Picks and Pans Review: The Rescuers

updated 04/03/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/03/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Bob Newhart, Eva Gabor

While it has never been the most ballyhooed of Disney animated films—even at its first release in 1977—this tale ranks among the liveliest, funniest and certainly least sentimental of the studio's productions for children. A lot of this has to do with Newhart and Gabor, whose voices speak for the story's two hero mice, Bernard and Bianca. Newhart hits just the right tone of reluctant gallantry for Bernard, a rodent janitor, and Gabor's Hungarian blue blood Bianca is affectionate-she falls tail over whiskers for Bernard—without getting icky. Geraldine Page, as the wicked Medusa's voice, seems on target too. The contributions of the film's animators are equally important. (As is typical for Disney films, this was a group project; Ollie Johnston, Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas and Don Bluth are cited as "directing animators.") Watch Bernard's face as he's thinking, for instance. His eyes dart, his nose twitches, his whiskers move, he nervously licks his lips. By comparison with most modern, barebones animation, this is a miraculously complex image. By any standards, it makes the character much more involving.

The story has Bernard and Bianca setting off from New York City for someplace called the Devil's Bayou, where Medusa has kidnapped a little orphan girl, Penny. Guarded by two ruthlessly efficient crocodiles, Brutus and Nero, Penny is forced to spend her time searching for a huge diamond in an old pirate's cave that's too small for a grown-up to enter. Medusa covets the gem, which gets tossed around a lot before the mice spring Penny. Then they head back to New York to report their triumph to the Rescue Aid Society, a bunch of do-gooder mice inspired by the fable about the mouse taking the thorn out of the lion's paw. There may be a few lessons in here somewhere about courage, selflessness and determination. Primarily, though, this is just 77 minutes of—dare it be said—good, clean fun. (G)

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