The Rescuers

If you take it literally, the story of Noah's ark is pretty fantastic, but the most unbelievable element is not the entire world flooding, nor is the part where all of humanity descends from the same nuclear family. No, the most far fetched part is the part where all of the world's animals get in one place and do the same thing for over a month. There are some animals that can cohabitate politely, but for the most part animals like to keep to their own kind and away from their predators. Having all of them make nice in a boat hull for forty days and nights is a patently insane idea.

The idea that animals are all capable of acting in uniform ways pops up a lot in kids movies, and it never quite makes sense to me. Take for example the Rescuers. The film opens up with a young orphan named Penny putting a cry for help into a bottle and then tossing it into the water. The bottle is found by some mice who decide to try to help her. Now, I don't know who Penny imagined would come to her rescue, but it probably wasn't a pair of mice - they seem like they would be pretty ineffective saviors, since they can't defeat house cats, much less the malevolent human villains that she's facing. Also, the reason why she's stuck with Medusa, her evil adoptive mother, is because she needs food and shelter, so being rescued by creatures that eat garbage and sleep in the walls of any old shanty they come across seems weird. But fine; I'm willing to allow that these mice are going to ride in on a white horse and save her if that's the premise of the story.

What I can't buy is that every other animal in the world also wants to help these mice out in their quest to save an orphan girl. The Rescuers meet Penny's cat, who steers them towards her new location; they meet an albatross who flies them from New York City to the swamp where she's been taken; they get piloted around the swamp in a boat powered by a dragonfly. Why in the hell would all those animals want to help out? First of all, cats eat mice so how does that team up work? Second of all, birds don't give two shits about children! Birds are the worst. Finally, insects have killed more human beings than any other animal! (Although to be fair, it's mostly mosquitoes transmitting diseases like malaria, but still - dragonflies aren't likely to be bending over backwards to help humans any time soon.)

Actually, there are some bad animals in the Rescuers - Medusa owns two sinister crocodiles. Although to be honest with you they don't act very crocodile-y; these two specimens are very active for creatures that are generally lethargic. Her hench-beasts have real hustle, lunging and grasping at Penny with real hunger - but without ever biting her. My suspicion is that in addition to being very well trained they are also possibly on uppers. That would explain their frenetic pace AND their lowered appetite.

The Rescuers is obviously not trying to be realistic, so you could say that nitpicking it is unfair. I'm sympathetic to that; the film has a gentleness to it that makes being sarcastic towards it feel rude. That said, I still think that the best anthropomorphic stories are ones where the animals maintain some of their animal qualities even as they gain some human traits. I remember really loving the Redwall books when I was a kid, and part of their charm was that each character had specific traits that were determined by it's species. In contrast, the only difference between the animals here and a generic human is that some of the Rescuers can fly, and in theory, the Rescuers with fur are cuter than a less hairy human equivalent. That interchangeability is a bit of a letdown - the point of doing an animal fable is to make use of the properties that animals have that humans don't, and the Rescuers doesn't make nearly enough use of that strength.

One of the subtle effects of a film like The Rescuers or a fable like Noah's ark is to suggest that all of the animals are beneath us, ready to do our bidding; all we have to do is send a message in a bottle and the mice will come and save us. Even if I disagree with the idea that the animal kingdom is completely under our dominion, I at least understand the point of writing that into a religious story, since one of religion's main jobs is to assign us some responsibilities and absolve us of others. With the Rescuers, however, it's slightly more dubious - it feels less like a disguised moral assumption and more like narrative laziness. They wanted to make a story about cute animals, but they didn't want to bother creating animal characters when they could put animal clothes on barely disguised humans. The ultimate effect is the same - it still encourages kids to think of every non-human creature as one undifferentiated mass - but it's far less compelling as a fairy tale for it's lack of imagination. Maybe they should have put this half-written script in a bottle and tossed it in the ocean - maybe an eager owl would have come along and rescued this movie from being so half-assed.

But I doubt it, because birds are the worst.

Winner: The Cat

The Rescuers on IMDB