For those who don’t know what the Rescue Aid Society is, it is an international organisations, with delegates from every country in the United Nations, tasked with helping and protecting those in need.
Oh, and they’re mice.
Yes, this issue, dear readers, the GUST ship sets sail with Disney’s The Rescuers. Disney is a common theme with our GUSTs, along with Pixar, but then they are so very good at what they do.
In this case, I even hesitate to call The Rescuers a GUST – it feels less ‘Grown-Ups Should Try’ and more ‘Grown-Ups Should Check’, because it does get pretty dark mid-film.
In New York City, the Rescue Aid Society finds a message in a bottle, sent by a little girl named Penny, who is in ‘terrible trouble’. Moved by her plight, the Hungarian representative, Miss Bianca (voiced by Eva Gabor) immediately volunteers to investigate.
This being the seventies, the chairman is reluctant to send Miss Bianca out by herself and insists she takes a male co-agent for her protection, but rather than choosing another representative, she chooses the nervous janitor, Bernard (Bob Newhart), to accompany her.
Their quest takes them away from New York to the Devil’s Bayou, by way of Albatross Airlines, and they find Penny being held on an abandoned riverboat by pawn shop owner Madam Medusa (Geraldine Page) and her bumbling assistant Mr Snoops (Joe Flynn in his final film before his death). With the help of the other animals who live in the bayou, Bernard and Bianca must find a way to save Penny so she can get home and find a proper family.
As with all Disney films, there are a few scenes that could be considered a little too intense for young children, but this pushes the limit quite considerably. For me, the darkest point in the film is not one of the intense scenes, but a relatively safe conversation in which Penny asks Medusa if she’ll ever take her home. Pair that with the obligatory ‘Slow Song’ that is in most Disney movies, and it has me in tears every time.
The Rescuers was the first Disney movie worked on by Don Bluth as an animator rather than assistant animator – he went on to leave Disney two years after the film’s release and went on to direct films such as The Land Before Time (1988) and Anastasia (1997).
Other animators who stepped up and remained with the company – Glen Keane, Ron Clements and Andy Gaskill – went on to play an important role in the Disney Renaissance (the era of the late 1980s and 1990s in which Walt Disney Animation Studios returned to making successful animated films).
It was also the first successful animated film that Walt Disney himself had not been involved in the making of, although he had been involved in the original premise, which had been suggested several years before actually coming to fruition.
However, The Rescuers was also the last joint effort of veteran animators Milt Kahl, Ollie Johnston, and Frank Thomas, and the last directed by John Lounsbery before his death. They had all been part of Disney’s ‘Nine Old Men’, a team of animators who had been on the team since the very start.
In fact, Milt Kahl was so determined to make his last animation perfect that he animated Madam Medusa almost completely by himself – her appearance was reportedly based on his ex-wife and, if so, I don’t envy her one bit, because that woman was terrifying.
The Rescuers is a feel-good film, if you can make it to the end. In the meantime, there is a heart-warming tale of what it means to be brave and how the smallest things can make the biggest difference.
Of course, despite the drama, there are also some wonderfully humour moments, not least with Bernard’s crippling fear of the number thirteen, his attempts at retrieving the letter from the bottle using a comb and a piece of string, and the antics of Mr Snoops (who has nowhere near the brains of Madam Medusa but twice the ambition) as he tries to please his employer and avoid her pet alligators, Brutus and Nero.
It remains one of my favourite Disney films, even if I did first watch it from behind the sofa (I was a very sensitive child), and I think it is one of the few that adults will appreciate as much if not more than children for more than just the ‘adult humour’ that often gets slipped in without children noticing.
And, for adults with children, I highly recommend you watch it, even if just to check whether your children can handle it before you stick them in front of it.
Roxanne Williams (thinks we should all have faith)