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MOVIE REVIEW : 'The Rescuers' Retains Appeal

March 16, 1989|CHARLES SOLOMON

Twelve years after its initial release, "The Rescuers" (citywide) remains the most entertaining animated feature made at the Disney studio since the death of Walt Disney in 1966. The upbeat story, appealing characters and polished animation have lost none of their appeal.

Based on Marjorie Sharp's "Miss Bianca" books, "The Rescuers" tells a story that could be done only in animation. Bernard and Bianca, two resourceful mice from the Rescue Aid Society, rescue Penny, a spunky orphan girl, from the clutches of the lowlife jewel thieves, Mme. Medusa and Mr. Snoops.

The first major collaboration between two generations of Disney artists, the film combines the last animation by three of the celebrated "Nine Old Men" (Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and Milt Kahl) with the first important work by some of the top animators of the baby-boom generation, including Don Bluth, Glen Keane, John Pomeroy, Dorse Lanpher and Dale Baer.

Although famous actors supplied the voices for the film, the artists did not allow the stars' personalities to dominate the characters, as they had in "The Aristocats" and "Robin Hood." Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor deftly underplay as Bernard and Bianca: Their performances blend with the nuances in the animation to create complex, believable characters. Bianca appears dainty and self-assured, yet vulnerable, while the hesitant Bernard, who gradually discovers his inner resources, is cautious but not passive. In contrast, Geraldine Page offers a wonderfully overstated reading of the fractious Mme. Medusa that plays off the character's extravagant gestures.

"The Rescuers" offers some valuable lessons for the artists at the Disney and Sullivan/Bluth studios who made "Oliver and Company" and "The Land Before Time." Unlike "Oliver," the film doesn't pull its emotional punches, and some of the scenes with Penny are genuinely touching. Conversely, the Bluth artists might see that it's not necessary to lay on the sentiment with a trowel to make an audience sympathize with an animated character.

One of the most popular Disney animated features (it outdrew "Star Wars" in France and Germany during its initial release), "The Rescuers" offers delightful family viewing at time when there are virtually no G-rated films in the theaters.

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