All it takes is two little mice to save the day but Disney's 1977 animated film, The Rescuers, definitely brings inadequate resources to bear. A very uneven film, it adapts the charming books of Margery Sharp into something with far less complex characters and adventure with less substantial stakes. Certain characters are brilliantly animated but again hamstrung by the ugly xerox process, now combined with lower quality backgrounds. On top of this, the film has some of the worst songs of the Disney canon. But the performances by Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor are good.
The two mice, Bernard (Newhart) and Bianca (Gabor), are much more vibrantly rendered in Sharp's prose. Both characters are English in the book and Sharp does a brilliant job contrasting Bianca's pampered, upper class upbringing and Bernard's working class background without making either seem like caricatures. Bianca is very sweet, using her natural and cultivated grace to navigate a new, grimier world of crooks and sailors. The film's Bianca is never given much nuance but Eva Gabor's efforts are used to better effect than they were for her character in The Aristocats. The Rescuers plot about rescuing a kidnapped girl at least has more suspense than the earlier film.
A few of the animators who'd worked for the studio from the beginning were still at Disney when The Rescuers was being made and it shows. In particular, the animation for Madame Medusa (Geraldine Page) and Orville, the albatross (Jim Jordan) is amazing.
The film's villain, Medusa is a tour de force from animator Milt Kahl whose last film this was for the studio. With drooping breasts and back fat filling a cocktail dress out like a burlap sack, every line is squeezed for all it's worth as she waves her lanky arms and seems to bite at every word with sharp teeth.
The albatross, meanwhile, was the brainchild of Ollie Johnston who had the terrific idea of borrowing the movements from the real life, graceless take-offs and landings of albatrosses. Paired with the voice of comedic actor Jim Jordan in his final role, Orville's a fantastic little creation. One of my favourite bits of dialogue is when he flies through a red light intersection.
Bernard complains but Bianca chides her companion, "I do it all the time." The understated absurdity of Bernard's line is met with the equally understated absurdity of Bianca's response and both performers play it beautifully straight.
Not all of the film's backgrounds are bad but most of them are. There also seems to have been some extraordinary difficulty at making the animation cells blend smoothly with the backgrounds. It often looks like bad blue screen. This looks especially bad with recycled cells from old movies, including a notoriously weird cameo from Bambi and his mother.
The songs are even worse, sounding like generic, 1970's love themes. The film's slightly gloomy mood is nice and the characters are often charming or captivating. But all together, this is one of the studio's weakest efforts.
The Rescuers is available on Disney+.