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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Rescuers
The Rescuers
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // G // May 20, 2003
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted May 18, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

Disney's 1977 animated feature The Rescuers is as fine a piece of One-World Government propaganda you'll find on this side of an Anti-Globalization Rally, but don't let that pseudo-pithy observation keep this slightly cute if ultimately mediocre movie away from your young ones. Then again, as an animated feature film, The Rescuers cannot compete with Disney's top-tier or even second-tier titles: it lacks the emotional wallop, endearing characters, and memorable musical numbers from some of Disney's more renowned films.

It doesn't help that the film is a product of Disney's "Dark Period", a twenty-two era period that began after the release of Jungle Book and continued up to (but not including) The Little Mermaid in which Disney's animated output can be summed up in two words: Spoogeworthy. This span of time included some rather lackluster features, such as The Aristocats, Robin Hood, The Fox and the Hound, and The Black Cauldron. To be totally honest, it's not as if these movies were bad, or even mediocre. The worst one could say about most of them is that they were unmemorable and ultimately disposable. And this is coming from someone who genuinely liked The Aristocats!

So if The Rescuers is ultimately a product of its time, then what does it have going for it? A few good things, actually. The plotline is fairly solid and proactive, a welcome change from the rather episodic nature of The Aristocats and Robin Hood, the two animated features that preceded The Rescuers. To recap in a nutshell: young Penny, kidnapped by the evil Madame Medusa, tosses a message in a bottle containing her pleas to be rescued. The message is retrieved by a group of mice who operate out of the United Nations. Two mice, Bianca and Bernard, set out to rescue the poor girl. Hence the film's title.

The Rescuers also benefits from a host of great vocal talent. Bernard is voiced by the king of deadpan comedic genius, Bob Newhart, while the lovely Bianca's Hungarian lilt could only be provided by one Eva Gabor. Both of their characters are warm and seem fully dimensional, even if they both fall into the standard Disney heroic paradigm. There's even a recurring theme that even the smallest of people with the biggest of hearts and noblest of intentions can accomplish anything, a slightly mawkish but generally positive message that provides a good example for your impressionable young ones.

The film disappoints in its inability to present a compelling narrative and overall thrilling story out of its constituent elements. There is so much potential that is never actualized. Remember the ingenious "Twilight Bark" from 101 Dalmations or the inspired anthropomorphisms of Lady and the Tramp? The Rescuers aspires to reach those levels but quickly becomes mired in the realm of the conventional and mundane. And truth to be told, as a villain Madame Medusa is little more than a slightly warmed-over Cruella DeVille. The best Disney villains have always been fairly relatable to the audience as well as intricately tied to the fate of the main character. For instance, sure, Sleeping Beauty's Maleficient is one heck of a surly, sour-pussed evil fairy, but King Stefan still should have invited her to the party. And Snow White's Evil Queen was a solidly sexy middle-aged woman who found her reign of superficiality threatened by a young falsetto with an Erin Moran haircut. So what does Medusa want with Penny vis-à-vis her villainous motivations? Someone tiny enough to find a hidden diamond? *snore*…

I don't think The Rescuers is a bad movie, or even a disappointing one, but it is certainly an uninspired and unmemorable one. This is as close to McDisney as the House of Mouse ever achieved. The flat, unimaginative animation style doesn't really help either, and neither do the sappy, 70s-esque E-Z Listening ballads that permeate the film. For seventy-six odd minutes or so, The Rescuers will probably engage you on some superficial level, but like Occidentalized Chinese food, half-and-hour later it will be like you were never there.

