I’ve now watched the first 22 Disney Animation Studios films (not including the racist one that is hidden from history, at least on Disney+) and I’ve discovered that the franchise isn’t just one continuous success story of box-office smash hits, all renowned for their artistic mastery and exquisite storytelling. Ok, admittedly as someone who is a lifelong Disney cynic (or “Disneyphobe” if you will), and that is on a journey through their back catalogue, I’m unlikely to think that the series is consistently wonderful anyway, but it’s still surprising to discover that Wikipedia and most mainstream media group Disney Animated Studios cinematic releases into “golden era’s” and “periods of creative decline”…
The last film I watched was ‘The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh’, which, although fine for kids under ten, was hardly the most gripping of stories ever put on tape. Today I will review “The Rescuers”, who’s title hardly carries a ‘Cinderella’ or ‘The Lion King’ level of head-nodding recognition. Next, I will review ‘The Fox and the Hound’, which sounds like a right barrel of laughs. Then it’s ‘The Black Cauldron’. One question: What the fuck is ‘The Black Cauldron’?! No really. Never heard of it. Then we have ‘The Great Mouse Detective’ and ‘Oliver & Company’… Hmmm. So, seeing as those titles aren’t exactly household names either, no wonder Wikipedia has stated that we’re entering a “period of creative decline” then…
But let’s deal with one creative misstep at a time, and so onto ‘The Rescuers’. From my experiences so far, Disney films have always started with a VERY Disney song and some VERY Disney intro credits. It’s a sure-fire way to reassure other people that they are about to watch something very Disney, and a sure-fire way to warn me, that I’m about to watch something very Disney… But this time it doesn’t start with the credits and a god-awful tune! It jumps right into the first scene. I’m disconcerted by this. For most companies to justify changing that tried and tested formula of decades, it would mean that they’ve written one hell of an impactful opening sequence involving fascinating scenery, intrigue and/or characters so enigmatic that the viewer is sure to stick around for the remainder of the movie. For Disney it’s so we can be introduced to an old ship containing what appears to be two BDSM sex-slave alligators….
And then the intro credits start. I’m now hooked, what about you? 🙄
Maybe they decided it wise not to start the film with the opening credits, due to the fact the accompanying song is really rather bad. Even for them. It’s a reminder that we are now well into the 1970’s. It is also a reminder that for all the disco, rock, prog, funk and punk that made the decade special for musical innovation, it is also the decade that gave us this. And by “this” I mean a woman warbling over the top of some stoned dudes playing acoustic guitars and flutes. It’s the sort of whimsical folk music that sounds so dated because next to no-one has felt the urge to listen to it in the last forty years. And now the film’s opening credits have finally started, it appears that it doesn’t want to ever end. My god it’s long. And it repeats the line “who will rescue me?” many, many times. I’ll happily rescue her if she shuts the hell up.
Two days later and the opening credits draw to an end, and now the story can continue. Will we find out some backstory about our BDSM sex-slave alligators? I’m guessing no, seeing as the scene starts at the United Nations conference in New York (unless one of the delegates gets some interesting questions regarding his expenses later on). Obviously as this is Disney, we don’t find out the important, and no doubt significant happenings involving the people in the building. We find out what the mice are doing. It turns out they’re copying the humans and having a general assembly of rodents from across the globe. Which reminds me that I award a ⭐ for every time Disney does something that is so “predictably Disney”. And this is a doozy!
⭐ One star for the spectacular racial stereotyping of the nationalities of the different mice.
⭐ Another star for the mice frolicking and engaging in slapstick visual comedy, in that way in which Disney, bless them, have cornered the market…
As has been the case in a few of the Disney films since ‘101 Dalmatians’, I’m really not keen on the animation. Although probably more skilfully drawn, it lacks the bright warmth of the simple bold drawing that other companies and even Disney themselves often incorporate. With this sort of animation, I find I’m always aware that I’m watching drawn characters in drawn settings as the pencil outlines seem to dominate the visuals. It’s like someone in Disney’s animation department was desperate to make sure the viewer never forgets how hard they had to work in developing the end product you see in front of you…
Anyway, these mice are part of the International Rescue Aid Society. They have received a message in a bottle about a girl in trouble. And that they need to save her. Then they start singing. This is exactly why mice aren’t usually deployed in high-risk rescue missions. You have a young girl in peril and rather than rushing off to sort shit out, or better yet inform the authorities, they have a good old song and dance! Get you shit together mice. Eventually, they send the formidable sounding duo of Mr Bernard and Miss Bianca to solve the case… Sleep easy little girl.
