Ranking Disney: #30 – The Rescuers (1977)

The Rescuers is a film I’d guess a lot of people hold near and dear. One that would be ranked a lot higher on most lists.

Unfortunately, I did not grow up with this film, and didn’t see it until about a month or two ago. Which does two things — allows me to be objective about it, and doesn’t allow for nostalgia to enter into my ranking. You’d think that second part is basically the same as the first part, but it’s not. Sometimes nostalgia is a good thing, even if it is subjective.

While I really liked the movie, and totally get why it’s a classic — I just can’t rank it any higher than this because, to me, it’s just not as good as the rest of the movies that are higher on the list. I just didn’t enjoy it as much as those other ones. Now, with the sheen of nostalgia and having grown up with it laid on top of it, I’m sure I’d have had this about six or seven spots higher. But I didn’t, so, here it is:

The film begins on a broken down old riverboat. A young girl goes off and sends a message in a bottle for rescue.

Over the opening credits, the bottle floats all the way to New York (she’s being held in New Orleans), where it is taken to the Rescue Aid Society, run by an international group of mice who meet inside the U.N. They never ignore a call for help.

(Note the Mickey Mouse on the watch on the wall. I wonder if it’s Fagin’s watch…)

They read the note, which is very wet. They can only decipher that the note is for Morningside Orphanage in New York, and was written by a girl named Penny. Miss Bianca, a Hungarian mouse, asks for the assignment, wanting to help the poor girl. All the male mice offer to go with her (she’s apparently a sexy mouse), but she chooses Bernard, the janitor of the society, who is a pretty clumsy (and superstitious) mouse, all told.

They go to the orphanage, and find Penny’s belongings. They also meet an old cat, who tells them about Penny. He says she ran away, and tells of the last time he saw her, which was when a couple came to the orphanage to adopt someone, and didn’t choose her. He consoled her, and she seemed happy, but then all of a sudden, she was gone the next day. He also mentions that a weird lady who runs a pawn shop downtown wanted to give Penny a ride one day. Bernard and Bianca go to the pawnshop to check it out.

The place is Medusa’s Pawn Shop, which seems abandoned when Bernard and Bianca arrive. There, they find Penny’s book, and overhear a phone call to Medusa from her henchmen, Mr. Snoops, who has kidnapped Penny and are looking for a diamond. She says she’s taking the next flight down to Devil’s Bayou to join them.

They hop into her suitcase as she drives to the airport. Only with her crazy, erratic driving (a lot like Cruella De Vil), the suitcase is thrown from the car. So Bernard and Bianca must find alternate transportation to Devil’s Bayou.

They go to Albatross Air, and are taken to Devil’s Bayou by Orville.

Meanwhile, at Devil’s Bayou, Penny escapes while everyone is asleep. Medusa sends her two crocodiles, Nero and Brutus, to get her back, while Snoops sends up some fireworks to illuminate the swamp.

These cause Orville to crash land and also are seen by Luke, a backwoods, drunken hillbilly country mouse, and his wife, Ellie Mae. They see Penny get recaptured by Nero and Brutus. They go off in a boat (a leaf, actually), run by Evinrude, a dragonfly, and reach the boat where they hold Penny hostage.

There, they find out the plan, which is to have Penny squeeze down into a cave (only a child can fit down there) to get the Devil’s Eye diamond, which is buried somewhere down there. (She’s really a lot like Cruella, the more you watch.) Medusa says she’s going to put Penny down in the cave at low tide, and keep her there until she finds the diamond (even as the tide rises).

The crocs then smell Bianca’s perfume and chase the two into the piano, which leads to a pretty great chase sequence, as the crocs hit keys and the air shoots the mice up. The two end up narrowly escaping, mostly because of the villains’ incompetence (but isn’t that how it always it), and are brought back to safety by Evinrude.

They return to the boat later, as Penny is going to bed and praying for help. They devise an escape plan, first trapping the crocs in a cage and then taking Medusa’s airboat (while also setting off fireworks in her bedroom to stall for time). They send Evinrude back to Ellie Mae and Luke, who have rounded up all the nearby animals to help. Only he is attacked by bats and cannot get there.

Medusa and Snoops send Penny down in the hole (with Bernard and Bianca in her pocket) to look for the diamond. Bernard goes across a pit, where water seeps in through the bottom of the cave, to look for it.

There, he finds the Devil’s Eye.