The DVD

Video:

Horror of horrors! The opening Disney logo on this DVD looks so horrific that I thought I was in for the visual nightmare of my life! Thankfully, the rest of the film wasn't as massively ridden with debris, noise, and artifacts. The Rescuers is presented in an anamorphically enhanced 1.77:1 widescreen transfer. The results are generally acceptable but not without issues. There is a slight shakiness to the entire picture, as well as some speckling and other minor wear on the print. Edge enhancement was noticeable throughout the film. Colors are solid and rich, but the entire picture is slightly soft throughout and the picture looks occasionally murky. I would like to have seen a sharper, more detailed image, but unfortunately The Rescuers has two things going against it: 1) The film is a fairly minor title in Disney's animation library, and 2) As a product of Disney's "Dark Period" it is saddled with many of the limitations inherent in other animated films of the time (The Aristocats, Robin Hood, and even some of Jungle Book) in that it sports looser pencils and static backgrounds that like the fluidity of earlier (and later) films. I was not impressed with the video on The Aristocats, but there wasn't anything terribly wrong with it either. It's pleasing, it's satisfying, it gets the job done, but little else.

Audio:

The audio presentation has been remixed into Dolby Digital 5.1, and also includes 5.1 remixes of the French and Spanish language tracks. The result is satisfying if not overly memorable. Surrounds are put into effective use in highlighting the orchestral score as well as aggressively enhancing background and ambient noise. Dialog is well rendered and finely delivered. There is a very limited degree of separation in the front soundstage, with little directionality or spaciousness to the array.

The Extras

The DVD opens with several Sneak Peeks, including previews for The Lion King: Special Edition, Air Bud Spikes Back, Stitch! The Movie, Piglet's Big Movie, Jungle Book 2, and Sleeping Beauty: Special Edition. These previews are avoidable by quickly tapping the "Menu" button on your remote.

"The Ultimate Case" Game is a pointless exercise in futility in which you can join the Rescue Aid Society buy collecting hidden items through four different scenes. And what do you get when you win? Why, how about a jovial trip back to the Special Features menu. Wow.

Keeping with the mouse-themed nature of The Rescuers, a Disney animated short entitled Three Blind Musketeers has been included for your viewing pleasure. Running slightly over eight minutes, this 1936 "Silly Symphony" offers more verve, style, and imagination than seventy-six minutes of the main feature film.

Also included is Water Birds: A Walt Disney True Life Adventure, a thirty-minute episode of Disney's "True Life Adventure" series. The episode is in pretty spotty shape, which features an excessive amount of wear and noise. There's also an annoyingly condescending attitude to the episode as well. That having been said, if you enjoy these types of "nature reality" features you'll probably enjoy this extra.

Under The Hat Villains is a two minute, "One To Grow On"-styled information tidbit from the Toon Disney channel. It features a smarmy little puke named Beau who provides a brief rundown on the types of villains you might find in, oh say I don't know, a Disney animated movie? What a shock. Thankfully, Beau never wears out his welcome, as the feature ends rather quickly. Actually, one day I would enjoy seeing a documentary that analyzes and examines all of the major Disney villains. Just keep Beau and his twerpy Billy Idol-wannabe haircut out of it.

The Rescuers Scrapbook contains fifteen pages of artwork detailing Visual Development, Character Development, storyboards, photographs, and other memorabilia collected during the creation of The Rescuers. Finally, if you ever wanted to sound like Karen Carpenter on her worst day, you are cordially invited to participate in the Someone's Waiting For You Sing-Along Song, a karaoke-styled hootenanny that will make you yearn for the days of Poco and The Little River Band.

Final Thoughts

The Rescuers won't go down as one of the paragons of Disney animation. I'd like to say that the film is an under-appreciated but well-worth-your-time little movie, but even that would be stretching veritas past its breaking point. The Rescuers is what it is: a slight but perfunctory exercise in children's entertainment that neither pushes any boundaries nor strives to become anything beyond the mundane. Its workmanlike delivery will please those with indiscriminate tastes in animation, and might even capture the attention of your impressionable young ones for a scant 78 minutes.

Disney's DVD release of the film is slightly disappointing in light of the mediocre audio and visual presentation. The extras are somewhat notable given the less-than-sterling reputation of the film. Fans of the movie will probably enjoy the content, but I find it far from value-adding. This disc is for fans and Disney completists only. Those of you who haven't seen the movie should perhaps give The Rescuers a rental before purchasing.

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