Starring (voices): Bob Newhart, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Geraldine Page, Michelle Stacy, Joe Flynn
When I watched “The Rescuers” tonight, one movie came to mind: “The Secret of NIMH.” While this film was made before Don Bluth formed his own production company, he was the directing animator on this 1977 feature. Clearly, he took something from it or vice versa, because this and many of his other films possess a similar feel. It’s not as complex as his other mice-centered film, but perhaps that’s for the best (while it fit the story, “NIMH’s” subtext about animal testing was as horrifying as it was unfair). “The Rescuers” is as light as they come, but it’s the whole package: action, adventure, laughter and a little romance.
The Rescue Aid Society is made up of mice from around the world who gather together to help those in need. One day, they find a bottle containing a cry for help from a girl named Penny. The beautiful Hungarian representative, Miss Bianca (Gabor), chooses the superstitious (he gets nervous about anything related to the number 13) but privately enthusiastic janitor Bernard (Newhart) to help her save Penny. Penny is an orphan being held hostage by a maniacal pawn broker named Medusa (Page) and her pudgy assistant, Mr. Snoops (Flynn), and it’s up to Bernard and Miss Bianca to rescue her from their clutches.
“The Rescuers” isn’t usually listed among Disney’s animated classics (those honors go to the overrated “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” “The Lion King,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” among others), but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. There’s a lot to like about this movie, from its humor (the scene with the organ that turns into a gunfight) to its genuine thrills (the scene in the cave). It may be entirely family friendly, but both aspects are very effective.
Part of the reason is the fact that the voice actors are well cast. Bob Newhart brings the right mix of enthusiasm and anxiety to the role; he makes Bernard into a heroic yet vulnerable lead. Zsa Zsa Gabor’s Miss Bianca wins hands down in the bravery department; to her, this is a fun adventure. The gender switch adds an element of freshness to an already strong production. Broadway legend Geraldine Page, widely regarded as one of the best American actresses, makes Medusa into a formidable villain. She’s over-the-top in the same way that, say, Cruella de Vil is, but she’s also easy to dislike since she abuses just about everyone except her precious alligators, Rufus and Nero. And Michelle Stacy is simply adorable as Penny. It’s impossible not to get on her side, especially considering the hell that she’s living in. All she wants is a mom and a dad, but instead she’s been kidnapped and is stuck with Medusa and Mr. Snoops (at one point, Medusa cruelly asks her who in the right mind would adopt her…it cuts deep).
If there’s a nitpick, it’s a small one. And that’s that the romance between Bernard and Miss Bianca is a little undercooked. Some stronger dialogue and a few more minutes of screen time could have really allowed it to take off. But that’s what sequels are for, right?