The highlights of the four previous films - THE SWORD AND THE STONE, THE JUNGLE BOOK, THE ARISTOCATS and ROBIN HOOD - may be more memorable than any individual scene in THE RESCUERS, but THE RESCUERS is the best all-around Disney film since 101 DALMATIANS.
The first film made with the combined talents of Disney's faithful "Nine Old Men" and a slew of new, younger talent, THE RESCUERS has an involving story and a more mature approach to characters. Even with the distinct voice talents of Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor in the lead parts of Bernard and Miss Bianca, two mice on a quest to rescue a kidnapped child, the characters in the film feel like real "people" rather than the animated versions of famous celebrities you find in THE JUNGLE BOOK or ROBIN HOOD. Although Eva Gabor does outstanding work as Miss Bianca - she's even better than she was in THE ARISTOCATS - it is Bob Newhart who has more of an influence on the overall mood of the film. One of the great standup comedians as well as the veteran of two beloved situation comedies, Newhart has a pleasant, serious voice that rarely fluctuates in tone. He is an actor who doesn't say funny things but rather says things funny, usually through understatement, perfectly timed pauses and mild stammering. His voice clearly marks the timid Bernard as a mouse well into adulthood, rather than a childlike caricature such as Jaq or Gus from CINDERELLA. Combined with the sophisticated, slightly exotic voice of Ms. Gabor, Newhart line delivery and low key acting help make this the most adult Disney film since 101 DALMATIANS.
The story, too, makes THE RESCUERS more intriguing than any Disney film had been in several years, as Bernard and Miss Bianca, of the international mouse organization The Rescue Aid Society, set out to track down and bring home Penny, a young girl who disappeared from an orphanage. Starting almost from scratch, the mouse pair eventually uncover where Penny is and why, and must battle the evil Madame Medusa, a despicable bundle of ugliness living on the bayou with a yen for diamonds, a pair of pet alligators and a total disregard for Penny's welfare. Although there are mood-setting songs sprinkled throughout the soundtrack, there are no production numbers or setpieces to slow things down or interrupt the plot. The film is part mystery, part adventure, with judicious use of slapstick comedy and no love story. There is genuine suspense toward the end of the film when you may suspect that, even though this is a children's film, one of the lead heroes might not survive. Madame Medusa, although a completely over the top villainess like Cruela de Vil, projects more menace than that memorable creation, and even aims a shot gun blast in the direction of the adorable orphan Penny.
THE RESCUERS was extremely popular in the United States and even more popular in Europe, where it topped STAR WARS. It also inspired the first Disney animated sequel ever, albeit more than a decade later. It is not a film that that will be remembered as an a masterpiece of animation - the "xerox" process having long outlived its novelty - but it just may be one of those Disney films you will enjoy more than your youngest children will. ½ - JB
The Rescuers Down Under (1990)