You don’t need the Devil’s Eye to see this film!
When a little girl is trapped on a boat by the cruel Madame Medusa to steal a diamond, it’s up to the Rescue Aid Society to save her! Two mice agents, Bernard and Bianca, are tasked with saving the girl Penny before Medusa gets the jewel!
The plot of this movie is simple, yet moves slowly. The beginning of the film introduces characters and sets up the plot for the audience, yet takes half the film for the main cast to get to the Devil’s Bayou. When they finally get there, the plot picks up some, though I understand the need to build the tension. The mood in the film is quiet and tense, as mysteries are wont to do, especially in the swamp when Medusa searches for Penny. The scene in the black hole cave is intense and gripping, containing danger and thrills, and a real threat of death. The flight scenes, while they take a while to start up, are breathtaking and calming, allowing for a breather, and the planning scene at night is well-thought out and foreshadows the finale.
Like Robin Hood before it, this film is more character driven, yet there are a lot of moments where the built-up tension is completely lost because of side characters. The first half of the climax falls to slapstick because of these side characters, and the stakes are immediately plummeted, turning a disturbing, threatening character into a cheap, comedic punching bag. These side characters also don’t really do that much to affect the plot of the film, and there could have been so many great ways for the finale to play out, but this was not one of them. The shift in tone completely takes the wind out of this film’s sails.
My PLOT RATING is 3 / 5.
Bernard (Bob Newhart) isn’t that great of a character to me. He’s way too timid, and there’s just something off about him. He takes forever to speak, and I understand that he’s scared, but being too scared to form coherent thought does not a good character make. I admire his character when he is confident though, but he’s far from the best in the film.
Bianca (Eva Gabor) shows how to correctly use Eva Gabor in a Disney film. As someone who grew up with Green Acres, she’s basically Lisa Douglas, but somewhat smarter. Her character plays off well with Bernard, matching his timidness with a love for adventure (similar to a Pixar couple I know) and her grasp of the English language, like in Green Acres, is used greatly for comedic effect. I just love her resourcefulness and attitude in this film.
Penny (Michelle Stacy) is also a great character here, her actress voicing the character at less than 10 years old! She brings a great performance with some fun lines and a cute impersonation of the villain. She really sells the more emotional moments of the film, and the audience grows to care about her, especially with the danger she is put in.
Madame Medusa (Geraldine Page) is an interesting amalgam of characters. She was originally designed to be Cruella De Vil (her car and driving style is a dead giveaway), and she reminds me of Madame Mim in name and color scheme, and later, Ursula in hairstyle and lackeys. She’s also allegedly based on animator Milt Kahl’s ex-wife! Personally, she has become a favorite of mine, being threatening and scheming with a hyperfocus on the Devil’s Eye diamond, and not really being that comedic. I also like that she changes clothing a few times in the film. It’s rare that characters are seen wearing more than one thing in animation, and all of her clothes scream evil.
Mr. Snoops (Joe Flynn), Brutus (Candy Candido) and Nero (also Candy Candido) are Medusa’s lackeys. Snoops is basically Smee from Peter Pan without the charm and likeability. Snoops comes across as annoying and he doesn’t really provide much except as a reason for having fireworks on the boat. Brutus and Nero are intimidating and memorable, and get a darkly comedic scene with an organ that breaks the tension, yet has me in stitches. Their movement on the ground or in the water gives them weight, which i appreciate.
The rest of the characters are mostly side-characters, and there are a lot of them, but I give special mention to Rufus the cat (John McIntire, playing a great fatherly / grandfatherly role to Penny), Orville the albatross (Jim Jordan, giving comedy to the living airplane that is Orville), and Evinrude (James MacDonald), named after the motorboat engine company (recently revealed to shut down production a few days ago) and who just can’t catch a break in the film. The other characters sadly, weigh down the film, kill the mounting tension, and waste valuable time.
My CHARACTERS RATING is 4 / 5.
The dialogue here is somewhat simplistic, yet effective, given that a young child is part of the cast. Plot points are explained possibly too much, but that just demonstrates the urgency of the matters at hand. There are a lot of great jokes here, bolstered by the chemistry of the characters, as well as the strangeness of the situations.
Bob Newhart does not give his best performance in this, as his delivery is uneven and contains a lot of gaps between words, becoming old after a while of hearing him. The best performances here are from Eva Gabor, Michelle Stacy, and Geraldine Page, who all are excellent in their roles, and make me proud to say that this film is not only character-driven, but female-character driven.
My DIALOGUE RATING is 4 / 5.
The scratchiness is here sometimes, but that isn’t the main focus of this section. The backgrounds are beautiful. Excellent. Perfect. The opening scenes are the best examples of this, being entirely hand-painted backgrounds combined with sweeping camera movements. Snow and rain effects are also top-notch, and strangely enough, I feel like the water effects have taken a backseat, but even as I say that, I realize I’ve gotten used to how good they can portray the ebb and flow of a tide. Camera movements also enhance scenes, being used to simulate earthquakes and other sharp movements.
My EFFECTS RATING is 5 / 5.
The score in this film is absent for most of the film, only appearing during scenes of danger or tension. I actually like that for this film, as it allows the sound effects and ambient noises to take over. Over half of the lyrical music is not sung by characters in the film, which is seldom seen in the Disney Animated Canon.
“The Journey” – Haunting, longing, and gripping. A perfect start to the film.
“Rescue Aid Society” – Similar to a national anthem, but sung off-key on purpose. Not really that catchy and seems hard to memorize at first glance.
“Tomorrow is Another Day” – Calming and breezy, almost dream-like. Very carefree
“Someone’s Waiting for You” – Sad, but filled with hope. Very sweet, similar to a lullaby.
“For Penny’s a Jolly Good Fellow” – Cute, but it reminds me of how they used to use this instead of “Happy Birthday” before it was copy-written.
My MUSIC RATING is 4 / 5.
Despite a few missteps, I really like this film. It’s not my favorite, but it’s pretty solid. The film’s details have slipped through my mind over the years, leaving only the core characters and emotions. At its core, this is an emotional film that is really what a mystery like this should be. It’s not really a comedy, it’s a drama, and it’s also very tense and even scary in places, but permeating through all of those negative feelings is hope, and that carries the film. The tone near the end of the film shifts to comedy, however, losing all of the tension and hope built up throughout, because now the viewer knows that the outcome is surefire.
The characters are also very good, yet sticking to a smaller cast would have improved this film tenfold. The female leads truly shine here, and again, I’m really happy about that. The dialogue could use some tightening and more complexity, but for what it is, it’s pretty good. The effects are jaw-dropping here with phenomenal scenic (screensaver-worthy here) vistas and cityscapes being the main focus, with the steadfast ever-improving weather effects. While the music is not that memorable even hours after watching the film, the pairing of music and visuals here is almost symbiotic, and could not live without the visuals presented.
To me, this film is an underrated Disney gem, and worth watching for the feelings it gives.
My OVERALL RATING of Disney’s “The Rescuers” is 80%.
Next time, we’ll go from mice and crocs…
To Foxes and Hounds…