Reviews: The Rescuers

Which one is better? Your Mileage May Very indeed

Both The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under have essentially the same premise. A pair of talking mice who belong to an organization known as the Rescue Aid Society travel around the world rescuing children who have been kidnapped. They get to their destination with help from an albatross. The mice meet and befriend the child, and get help from some local animals to defeat the villain and rescue the child from danger. During this time, we even get to see the poor child's plight shown in detail.

But while the premise is the same, the execution is totally different.

In the first The Rescuers, the victim is a young orphan girl, a first-grader named Penny. Held captive by the flamboyantly evil Madam Medusa, Penny is forced, day after day, into a cave that only a child is small enough to fit into, and is made to search for a rare diamond that Medusa covets. Penny's plight is shown in great detail, as we see her try to sneak out of the home she's being held in, get caught and brought back, and even pray for help. Her situation is played for all the sympathy that can be wrought from it, giving Penny an attachment to her teddy bear, and childlike fear and naivete that help to endear her to the audience.

The mood in general is "soft". Lullaby-like music plays at pivotal scenes to emphasize the sadness of the situation. Disney slapstick antics occur too, of course, and they tend to be fairly light and largely good-natured.

The Rescuers Down Under takes a very different approach. Cody, a young boy, is tied up and has knives thrown at him, and is tied to a hook and dangled in crocodile-infested waters, by an evil poacher-turned-kidnapper, to try to force information out of him. This is worse than what Penny went through, but Cody's determined attitude and the fact that this is played for adventure rather than sympathy changes the mood considerably.

What's more, the humor and slapstick tends to be more mean-spirited. Wilbur the albatross spends a lot of time in a hellish hospital, receiving "humorous" treatments that look very painful and are played for comedy. Poor Bernard the mouse is mistreated by the lovestruck Aussie Jake, who has his eyes set on his lady partner.

So which is better? Your Mileage May Vary, but I prefer the first.

The only Disney sequel that matters

The Rescuers Down Under is one of the unsung classics of the Disney Animated Canon. It's nothing like the previous Rescuers, which works out to its advantage; the original Rescuers was a somber film that could be downright depressing to watch at times. This film is an action-adventure that could best be described as Disney does Indiana Jones. Bernard and Bianca are basically the same as they were before, but the real stars of this film are the new characters; Cody, Marahute, and Jake, and on the villains side, Mc Leach and Joanna.

To start with, the animation in this film is some of Disney's best; the opening sequence, where Marahute takes Cody on a flgiht to her nest is nothing short of breathtaking, and the Crowning Music Of Awesome that accompanies it is forever etched in one's mind; when I heard it playing at the fountain of nations in Epcot, I felt a rush of incoming nostalgia overwhelming me.

The film itself is great at balancing funny moments, such as "These are not Joanna eggs!" with thrills. It's a Disney movie that really doesn't deserve to be forgotten the way it is.

As a Disney fan, it's not one of my favourite.

It wasn’t until recently that I realised I was a massive fan of the Disney Animated Canon; and after taking time to rewatch old gems like Dumbo, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White and relive some fond childhood memories, I decided to pick up a copy of the first Rescuers movie – and, frankly, I found myself quite disappointed.

To be forward about it, my major gripe with The Rescuers is that it’s very corny. And yes, I know: corniness is a pretty big part of the reason why some of the Disney classics have aged so well. Snow White would never work as a newly released movie, but as the classic starting point of Disney’s legacy, it’s pure gold. But the problem with The Rescuers, if you ask me, is that it's corny in all the wrong ways.

And prominent among this corniness is the Penny character. I know quite a few people found her effective, but personally I really think she was overdone. From the very beginning, the film seems to be aggressively pushing her status as the Heartwarming Orphan on the audience, constantly reminding us that she’s an adorable little girl we’re supposed to be feeling sorry for, to the extent that she rapidly moves from endearing to annoying. That scene at the end when she gets adopted felt like something out of a Care Bears cartoon.

In terms of music, meanwhile, the movie has, in my opinion, none of the charm that made so many of Disney's other musicals legendary. Part of the reason why soft, touching numbers like "God Help the Outcasts" and "Beauty and the Beast" work so well is because they’re balanced out by loud, stirring numbers like "Hellfire" and "Kill the Beast". By contrast, The Rescuers has only three songs (unless you count that unbelievably annoying twangy country number near the end), two of them apparently devoted entirely to driving home the saccharine image of the Penny character. Pity; if you discount the poor context and tacky lyrics, they had the potential to be decent songs.

Hey, it’s certainly not a terrible film, and it has its redeeming bits; I liked the style of Bernard’s voice actor, and Madam Medusa was an entertaining villain who probably deserved a more effective film. But as a Disney classic – unless you’re sure it’ll have strong nostalgic value for you, you might want to go for some of the studio’s better-known stuff.