The Rescuers is a 1977 animated film produced by Walt Disney Productions and first released on June 22, 1977.
It is the 23rd film in the Walt Disney Feature Animation 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, elegant Miss Bianca (Eva Gabor), set out to rescue Penny (Michelle Stacy), an orphan girl being held prisoner in Devil's Bayou by treasure huntress Madame Medusa (Geraldine Page).
| Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about|
the entire movie.
The film begins in an abandoned riverboat in Devil's Bayou, where 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 City, where it is recovered by the Rescue Aid Society. 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 her 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. With the help of an albatross named Orville, and a dragonfly named Evinrude, the mice follow Medusa and Mr. Snoops 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 alligators, Brutus and Nero. Bernard and Miss Bianca escape, and find Penny. The following morning, Medusa and Mr. Snoops send Penny down into the cave to find the diamond, unaware that Bernard and Miss Bianca are hiding in her skirt pocket. The three soon find it 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. Bernard, Miss Bianca, and Penny barely manage to retrieve the diamond and escape.
The greedy Medusa steals the diamond for herself and hides it in Penny's teddy bear. When she trips over a cable, Medusa loses the bear to Penny, who runs away with it. Medusa retaliates with gunfire, causing the mice to flee until they are met by Brutus and Nero. Bernard and Miss Bianca trick them into entering a cage-like elevator, trapping them.
Two of the gang set off Mr. Snoops' fireworks, making the boat sink. Penny and the gang use Medusa's "swampmobile". Medusa is left clinging to the boat's smokestacks with Brutus and Nero attacking below.
Back in New York City, the Rescue Aid Society watches TV to hear that the Devil's Eye was given to the Smithsonian Institution and Penny was 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.
- Bob Newhart as Bernard, Rescue Aid Society's timid janitor, who reluctantly tags along with Miss Bianca. He is highly superstitious about the number 13 and dislikes flying (the latter being a personality trait of Newhart).
- Eva Gabor as Miss Bianca, the Hungarian representative of the Rescue Aid Society. She is sophisticated and adventurous. Her Hungarian nationality was derived from that of her voice actress.
- Geraldine Page as Madame Medusa, a greedy, redheaded, wicked pawnshop owner.
- Michelle Stacy as Penny, a lonely six-year-old orphan girl, residing at Morningside Orphanage in New York City.
- Joe Flynn as Mr. Snoops, Medusa's clumsy business partner. This was Flynn's final role before his death in 1974.
- Jim Jordan as Orville (named after Orville Wright of the Wright brothers, the inventors of the aeroplane), an albatross who gives Bernard and Bianca a ride to Devil's Bayou. The role was the last for Jordan, who retired after the film's release. Several of Orville's screams were recycled from Pinto Colvig's performances as Goofy.
- John McIntire as Rufus, the elderly cat who resides at Morningside Orphanage and comforts Penny when she is sad. He was designed by animator Ollie Johnston, who retired after this film following a 40-year career with Disney.
- Jeanette Nolan as Ellie Mae and Pat Buttram as Luke, two muskrats who reside in a Southern-style home on a patch of land in Devil's Bayou. Luke drinks very strong, homemade liquor.
- James MacDonald as Evinrude, a dragonfly who mans a leaf boat across Devil's Bayou, giving Bernard and Miss Bianca a ride across the swamp waters.
- Candy Candido as Brutus and Nero, Medusa's two aggressive pet crocodiles.
- Bernard Fox as Mr. Chairman, the chairman to the Rescue Aid Society.
- George Lindsey as Deadeye, a fisher rabbit who is one of Luke and Ellie Mae's friends.
- Larry Clemmons as Gramps, a grumpy, yet kind old turtle who carries a brown cane.
- Dub Taylor as Digger, a mole.
- John Fiedler as Deacon Owl
- Shelby Flint as Singer, Bottle
- Bill McMillian as T.V. Announcer
In 1962, the movie's development first began with its initial treatment developed from the first book centering on a poet held captive by a totalitarian government in the Siberia-like stronghold. However, when the story grew overtly involved with international intrigue, Walt Disney shelved the project as he was unhappy with the political overtones.
It was revived in the early 1970s as a project for the young animators, led by Don Bluth, as the studio would alternate between full-scale "A pictures" and smaller, scaled-back "B pictures" with simpler animation.
The animators had selected the most recent book "Miss Bianca in the Antarctic" with its story focusing on a captured polar bear forced into performing in shows causing the unsatisfied bear to place a bottle that would reach the mice.
Jazz singer Louis Prima was supposed to voice the character named Louis the Bear and this version was to feature six songs sung by Prima written by Floyd Huddleston, but unfortunately in 1975, Prima discovered that he had a stem brain tumor and the project was scrapped.
Meanwhile, the "A" crew had finished work on Robin Hood, and was set to begin production on an adaptation of Paul Gallico's book titled "Scruffy" (under the direction of Ken Anderson). The story concerned the monkeys of Gibraltar under World War II, which also involved Nazis. When the time had come to greenlight one of the two projects, the studio leaders eventually decided to go for "The Rescuers."
After "Scruffy" was shelved, the veteran team turned the project into a more traditional, full-scale production ultimately dropping the Arctic setting of the story with veteran Disney writer Fred Lucky stating, "It was too stark a background for the animators."
Cruella de Vil, the villainess from One Hundred and One Dalmatians was originally considered to be the main antagonist of the film, but Disney animator Ollie Johnston stated it felt wrong to attempt a sequel and the idea was dropped and instead, 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 did not 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 Madame Medusa that he ended up doing almost all the animation for the character himself. Penny was inspired by Patience, the orphan in the novel.
