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.

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Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Animation (Part 7 of 17)

This is a recapitualtion of a paper I wrote in school. Part one can be read here. A search can retrieve subsequent parts. Since time does bring about changes and developments, I have included some notes in brackets after statements that may no longer hold true, or at least are in need of further enlightening.

In the 1980s Animation and Television are one. Even more so than in the 1970s animation was in the 80s a medium of television, while the animated feature was always a rarity we see in the 80s the complete discontinuation of cinematic shorts and the dominance of half hour animated programs before getting to that there are some important developments in the cinema that need examining.

Walt Disney Studios were my catechism in film. From 1937 to 1995 they were the Notre Dame of film in my eyes and could do no wrong. There is an asterisk, however, and that comes in the 1980s. The films they made were very eclectic in the 80s.

They made some very good films The Fox and the Hound (1981), The Great Mouse Detective (1986) and The Little Mermaid (1989) yet they produced films that I had no interest in seeing as a child and they were Oliver and Company (1988) and The Black Cauldron (1985). Disney went beyond the point of experimentation later on and just got bad on occasion. They’d lost the luster and were not something I looked forward to any longer. [I’ve since filled the 80s gaps in my viewing, and have found newer and older Disney titles I like. My fandom is complicated thing, as I will explore in March.]

If it takes about four years to produce an animated feature film then I estimate the death of Disney films as we knew them in 1991. Which is when they would’ve started working on Pocahontas and Mulan the first two Disney films I consciously avoided and then they released the terrible Hercules and it was over. The only quality they can come up with now is through collaboration with Pixar and through use of computer animation. [This too has changed since this writing and the introduction of Walt Disney Animation Studios, which focuses more on traditional techniques.]

Not that there was anything wrong with the Disney of the 1980s, oddly their best film of the period may have been The Brave Little Toaster in 1987 but one of the best things the 80s brought us was a legitimate alternative American feature length animation film for the first time since Max Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels.

One of the very best films ever made has got to be Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It took the technology from Bedknobs and Broomsticks to the nth degree. Not only that but it’s one of the most entertaining and delightful films I’ve eve been witness to and it’s nearly miraculous that Spielberg was able to pull it all together. What makes Who Framed Roger Rabbit truly a great film of the 80s cinema is how we see the cartoon characters. This probably has more resonance with people who saw this film as children because, in essence, what the film is doing is rounding out these characters, if not that adding dimension at least. Whereas in shorts we knew what Bugs Bunny was going to say and how Daffy would respond. Here we saw them in different situations and in a new light. It’s something kids do all the time: take characters that have existing attributes, stories, etc. and put them in new ones either just in their own imagination or with the aid of action figures. This makes it such a rich and pleasing cinematic experience. While as children get to bask in whimsical awe that all these characters we never saw interact are running around together (Donald and Daffy) we also get wrapped up in the mystery and it becomes very suspenseful. For adults the opposite effect must be true the suspense and plot keep you in it and the cartoon characters take you back in time, making this a unique experience for all who see it. It is truly a gem of the 80s which was hailed as a ‘landmark’ at the time but hasn’t had much said about it since. Spielberg attempted to make Roger a new star of shorts but the logistics probably got in the way and only a few were made, however, Spielberg has continued to work with animation making the all computer animation Shrek, yet another breakthrough and creating such television series as Tiny Toons Adventures, Anamaniacs, Freakazoid! and Histeria.

An American Tail (1986, Universal)

Aside from Spielberg’s efforts the 80s has produced another animation specialist named Don Bluth:

“Don Bluth was one of the chief animators at Disney to come to the mantle after the great one’s death. He eventually became the animation director for such films as The Rescuers (1977) and Pete’s Dragon (1977). Unfortunately, the quality of animation that Disney was producing at this point was not up to par with the great works of Disney, and there was rumor that the production unit at Disney might be shut down indefinitely. In retaliation, Bluth and several other animators led a walkout, and went off to form their own independent animation firm.”

Bluth’s story is one of those twenty-years-in-the-business-overnight-success-stories. In 1982 he released his first film The Secret of NIHM and it was a success. In fact, he didn’t have a bust in the 80s following that up with An American Tail, The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go to Heaven. While he’s never been on a Disney-like scale he has made quality films and continues to make his own works. As a businessman and a producer, he’s never said no to a sequel. God knows how many Land Before Time films there are now but he does have his standards as a director and his most recent animated sci-fi adventure Titan A.E. received sharply mixed reviews.

Animation is definitely now the domain of television. [Obviously this no longer holds as animated features now come from all studios and have spawned an Academy Award category all their own.] The short which used to be on before a feature film, is now paired with two other shorts and called a television show. The stage for this change was set in the 1980s as we will see in the television section.

Works Cited: http://us.imdb.com/Bio?Bluth,%20Don

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/TitanAE-1097051/