If there was one bright spot in Disney Dark Ages, The Rescuers should have been it. This film featured three of the Nine Old Men- Ollie Johnston, Milt Kahl and Frank Thomas, as well as the creme of the up and coming animators such as John Pomeroy, Cliff Nordberg, Andy Gaskill, Gary Goldman, Art Stevens, Dale Baer, Ron Clements, Glen Keane and Don Bluth. But like the character Orville from the film, it has a very hard time taking off.
On a grand scale, The Rescuers represented the passing of the Disney animation torch from the men who had created Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Dumbo to a new generation of animators who would see Disney animation into the future. Shortly after the film’s completion, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston retired; Wolfgang Reitherman had already retired in 1980; amnd John Lounsbery died a few months before the release of The Rescuers. These were five of the famous Disney “Nine Old Men.” Another, Eric Larson, had supervised the training of many of the new generation, and stayed on with Disney for another decade.
This was also Milt Kahl’s last film for the studio, and he wanted his final character- Madame Medusa- to be his best; he was so insistent on perfecting her that he ended up doing almost all the animation for the character himself. It is said that Medusa is modeled after Kahl’s ex-wife, whom he had a particularly vicious divorce with. There was some talk of making the villainess Cruella de Ville from One Hundred and One Dalmatians, but in her final form Medusa bears only a passing resemblance to the villain. The differences really are a tribute to the talents of Kahl, since during pre-production of The Rescuers, the similarities between Cruella and Medusa were so distinct that the film was briefly developed with Cruella as the villain instead of Medusa.
A series of stylish paintings by Mel Shaw are featured under the credits of the film, showing the journey of Penny’s message in a bottle to the Rescue Aid Society These paintings are evocative and dramatic, and filmed without animation; the skilled camera movement provides the drama of the sequence.
Margery Sharp’s book The Rescuers had been considered for adaption at the studio as early as 1962. Walt Disney originally nixed the idea, feeling the stories published to that point were not focused enough to make a good film. The final movie was based more on the second book for its more coherent story.
The Rescuers marked the end of the rough line quality of the animation so pervasive in the 1960s and 70s. A more refined xerographic process produced a solid, thin single line accurately, something that was not possible before. Colored lines were also now possible, with the use of a medium-gray line for most characters and even a purple tone for outlines for Miss Bianca.
As a transitional film, observant viewers will notice subtle differences between The Rescuers and the several animated features that preceded it. The film features more subtle character voices, voices that have been selected for their innate qualities and are not used as the primary basis for character development. The Rescuers also features a brief song score instead of attempting (like its predecessors) to be a full-blown musical. The film won an Academy Award(r) nomination for the song “Someone’s Waiting for You,” by Sammy Fain, Carol Connors, and Ayn Robbins. The other songs, by Connors and Robbins, were “The Journey,” “Rescue Aid Society,” and “Who Will Rescue Me?”
This was Joe Flynn’s last film performance. The film was one of two released after his death on July 19, 1974.
The Rescuers earning $48 million at the box office in its initial release. It became the company’s first major animated success since The Jungle Book and would be the last until The Little Mermaid.
Although The Rescuers was not creatively earth-shattering, it represented an important evolution in Disney animated features, a step that would enable the medium to move forward to the next level of success. The film was a box office smash, and was particularly popular in Europe. Indeed, the only Disney theme park that regularly features costumed characters of Bernard and Bianca is Disneyland Paris!
On 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 film’s background cels. It was discovered the image of a topless woman was added to two non-consecutive frames in one sequence. The frames were not in the original theatrical releases, but were added in video mastering. The remastered film was released three months later, on March 23, 1999.
- Traditional Animation
- Walt Disney Studios
- Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution
- Cartoon Characters: Penny, Bianca, Bernard, Rufus, Madame Medusa, Mr. Snoops, Nero, Brutus, Orville, Evinrude, Luke, Ellie May, Digger, Gramps, Deacon Owl, Mouse Scouts, Orphans, Penny’s Adoptive Mother, Penny’s Adoptive Father.
- Voice Actors: Bob Newhart, Eva Gabor, Robie Lester.
- Directed By Wolfgang Reitherman, John Lounsbery, Art Stevens, Jeff Patch, Richard Rich; more Directors ...
- Produced By Wolfgang Reitherman, Ron Miller.
- Animated By John Pomeroy, Cliff Nordberg, Andy Gaskill, Gary Goldman, Art Stevens, Dale Baer, Chuck Harvey, Ron Clements, Bob McCrea, Bill Hajee, Glen Keane, Ollie Johnston, Milt Kahl; more Animators ...
- Written By Larry Clemmons, Ken Anderson, Frank Thomas, Vance Gerry, David Michener, Ted Berman, Fred Lucky, Burny Mattinson, Dick Sebast, Margery Sharp; more Writers ...
- Awards: Academy Award Nominee, Best Original Song, “Someone’s Waiting for You” (Music: Sammy Fain, Lyrics: Carol Connors, Ayn Robbins), 1977.
- Music: Carol Connors, Ayn Robbins, Sammy Fain, Robert Crawford, Artie Butler, Evelyn Kennedy; more Musicians ...
- Editor: James Melton, Jim Koford.
- Originally Released on June 22, 1977.
- Originally Released Theatrically.
- Running Time: 77 minutes.