Bambi, all the most significant songs were sung as part of a narrative, as opposed to by the film’s characters as in most Disney animated features.
The Rescuers was the first Disney animated feature with a sequel, The Rescuers Down Under was released theatrically on November 16, 1990.
The sequel takes place in the Australian Outback, and involves Bernard and Bianca trying to rescue a boy named Cody and a giant golden eagle from a greedy poacher named McLeach. Both Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor reprised their lead roles. Since Jim Jordan, who had voiced Orville, had since died, a new character, Wilbur (Orville’s brother, another albatross) was created and voiced by John Candy.