Disney invested plenty of time and money in making The Rescuers, but the effort paid off with one of the studio’s biggest hits of the 70’s. Based very loosely on two Margery Sharp novels, The Rescuers and Miss Bianca, the movie delved into darker territory than many Disney cartoons (you thought Devil’s Bayou was a resort town?), lightening up the mood with a comic turn from Jim Jordan (radio’s Fibber McGee) as a bumbling albatross pilot named Orville.
The story concerns a message in a bottle from human orphan girl Penny. The poor waif has been kidnapped by flame-haired Madame Medusa and her pair of scary alligators. The cruel Medusa is using the child to find a large diamond hidden in an underground cave (Medusa herself being too large to fit in the opening).
The girl’s plea for help comes to the attention of the Rescue Aid Society, a multinational coalition of mice dedicated to helping those in need. This particular case falls into the paws of the elegant Hungarian Miss Bianca (voiced by Eva Gabor) and the nervous American Bernard (voice of Bob Newhart). The two charter a flight with Orville to the Devil’s Bayou, the swampy home of Madame Medusa.
Arriving in bayou country, the Rescuers secure the assistance of a handful of local critters, including a turtle, a rabbit and a dragonfly who doubles as an outboard motor. The animals infiltrate Medusa’s abandoned steamboat hideout and find Penny, but the menace of Medusa and the alligators makes the rescue more dangerous than the mice had hoped.
In addition to Gabor, Newhart and Jordan, the vocal ensemble included the talents of Geraldine Page, Joe Flynn and George “Goober Pyle” Lindsey, among others. The film was also aided by Artie Butler and Sammy Fain’s song score, including the Oscar-nominated “Someone’s Waiting for You.” As proof of the film’s appeal, The Rescuers holds the distinction of being the first Disney animated feature to spawn a theatrical sequel, 1990’s The Rescuers Down Under.