R-E-S-C-U-E, Rescue Aid Society

Hands held high/Touch the sky./ You mean everything to me.

My experience with The Rescuers (1977) happened a little backwards. I grew up with the audiotape (you know, the ones where they use clips from the film and narrate the story), but I was older before I actually saw the movie. So when I watch the movie, there are certain parts that are extremely familiar in sound, but not as much the picture. It’s a weird experience.

One of the most notable features of The Rescuers is like that of most of the Disney films from this era: the cast. It has some very notable actors in general coupled with the prolific Disney staples (except Phil Harris).

Madame Medusa, our villain. We must discuss this woman. In shape, she quotes Cruella: she has the car, mimics the clothes, and much of the body style. She’s also an Ursula precursor–in one scene, she takes off her makeup and talks to the captive Penny (a reversal of Ursula putting on her makeup and talking to the captivated Ariel), and her strut while walking away from the camera–well, we’ll see that again when The Little Mermaid comes out a few years later.  Watching her now, I was very amused by how she resembles Yzma (The Emperor’s New Groove, 2000), especially with those huge, creepy eyes.  Medusa is often forgotten in the cast of Disney villains, but the animators clearly didn’t forget her quirks.

Probably more iconic than we give her credit for ...

I can’t forget her crazy voice inflections. Voiced by Geraldine Page (who, appropriately enough, has played Alma in Tennessee Williams’ Summer in Smoke), her pitch changes and that insane, high-pitched “lulling”-that-isn’t are pretty unforgettable, and I have to give her serious credit for it. The woman is just creepy.

While we’re talking about her, let’s talk about her stooge–Snoops, who is obviously modeled after the Three Stooges. Joe Flynn voiced Snoops in his final role, but never saw The Rescuers, or his second to last film, The Strongest Man in the World, released. He died at the age of 49 in 1974.

Yup ... he's a stooge.

So, let’s talk a bit more about our voice talent.

For our protagonists, Bernard and Bianca, the Disney crew brought in some heavy hitters: Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor. Newhart’s tendency to stutter fits perfectly with Bernard’s timidity. It’s his job to be as worried and insecure as Miss Bianca is dedicated to business. In proper Gabor fashion, she is simply going to do what needs to be done, and why would anyone not go along with her? Most people are inclined to agree with her, being quite the looker mouse … well, let’s just say she’s Eva Gabor. Who better to play the kind, goodly, yet glamorous heroine than the “good” Gabor? (Disney liked Eva Gabor–they had her play Duchess in The Aristocats, too.) The pair of them suited one another so well, Disney gave them a sequel (Rescuers Down Under–to be reviewed later).

And what about the “swamp folk?” They’re a motley bunch of Disney regulars. Jeanette Nolan (of  much TV fame) plays Ellie May, but you may also know her as Widow Tweed in The Fox and the Hound, and Pat Buttram is back, once again, playing the ever-intoxicated Luke. You’ll also probably recognize George Lindsey in the swamp riot–he played Trigger in Robin Hood. Gramps (the turtle) is an interesting story: He is played by Larry Clemmons, who didn’t do much voice acting, but he was a writer for much of the Disney films of this era, and we have him to thank for many major classics. Evinrude comes to life courtesy of James MacDonald (Disney couldn’t have done their sounds without him); his special vocal talents created bees for Winnie the Pooh and other odd characters, but you may know him best as Chip. I could go on …

But let’s not forget Rufus the cat, played by John McIntire. Mostly, he did Westerns, but we’ll see him again in The Fox and the Hound as the grouchy old badger.  Also interesting: he played Sheriff Al Chambers in Psycho--so we’ll call him versatile.

Perhaps my biggest surprise, though, when looking at the voice talent from this film came in the form of the Rescue Aid Society chairman: Bernard Fox. We’ve seen him much more recently as Col. Archibald Gracie in Titanic (yes, that one), and more amusingly as Winston in The Mummy (the Brendan Fraser one, not the classics, guys). Thinking about it now, the voice fits together for me, but I never would have guessed it on my own. I always knew Winston sounded eerily familiar. It was all that listening to an audiotape …

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