For the accomplices, the filmmakers adapted the character, Mandrake, into Mr. Snoops and his appearance was caricatured from animation historian John Culhane. Culhane claims he was practically tricked into posing for various reactions and his movements were imitated on Mr. Snoops's 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.
The writers considered developing Bernard and Bianca into married professional detectives, but ended up left them as as unmarried. For the supporting characters, a pint-sized swampmobile for the mice (a leaf powered by a dragonfly) was created. As they developed the comedic potential of displaying his exhaustion through buzzing, the dragonfly grew from an incidental into a major character.
Veteran sound effects artist and voice talent Jimmy MacDonald came out of retirement to provide the effects. Also, the local swamp creatures were organized into a dedicated home guard that drilled and marched incessantly. However, the writers evolved them into a volunteer group of helpful little bayou creatures. Their leader, a singing bullfrog voiced by Phil Harris, was deleted from the film.
A pigeon was originally proposed to be the transportation for Bernard and Bianca, until Ollie Johnston remembered a "True Life Adventures" episode that showed albatrosses and their clumsy take-offs and landings, and suggested the ungainly bird instead.
Ever since "One Hundred and One Dalmatians," the animation for theatrical Disney animated films was done by xerography, which had been only been able to produce black outlines, had been improved for the cel artists to use a medium-grey toner in order to create a softer-looking line.
At the end of the movie's production, it marked the last joint effort by veterans Milt Kahl, Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas & also the first Disney film worked on by Don Bluth as an animator, instead of an assistant animator.
The 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.
The songs for the movie were written by Sammy Fain, Carol Connors, and Ayn Robbins, and performed by Shelby Flint.
For the first time since Bambi, all of the most significant songs were sung as part of a narrative, as opposed to by the film's characters as in most Disney animated films.
- "The Journey" (also known as "Who Will Rescue Me?") – Sung during the film's opening credits, the song follows Penny's bottle as it floats out of the Devil's Bayou and into the Atlantic Ocean.
- "Rescue Aid Society" – Sung by the Chairman (Bernard Fox), Bernard (Bob Newhart), and Miss Bianca (Robie Lester, filling in for Eva Gabor), as well as the various international mouse delegates (the Disney Studio Chorus) during the R.A.S. meeting. A reprise of the song plays when Bernard and Bianca begin to lose their faith, and are reminded of the song and its meaning.
- "Faith is a Bluebird" – Although not an actual song, it is a poem recited by Rufus and partially by Penny in a flashback the old cat has to when he last saw the small orphan girl, and comforted her through the poem, about having faith. The titular bluebird that appears in this sequence originally appeared in Alice in Wonderland (1951).
- "Tomorrow is Another Day" – Sung as Bernard and Bianca travel to Devil's Bayou upon Orville's back. The song plays again at the film's closure, as Bernard and Bianca, assisted by Evinrude and Orville, set out on a new rescue mission.
- "Someone's Waiting For You" – Sung as Penny begins to lose her faith, after Medusa cruelly speaks to her. During this segment, the star of faith, that Rufus mentioned earlier lights up the night sky. Bambi and his mother appear during this segment. The song was originally entitled "The Need to Be Loved" and featured different lyrics, with recorded versions by Jennifer Paz and Paul Francis Webster.
- "For Penny's a Jolly Good Fellow" – Sung by the orphan children at the end of the film, as a variation of the song "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow".
"The Rescuers" was successful during its original theatrical release, earning $48 million at the box office and becoming Disney's most successful film to that date.
During its initial release in France, it out-grossed Star Wars and became the highest-grossing film in West Germany at the time. The distributor rentals accumulated $19 million while its international rentals grossed $41 million.
The movie 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 broke the record.
When it was re-issued in theaters in 1983 and 1989, "The Rescuers" has had a lifetime gross of $71.2 million across its original release & several reissues.
The movie was said to be Disney's greatest film since Mary Poppins and seemed to signal a new golden age for Disney animation. Rotten Tomatoes reported that it received a 83% approval rating with an average rating of 6.6/10 based on 26 reviews.
The website's consensus says: "Featuring superlative animation, off-kilter characters, and affectionate voice work by Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor, The Rescuers represents a bright spot in Disney's post-golden age."
TV Guide gave the film three stars out of five, saying that: "Four years in the making, costing nearly $8 million, THE RESCUERS is a beautifully animated film that showed Disney still knew a lot about making quality children's fare even as their track record was weakening. [...] Comic relief is provided by a bird named Orville, who transports the mice as they search for the girl. The voices are all well suited to the characters, and the film is a delight for children as well as adults who appreciate good animation and brisk storytelling."
Ellen MacKay of Common Sense Media gave the film four out of five stars, writing, "Great adventure, but too dark for preschoolers".
In his book "The Disney Films", film historian Leonard Maltin refers to the movie 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 movie "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.
On December 16, 1983, "The Rescuers" was re-released to theaters along with a new Mickey Mouse featurette "Mickey's Christmas Carol" (making it Mickey Mouse's first theatrical appearance after a 30-year absence.
In anticipation of its upcoming theatrically released sequel in 1990, the movie saw another successful theatrical run on March 17, 1989.
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 Rescuers" videotapes because there was an objectionable image in one of the film's 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 and it 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).
On January 10, 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 video was reissued on March 23, 1999 with the offending image edited out.