G, despite the fact that my wife finds this movie to be terrifying. It does get pretty scary at times. I know that a lot of movies that are G involve child endangerment, but rarely does a movie blatantly endanger a child practically as its end goal. The villain is a more terrifying version of Cruella de Vil, which is pretty darned intense. Lots of people find the crocodiles pretty scary. Also, apparently laughing at alcoholics was a thing. My kids handled it very well. My wife was more traumatized than they were. G.
DIRECTORS: John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman, and Art Stevens
My family movie nights are the deep cut ones. I don't want to watch the Disney movie that I've watched a billion times since having kids. Yeah, there are some Disney classics that I've never gotten around to, but I also wanted to celebrate the kinda crappy years of Disney. These movies are the ones I love, almost entirely because I grew up with them. I'm basically dating myself for my kids because I don't want these movies to be forgotten. Spoiler alert: My next pick is The Love Bug, so I just really want to establish what pond I'm pulling from.
I tease my wife for being scared of this movie, but I think that I was a little scared of this movie growing up too. The huge difference between my wife and I is that I love to be a little scared. There was something kind of forbidden about movies like The Rescuers and The Great Mouse Detective. It felt like I was allowed to see something taboo. It was wholesome, but it wasn't that wholesome. I think it is because we have, as animated as she is, a villain that is kind of grounded in her ambitions. There's no pretense or larger-than-life master plan for Medusa. Sure, it's absurd that there's a pirate treasure. But Medusa's big plan is to get a diamond that is too small for her tiny body to fit in. I'm about to argue something absurd, so please understand that I'm psyching myself up for it, but there's something oddly human about it. The pirate stuff and the mice and everything is window dressing for potentially a problem that the world actually has. (Oh man, I'm reading this and even I'm rolling my eyes.) The Rescuers, despite being kind of an absurd work of fiction for children, is possibly the most haunting because of the way it comments on the disenfranchised.
Penny is an orphan. Yeah, making the orphan the victim is nothing new. But there's this background commentary happening about how Penny likely isn't going to be adopted. I don't know the actual stats on this, so again, be patient. She is a product of a system that has failed her. Because this system is overtaxed, she falls into the hands of people who don't actually care for her. I'm in the camp that it is actually REALLY hard to adopt someone. But the reason that the adoption process is so expensive and so hard to follow through on is because of a history of people abusing the system. Society has been taught that people are basically good and that those people who adopt are modern day saints. I do have to believe that the majority of people who adopt children are wonderful human beings. I have to believe that or else I wouldn't sleep at night. But clearly, the system has been abused enough that these rules are in place to protect children. Penny is part of that silent minority of children who are taken and used to cheat the system. With Medusa and the diamond, that's rich storytelling that won't leave people depressed. But basically, Penny becomes a form of child labor. It is toxic to her health and she never really knows the true love of a family. It's not that this evil Disney plan has the potential to bring about sadness and victimhood; it's that Penny is already a victim and the movie is trying to undo a wrong.
That's what makes Penny so heartbreaking. There's a history behind her character that is never really said, but it is clear from the scenes in the present. We get moments and hints about her "normal" and her "normal" is pretty depressing. Bernard and Bianca's intervention doesn't actually promise her happiness. What it does is give her an opportunity to return to managable. Disney gave Penny a happy ending because this movie oh-so-desperately needs a happy ending, considering how bleak the entire movie is. But really, the goal of these mice is to stop her from dying in a hole. The Rescue Aid Society is borderline a charity that is meant to stop kids from child labor. I started this entire argument by saying the pirate treasure was a bit far-fetched, considering how grounded the actual message is. Um, this is basically a commentary on conflict diamonds and how child labor is used to get these diamonds. Whether that was a conscious choice or not, it really doesn't matter. These two adorable mice offer a tale of hope --possibly false hope --to a world where children are actually exploited. I don't actually know if children often are the direct victims of a Disney villain. I'm talking about children children, not teenagers. If it were teenagers, hoo boy.
Perhaps using Bernard as the unlikely hero doesn't just meet the requirements for good storytelling. After all, most of us have been bred with the DNA of The Little Engine that Could in our moral code. The underdog makes a far more compelling hero than the confident Mary Sue. We get dynamic character change through characters like Bernard. He starts off as a janitor and ends up the hero of the story? Cool. We all like that. But if The Rescuers is an allegory for charity and child labor, Bernard and Bianca kind of make ideal elements to support that metaphor. Bianca, a representative of the Rescue Aid Society, has devoted her entire life to helping the helpless. She is small, yet confident. She has the resources to at least begin the search for these people who need help. By herself, she can do very little. She gets her hands dirty and does her best, but she needs to be pointed in the right direction. Bernard is the avatar for the audience. Watching a PSA, we tend to think that we're not doing much to help others through our actions. (Geez, I'm getting preachy in this breakdown.) But Bernard's willingness to try new things is what ultimately leads Penny to safety. He lacks experience and confidence. It is the fear that our actions really mean anything that cripples Bernard to begin with. Bernard is a good mouse from the beginning of the story, but he is also in that position to rely on other people to do the heavy lifting. But Bernard and Bianca form a symbiotic relationship that end up being exactly what is needed in this scenario. Bianca can have all the resources possible, but it's the help from the little guy that gets the story moving.
Taking all the analytical stuff out, The Rescuers weirdly holds up. I thought this was going to simply be a nostalgia trip. Yeah, I don't love that alcohol plays such a huge part in the movie, but it is adorable and scary at the same time. This was a super fun revisit. I hear The Rescuers Down Under has practically no value, but we'll see if I ever get to that.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.