My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.
(1977; based on the novels The Rescuers and Miss Bianca by Margery Sharp)
The Plot: Two mice, members of the International Rescue Aid Society, embark on a mission to save an orphan girl kidnapped by treasure hunters.
The Songs: "The Journey," "Rescue Aid Society," "Tomorrow is Another Day," "Someone's Waiting For You"
A Little History: Veteran animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston consider The Rescuers to be their finest work since Walt Disney's death - a return to the dramatic and heartfelt storytelling of Disney's golden age rather than the comedy-driven larks of the 60s and 70s. Production took four years to complete, and utilized over 40 animators, 750 backgrounds, and 330,000 cel drawings. Cruella De Vil was originally set to return as the villain, until the studio decided against it; her replacement, the flamboyant Madame Medusa, was the last to be animated by Milt Kahl, who reportedly modeled the character after his ex-wife. Look closely during the first Rescue Aid Society meeting, and you'll spot a Mickey Mouse watch hanging from the main wall; later, Bambi and his mother appear during "Someone's Waiting For You," eating grass in Devil's Bayou. The Rescuers grossed over $48 million in the U.S. - Disney's most successful title to date - and even outsold Star Wars in France and Germany. In 1999, its VHS re-release sparked some controversy when it was discovered that a photo of a topless woman appeared in two of the film's 110,000 frames. The Walt Disney Company issued a recall for 3.4 million copies and apologized for the incident, asking that parents continue to "trust and rely on the Disney brand to provide the finest in family entertainment."
How It Broke New Ground: Advances in Xeroxing technology finally permitted the use of medium-gray and purple toner for the outlines on the characters; previously, only black toner had been available, which gave the animation its sketchy, unfinished look. This was also the first Disney film to feature a prologue before the opening titles, and the first to be animated in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio (most were shot in a 1.37:1 ratio, but formatted to 1.75:1 for theaters). The Rescuers is a passing of the torch, so to speak, from the original Nine Old Men (including Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas and Milt Kahl) to a new roster of animators (Glen Keane, Andy Gaskill and Ron Clements among them, who would eventually lead the Disney Renaissance of '89-'99.
How It Holds Up Today: And so begins the ugliest phase in Disney animated history. The studio seemed to veer away from the stylized "cartoon" look of their past features and settled on a more hyper-realistic approach, with ambient sound, grimy-grainy backgrounds, and soft-focus photography typical of so much 70s cinema. The colors are drab, as if shot through a muddy filter, and despite all the hoopla surrounding the "new and improved" Xeroxing process, some of the character work is positively atrocious (check out the villainess Medusa, who moves with all the weight and dexterity of an ink blot when she's not in close-up). The movie's single saving grace is its plot, which moves at a decent-enough clip as the characters scurry about their assorted business. But even then the tone is uncertain, mixing unequal parts comedy and schmaltziness. (I don't know which is supposed to be funnier - Bob Newhart's trademark, stop-and- start line readings or that gooey Carpenters-style song score.) This is the dullest of all Animated Classics so far, an attempt by the animators to merge contemporary elements with classical Disney story structure. It's a concoction that, for me at least, never quite gels.
Hold tight, Disney fans – there's more to come. Need to play catch up? Click on the following for: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun And Fancy Free, Melody Time, The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady And The Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred And One Dalmatians, The Sword In The Stone, The Jungle Book, The AristoCats, Robin Hood, and The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh. Please comment! Let me know what you think!