The Animated Films of Don Bluth|
by John Cawley
Walt Disney Productions' THE RESCUERS debuted in 1976 and became one of the most successful animated features to come out of the Disney studio. It was met with almost unanimous critical praise. At the box office it became the highest grossing animated feature on first issue; a record it would hold until 1983 (when Don's AN AMERICAN TAIL broke the record).
The story was based on a series of books by Margery Sharpe about a society of mice that rescued humans and animals in trouble. The Disney film took elements from the second book (**Miss Bianca**) about a young girl being held captive by an elderly woman and her mechanical servants. The feature had Miss Bianca team with Bernard to save a young girl (Penny) who had been abducted, by the evil Medusa, to an eerie sunken riverboat guarded by two crocodiles.
Don's work was as an Animation Director, the only member of the "new nine old men" given such status on the film. The other Animation Directors were from the original pool, Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas and Milt Kahl. In this position he was more involved with developing the animated sequences. One of his sections was the Zoo sequence. It took place as Bernard and Bianca walked in the rain and had to decide whether to walk through the zoo or around it.
THE RESCUERS showed some aspects frequented in later Bluth efforts. The gloomy atmosphere of the swamp and the dark caverns showcase the darker side of humanity that Don frequently presents. This is similar to most classic, Gothic fairy tales that are host to frightening witches, mysterious castles and gruesome monsters.
As stated, this film was enormously popular with the critics and seemed to signal the beginning of a new "golden age" of animation at Disney. Though a lot of publicity went to the remaining Nine Old Men (especially Milt Kahl's work on Medussa), a fair share went to the new talent pool, though none were really mentioned by name.
Daily Variety praised the film as "among the cream of the Disney animated classics." Later it mentioned, "The blending of old and new talent is probably responsible for the film's unique combination of freshness and technical mastery."
The Los Angeles Herald Examiner agreed. "Directed and chiefly animated by the remaining members of the original team of nine men assembled by Walt in the late 1920's, THE RESCUERS is unquestionably the best Disney feature in more than a decade. Fifty years of experience and the peerless talents of these men anoint THE RESCUERS with the legendary style and superb quality of past Disney classics. Yet, there is a variation of hue, a nova of energy, and a pathos of storyline not seen or felt in a Disney film in many years. Perhaps it's the introductory contribution of the recently recruited generation of 30 enthusiastic and artistic animators ardently trained for the past four years by the Disney masters."
THE RESCUERS marked Don's ascension into the hierarchy of
Disney animated productions. On this film, he worked shoulder to
shoulder, as an equal with those whose work he had idolized as a
child. The next two productions he would be largely on his own.
The Nine Old Men would now watch his work.
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text and format © John Cawley