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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

THE RESCUERS (1977)

Credit for kickstarting the ongoing revival in feature-animation (Disney & otherwise) rightly goes to THE LITTLE MERMAID/’89. (And more specifically, to its showstopping ‘Under The Sea’ production ‘numbo.’) But before that breakthrough was possible, Disney had to shake off the doldrums of a trio of unmemorable titles released after 101 DALMATIANS/’61 lifted a shaken studio from the go-for-broke expense of SLEEPING BEAUTY/’59.* This film, the only title of the period to earn a theatrical sequel, was the unsung hit that let the company turn the page. Modest, but endearing, it plays with melancholy air & hushed tone, following a pair of mice (members of a Rescuer Society @ the U.N.) assigned to find a kidnapped orphan girl. Traveling south via passenger albatross, they discover she’s being held to help in a treasure hunt for the world’s largest diamond. With few of the usual forced gags and a textured, painterly look (a new refinement in tracing methods reduced the heavy outlines in use since the late-‘50s), the film comes loaded with memorable characters (a manic dragonfly, a couple of scary funny ‘gators, Geraldine Page’s off-kilter villain, and the soft-spoken brave little orphan kid), the storyline flows calm but steady. Even the background score shows some improvement with longtime ‘house composer’ George Bruns’ Pavlovian response music cues replaced by competent craftsman Artie Butler. (Still a ways to go on this front, though.) The film’s an anti-frenetic charmer.

DOUBLE-BILL: *The four Disney animated features released between DALMATIANS and RESCUERS were SWORD AND THE STONE/’63; JUNGLE BOOK/’67; ARISTOCATS/’70 and ROBIN HOOD/’73. Of the four, only JUNGLE BOOK rates, but maybe it’s time for a reevaluation.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Successful beyond anyone’s expectations, RESCUERS was wildly popular in Japan where it now looks, well, not exactly like a Ghibli Studio anime, but as close as Disney came to that style.

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