March to Disney: The Rescuers in More Ways Than One

This is a series of posts this month wherein I will focus on Disney films. For more on my background with Disney films and about the timing of this focus please read the introductory post here.

One of my more recent revisits in the Disney library were the two Rescuers films. There are a few interesting things to note about this series, especially when one considers the seemingly unusual fact (due to how overlooked the films seem to be) that this was the first Disney animated property to spawn a sequel, and a theatrically released one nonetheless.

Now, the soft spot I have for these titles it does turn out is for more reasons than just the fact that in some territories these films are referred to as Bernardo and Bianca.

The first thing that both these titles share in common is that they truly embrace the “It’s a Small World” ethos that Disney incorporated in its parks, but didn’t truly exemplify in its films until later on. The Rescuers Down Under is the first non-package film that takes place outside a fictitious kingdom that’s vaguely European or in Europe itself. As much as I love Saludos Amigos and the Three Caballeros, there’s a very “Hey, let’s all go to South America” feel to it, rather than just naturally incorporating the location into the tale. Also, Bianca, voiced by Eva Gabor, in the first film serves in a mouse version of the United Nations and does represent Hungary.

The first film’s adventure, saving a girl named Penny from jewel thieves, is US-based, but is a trip down to the bayou that’s wonderfully exploited by Disney’s artists who in the 70s were vastly underrated. Many people find the movies that came out of this decade a bit subpar, but to me there was a flair and artistry, a painterly finesse to the backgrounds and a still-present fluidity that leant itself wonderfully to the stories they were putting out.

The sequel, as the title would indicate, takes the narrative to Australia. While the films succeed in complementing one another, they do have shortcomings individually. Taking the best from both would make one truly masterful work. In the sequel, there’s a more developed victim in need of rescuing whose story needs a cap. The villain is more motivated in the second film and less cartoonish.

Whereas the first film’s title is very apropos it really is about The Rescuers above all other characters, here in the second film its more split.

What The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under both did aesthetically was set the table for the decade to come. More so than any sequel footnote, each film seemed to encapsulate the aesthetic and sensibility of the decade prior and push towards the future. The Rescuers in certain scenes is the apex of the ’70s style, but pushing the boundary toward the more polished, less sketchbook ’80s feel and then The Rescuers Down Under with its aerial animation and action sequences was a precursor of the more dynamic swooping crane-simualtions and action shots in things like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. The Rescuers, it would seem, was a fitting title in more ways than one.