Cinerama: The Rescuers

Posted: September 12, 2009 in Cinerama

The Rescuers

By Mike Derderian

Anything can happen in a cartoon and this week’s column my dear reader is dedicated to God’s meekest creatures: mice and to be more specific to Bernard and Bianca, whom I fell in love with when I was six.

Released two years before my birth, Walt Disney’s 1977 The Rescuers is the all-time masterpiece every child should watch. It was one of the cartoons that influenced me most when I was a child, and to write about it in Cinerama made me almost cry because every time I write about a movie I loved and grew up with, a piece of me is lost in the process.

Whenever I had the chance I’ve always grabbed my Rescuers’ VHS tape from the stash of hundreds of tapes I have at home, inserted it in the video recorder and watched it over and over. I cannot remember how many times I’ve seen it but the cassette is certainly in a bad shape because of that.

As I pressed the play button I found myself back in time. The gradual but noticeable shift between the bright and faded colors of the granular image, muffled sounds and the horizontal distortion lines appearing on the screen every few minutes—in the case of my Rescuers’ VHS cassette they’ve become permanent—took me to a time when video ruled because DVD simply did not exist. My advice to you is to look for a DVD version and buy it. I guarantee, you will never regret it.

The Rescuers is about a humanitarian—I mean a ‘mousitarian’—organization called the Rescue Aid Society (RAS) founded by Euripides Mouse and is affiliated with the United Nations. Their objective is to help people, who are in distress and in need of help all over the world. They even have an anthem: “R-E-S-C-U-E, Rescue Aid Society, head held high, touch the sky, you mean everything to me.”

After receiving a “help me!” letter sent in a bottle by orphan girl Penny, Bernard and Bianca—from RAS—go on a flight to Devil’s Bayou to save the little girl from the clutches of her vile captors. Wait the plot thickens for a large lost diamond known as the Devil’s Eye is involved.

Veteran comedian Bob Newhart gave Bernard his fidgety voice while Eva Gabor provided the soft and alluring Russian accent for Bianca. Their voice performances were brilliant and lovable. In addition to Newhart and Gabor’s heartfelt voiceovers, Geraldine Page, Jeanette Nolan, Pat Buttram, Jim Jordan, John McIntire, James MacDonald and Joe Flynn all did a great job and had their great moments of  “voice-time.”

This Disney flick is anything but campy. It has all the necessary elements that construct a perfect animated feature despite of its short runtime by modern time standards. Drama, tragedy, fun and laughter are packed in this 77-minute treat filled where 13 unforgettable characters, who run amok in Devil’s Bayou.

Topping the list is Bernard and Bianca. The former is a janitor, a chubby brown mouse with flight nausea and a pessimistic fright from the number 13. The latter is a white mouse and a United Nation’s ambassador with a strong and feisty character thanks to Eva Gabor’s voiceover. I believe all she had to do to be in character was be herself.

The villain in this Disney cartoon is Madam Medusa—Cruella DeVil from the 1961 One Hundred and One Dalmatians is an angel compared to her. Voiced by Geraldine Page, Medusa is the epitome of evil, cruelty and greediness. Would you trust a woman that has two Crocodiles—Nero and Brutus—as pets?

Even though he is Medusa lousy partner in crime, Mr Snoops, voiced by Joe Flynn, who is best remembered as Captain Wallace Burton Binghamton in the 1962 comedy series McHale’s Navy—you will recognize the voice, added the slapstick flavor to this adventurous movie by his wimpy character and fireworks.

Other memorable characters are swamp lodgers Ellie Mae (Nolan) and her husband Luke (Buttram), who likes to give everyone he meets a dose of his home brewed moonshine. There is also Orville (Jordan), the cocky albatross who owns a flying company—he’s the manager and the plane at the same time, in addition to, Rufus the Cat (McIntire) and Evinrude (MacDonald), the dragonfly and a brave little fella.

Michelle Stacy giftedly voiced Penny, the orphan with a cute lisp and a pure heart that you will fall for. Directed by John Lounsbary and Wolfgang Reitherman, who were members of Disney’s legendary Nine Old Men team of veteran animators, The Rescuers was more of a work of art than animation in the real sense of the word. It is hearty, tearful and most importantly unforgettable.

The feel-good soundtrack of The Rescuers that included mellow songs like The Journey, Tomorrow is Another Day and Someone’s Waiting for You performed by Shelby Flint and the opening sequences in which paintings by Mel Shaw were used gave it an extraordinaire sense of an era that is long gone.

I never forgot The Rescuers and I believe I never will as long as I live and so will your children once they’ve seen this unique film and as the reminiscent phrase goes, “they never make them like they used to.”

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