They get the diamond out from a skull before the water can fill up the cave and drown them, and they are pulled back up by Snoops. Medusa takes the diamond and says it’s all hers.

Meanwhile, Evinrude makes a beeline for Luke and Ellie Mae’s house before the bats can catch him, and they all set out to the boat, where Medusa holds Penny and Snoops at gunpoint, saying that if they follow her, she’ll shoot them. Bernard and Bianca trip her, and Penny runs off with the diamond, which has been sewn into her teddy bear. Medusa is then attacked by all the swamp animals, and the crocs are locked in their cage, just as was planned. Penny then hops on the airboat and they get away, dragging Medusa (waterskiing on her crocodiles, which is just a terrific image) behind them, until she crashes into the riverboat.

We then cut to the Rescue Aid Society watching a news story talk about the Devil’s Eye being placed in the Smithsonian and Penny being adopted. She thanks Bernard and Bianca, just as Evinrude arrives with another call for help. Bianca and Bernard then volunteer for the job (which Bernard is leery about, it being Friday the 13th), and they go off on Albatross Air once again, this time with Evinrude, onto their next mission.

I really liked the film. I do. I think it’s a lot better than the sequel, even though there the animation is better by simple fact that they had 13 years to improve the process. But in terms of story — this is much better. But, overall, when trying to rank it — I kept putting it here. I don’t like that there aren’t songs in it, and I don’t like how boring the non-Bernard and Bianca plot is most of the time. But overall, the film is a nice little classic. Only, like I said — every time I looked at these rankings, it never made it higher than this for me. So, here it stays.

– – – – –

Official Disney Number: #23

Run Time: 77 minutes

Release Date: June 22, 1977

Budget: $1.2 million

Box Office: I think it made about $29 million in first run, and about $71 million after rereleases and such, as far as I can gather. Huge hit, either way.

– – – – –


  1. “The Journey,” performed by Shelby Flynt
  2. “Rescue Aid Society,” which isn’t really a song, but whatever.
  3. “Tomorrow is Another Day,” performed by Shelby Flynt
  4. “Someone’s Waiting for You,” performed by Shelby Flynt

None of these are really songs. They’re performed as narrative and not by the characters.

– – – – –

Voice Cast:

Bob Newhart, as Bernard
Eva Gabor, as Bianca
Michelle Stacy, as Penny
Geraldine Page, as Madame Medusa
Joe Flynn, as Mr. Snoops
Jeanette Nolan, as Ellie Mae
Pat Buttram, as Luke
Jim Jordan, as Orville
John McIntire, as Rufus
Bernard Fox, as The Chairman
Larry Clemmons, as Gramps
James MacDonald, as Evinrude
George Lindsay, as Rabbit
Dub Taylor, as Digger
John Fielder, as Owl

– – – – –


  • The film was nominated for Best Original Song for “Someone’s Waiting for You.” (It lost to “You Light Up My Life.” Also nominated that year were “Candle on the Water,” from Pete’s Dragon, a superior song, and the song that was royally fucked over, “Nobody Does It Better” from The Spy Who Loved Me.)
  • This was the last Disney film to get an Oscar nomination until The Little Mermaid.
  • Most people think of this as the first film that made it clear to people that the studio could survive without Walt. (The Aristocats and Robin Hood were not exactly rousing successes.) The National Board of Review even singled the film out for “restoring and upgrading the art of animation.”
  • This is the first Disney film that spawned a sequel.
  • This is the first Disney film with a prologue before the opening credits.
  • This originally had the record for highest opening weekend, until An American Tail broke the record in 1986.
  • Apparently Cruella De Vil was going to be the villain in an early version. (No wonder the similarities.)
  • Also, they apparently had a scene where Bernard and Bianca receive all the things they’ll need on their journey (kind of like the typical Bond “Q” scene). But it never made the final cut.
  • When Medusa runs over Orville in the swamp and at the end when Orville falls off the building in New York, you can hear the Goofy scream.
  • Louis Prima had a role in the film and even did songs for it, but died during production and none of the material was used.

– – – – –

Disney Motifs:

1. Apparently this is how the mice entered the Queen’s palace in The Great Mouse Detective. I wouldn’t doubt it, though I don’t think I have the corresponding shot from that film.

2. Look who cameos in the film:

3. She’s so fucking Cruella De Vil it’s ridiculous.

4. I love this animation. Flying through the pipe.

5. How can this not make you think of West Side Story (which was copied by Gangs of New York, and, to keep it Disney — Oliver and Company)?