I can’t properly recall what happens next but in my notes, I wrote “Mr Bernard and Miss Bianca piss off a lion. Then we go to an orphanage because it’s Disney”. I’m sure that sums things up fairly accurately. The mice are in said orphanage. They speak to an old cat. We know he’s old because he has a moustache and glasses, as all old cats do… I’m zoning out throughout all of this because I’m incredibly bored. He tells them about a girl in the orphanage that went missing. Apparently, in the flashback we see from the cat’s memory (and why would we question the recollections of a potentially senile feline?), the missing girl’s name is Penny. She really wanted to be adopted but was ignored on adoption day. Typical happy fucking Disney. Not for the first time my mood is substantially lower now that it was before the film began… Interesting, Penny’s toy bear looks an awful lot like Winnie the Pooh, who just happens to be the star of Disney’s other release from the same year. That’s subliminal advertising for you right there. I wonder if Winnie the Pooh is carrying around a ‘Penny the Orphan’ doll and I didn’t spot it? Anyway, some bitch from a pawn shop once tried to lure her away in a car, so she’s a suspect.
Now we go to the pawn shop, which will indeed almost certainly, contain the antagonist who took the girl. I know this will be the case because of the sinister music. You never get sinister music before a happy scene of frolicking baby rabbits. Unless one gets shot perhaps (although knowing Disney it would probably be one of the parents who snuffs it). But happily, inside the shop there are no dead animals, but there is a woman. It’s a white trash Cruella De Vil. The mannerisms are the same, facial expressions are the same. It’s as though they were sisters separated at birth, one was raised by English gentry in a manor house and the other in a trailer somewhere in Louisiana. The writers have clearly just made this woman a budget-Cruella here as the original one was regarded as a successful antagonist. It feels lazy. After yelling at someone on a phone, she packs her bags and is off on a trip to her boat on the Bayou. Where she will probably do something mean and original, like skinning 99 kittens maybe. The two mice sneak into her car though, so they can keep track of her… until they are flung out by her terrible driving. Which means they need a new way to complete their journey.
This leads us to what is most likely the longest ‘two mice planning their travel arrangements, then travelling in a sardine tin on an albatross’s back’ scene in the history of film. I haven’t researched it to confirm if it’s definitely the longest, but I’m confident that the scenes multi-day runtime will easily put it in contention. I didn’t time it either by the way, but that’s how long it felt.
⭐ I’m giving Disney another star here for the predictably horrible music that accompanies their journey. I hate the soundtrack for this film more than anything I’ve watched since I heard Snow White sing. And that was in the first film…
Now we switch scenes to find budget-Cruella along with what turns out to be her sex-slave alligators. She has a slave / servant / partner / bitch (not sure which) called Snoops. They are after a diamond but need someone small, like a young orphan for example, to retrieve it for them as they are too big to fit into the cave type thing where it’s hidden. This is a REALLY stupid story. Why not just use explosives or machinery to retrieve it? For plot purposes, they decide to use Penny instead.
Meanwhile, the mice have fallen out of their sardine-tin-albatross plane and have ended up in depths of the Bayou. There’s lots of animals, such as rats and a dragonfly and more utterly horrific music. I’m done with this film. I haven’t found myself invested in a single character so far. None of them have any depth whatsoever. There’s no reason to care about the mice other than the fact that they’re trying to save the orphan. Not only that, but there’s no light in this film! Usually when Disney have a dark storyline, there’s always a lot of fun things to offset it. But here, the slapstick feels forced and dull and there’s no humour.
Budget-Cruella and Snoops are now making Penny retrieve the diamond. Clearly concerned that while kidnapping an orphan to retrieve a diamond is indeed bad, it’s still not a heinous as skinning puppies. So, they try to add further shade by having her tell Penny things like “no-one would ever adopt you”. At one point after Penny retrieves the diamond, budget-Cruella won’t give her teddy back to her, for literally no reason whatsoever. It all feels forced.
With the diamond now in budget-Cruella’s hands, she turns on her slave / servant / partner / bitch (still not sure which) and tries to escape with said diamond and inexplicably, Penny’s teddy (seriously, why? What’s the point?). But yeay, here are the mice and some of the other random animals to sort shit out (I should point out that have been a few scenes involving these animals that I’ve completely skipped over. That is because most of them involved more horrible music which has caused me to repress them. It’s not as though these scenes contained anything of importance anyway).