6. This is almost the exact same shot as one in The Jungle Book. And probably Princess and the Frog too. I guarantee you I will have the same screenshot from both of those two films. Wait and see.

7. Very Jiminy Cricket.

8. This reminds me of Princess and the Frog. Replace lightning bug with dragonfly and mice and leaf for frogs and lily pad.

9. Reflection in the water. Classic Disney:

10. Well look who it is:

11. Reminds me of how Jiminy Cricket made his entrance in Fun and Fancy Free.

12. Princess and the Frog played the same game with the evening star and the bayou.

13. Fantasia. Don’t even pretend like you don’t see it.

14. I just love fireworks. (But if you need a reference — Mulan?)

15. The Little Mermaid — same colors on the fireworks. Exactly.

16. Negative coloring!

17. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Don’t tell me that’s not immediately your first thought.

18. I just really love this shot. Look at that framing:

19. Kind of like how Captain Hook was last seen (I said kind of), isn’t it?

20. Oh, look, it’s Owl from Winnie the Pooh. Oddly, he’s voiced by the guy who does Piglet’s voice.

Also, this mole looks a lot like the one in Pooh. I’m not sure if it is, but I figured I’d mention it.


5 responses

  1. BlueFox94

    Didn’t mention the nude scene during Orville’s flight, ey? :b

    August 15, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    • Eric

      Old “news.” Most people have gotten over it.

      January 27, 2014 at 10:14 am

  2. Eric

    This film entered story development at around the same time that Walt Disney began production of “The Jungle Book,” in 1962. Walt Disney was not thrilled with the idea of faithfully adapting Margery Sharp’s 1959 novel of the same name, for he felt it was too dark and not compelling enough as a Disney animated film. Much like with “The Jungle Book,” he had the writers put aside the book and start fresh with an original story. The story he proposed was about a polar bear named Willie, who was kidnapped from the city zoo. It was then that, for this story idea, the writers briefly considered the possibility of reusing Cruella DeVil as the main villain (presumably driven by her desire to obtain the polar bear’s fur), but the idea was quickly dismissed since the studio was not interested in turning the film into a sequel of what was otherwise a completely unrelated film. Eventually, and after Walt Disney’s death, this story idea was completely dismissed (though the propose style, which featured many anthropomorphic and singing animals, lived on in “The Aristocats” and “Robin Hood”), and Margery Sharp’s second novel, entitled “Miss Bianca” and released in 1962, was considered. In this novel, the main antagonist was a repulsive, wicked old tyrant known as the Diamond Duchess; she held a little orphan girl captive and forced her to look after her hideous wig and polish her palace’s many diamonds. This character became the primary inspiration for Madame Medusa, who was animated mostly by Milt Kahl. The scene in which Madame Medusa is seen driving recklessly was not going to feature in the film, but Kahl insisted it was added as a tribute to Marc Davis (the creator of Cruella DeVil)’s work. With this in mind, it is not fair to criticize Madame Medusa, who is one heck of a memorable character, for resembling Cruella DeVil in that particular scene since the similarity there was deliberate. The car was drawn to be very similar to Cruella’s, and because it was not meant to be a crucial part of the film, it is never seen again after it disappears around the corner.

    January 27, 2014 at 10:14 am

  3. Eric

    Also, the teddy bear, the owl and the mole are not from “Winnie the Pooh.” All three characters have genetic designs, and “Teddy” is a rather thin bear, whereas Winnie the Pooh is rounder and has a different head shape. The owl from Winnie the Pooh is not a deacon or any sort of religious figure, as far as I recall, and you might as well say that Archimedes (from “The Sword in the Stone”) is the same; they’re all “genetic” owls. The “mole” is “Winnie the Pooh” is not a mole, but a gopher, and this last one looks (and sounds) more like the castor in “Lady and the Tramp” than Digger in “The Rescuers.” I also sincerely hope that you’re not implying that “The Rescuers” copied “The Princess and the Frog”? Because it would be the other way around. “The Princess and the Frog” did not introduce the musical alligator, “The Rescuers” did, haha. Also, the shot of New York City in “Oliver & Company” looks *into* the city, not out into the ocean. Just some additional comments.

    January 27, 2014 at 10:20 am

  4. Pingback: Presentation – Visual Appendix – Animation Layout

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