⭐ Typical Disney high drama chase scene.
To cut a LONG story short, the teddy is retrieved, the animals save the day, they get the diamond back, and budget-Cruella is left angry, bounty-less, and for good measure her BDSM sex-slave alligators turn on her and try to eat her. There’s no explanation why her faithful sex-pets turn on her. Perhaps diamond theft is a line crossed in an alligator’s eyes. Penny gets adopted and Bernard and Miss Bianca get together. I get the feeling that the writers were intending this eventual mouse coupling to be a grand payoff that everyone was hoping for all along. Maybe some people were. I wasn’t. I know there was a couple of moments of foreshadowing some mutual attraction between the two during the film, but the way I see it, is that they’re mice. A mouse will hump its own sibling if you give it a couple of days, so the fact that two mice can spend as long together as these two have, and not have produced three litters already makes me think that they can’t be that into each other… So, when they get together at the end, I didn’t really care.
The other reason I didn’t care about the coupling of Bernard and Bianca is the same reason that stopped me caring about anything else in this movie. I wasn’t remotely invested. As protagonists, Bernard and Bianca were simply nice. Lots of characters are nice. There was nothing memorable about them. There was nothing to REALLY make me care about them. We had no backstory, no character development…. just nothing! Budget-Cruella was a rubbish antagonist. She wants a diamond and spends her time with BDSM sex-slave alligators and her bitch (because let’s face it, he was her bitch, nothing more, nothing less. She has BDSM sex-slave alligators so you can bet she’s the type to have a bitch), but other than that she’s painfully two-dimensional. I obviously wanted Penny to be rescued and be adopted by a nice family, because I’m not a sociopath, but the lack of personality and screen time afforded to the orphan devalued what should have been a more of a real feelgood moment.
As is probably obvious by now, I didn’t like the film. Disliking a film is nothing new to me, but this time rather than putting it down to my own personal taste, I really thought the story and characters were lazily handled. Furthermore, and the thing that really pisses me off here, is that Disney have forty years of filmmaking under their belt at this point, so they really should be at the stage where they can produce full length features of the quality that I’m assured their modern films possess. I know Walt Disney dying probably threw a spanner in the works with regards to their creative direction, but by all accounts, Walt never wanted this film to be made anyway, so the creative team have no one to blame but themselves.
The film ends with Bernard and Bianca setting off on another adventure, which tees up a sequel. Of all the films they could tee up a sequel, they went with this one first?! Seriously?! Will the characters develop some personality next time? I suppose it’s still better than the first sequel being “Bambi II: Now We Target His Wife and Kids”. Or Fun and Fancy Free II: Exponentially Funner and a Fuck-ton Fancier Freeish. Or Gloria Estafantasia: Animated stories set to late 80’s commercial pop music.
So, I’m not being a completely cynical bastard (despite the fact this film has made me one), I will finish on a positive: the film has a cute dragonfly. It’s a reassuring fact that despite how lazy and shit everything else around it gets, Disney knows how to draw adorable animals. And even more positively, on occasion they don’t injure them, make them cry or kill their family.
Disney Predictability: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (I gave a fifth star for them blatantly ripping off Cruella…
I realised about 10 minutes into this film that I don’t think I have ever actually seen it. If I did, I can see why I don’t remember it though. Ben’s right. It’s awful and for all the reasons he’s stated above. Very little character backstory, very little character development and a very basic plot line. I think it may have actually been me that mentioned how dark and unrelenting the film is. Sorry to those of you that like this film, but I agree with Wikipedia. It’s definitely Disney’s period of creative decline and I’m struggling to think of a film I’m having fond memories of until The Little Mermaid, at this point.
Still, must continue for the sake of this ‘experiment’. The Fox and The Hound next. Again, don’t think I’ve seen it. I wonder why my parents never bought me or my brother any of these films when we were children? Probably because they knew they were shit and wanted us to have positive associations with Disney (which we both still do, so good job Mum and Dad!).
I’m really not looking forward to The Fox and The Hound. I’m familiar with the story and as someone who is a ‘hunting-hating vegetarian’, it’s filling me with a sense of dread. I could be wrong. We’ll have to find out, won’t we.
As for The Rescuers…