The Rescuers
Original theatrical release poster
Directed by
Story by
Based onThe Rescuers
Miss Bianca
by Margery Sharp
Produced by
  • Wolfgang Reitherman
Edited by
  • Jim Koford
  • James Melton
Music byArtie Butler
Distributed byBuena Vista Distribution
Release date
  • June 22, 1977 (1977-06-22)
Running time
77 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$7.5 million[1]
Box office$169 million[2]

The Rescuers is a 1977 American animated adventure comedy-drama film produced by Walt Disney Productions and released by Buena Vista Distribution. The 23rd Disney animated feature film, its story follows Bernard and Bianca, two members of the Rescue Aid Society, an international mouse organization dedicated to helping abduction victims around the world. The two mice must free young orphan Penny from two treasure hunters, who intend to use her to help them obtain a giant diamond. The film is based on a series of books by Margery Sharp, most notably The Rescuers (1959) and Miss Bianca (1962).

The Rescuers entered development in 1962, but was shelved due to Walt Disney's dislike of the project's political overtones. During the 1970s, the film was revived as a project for the younger animators, but it was taken over by the senior animation staff following the release of Robin Hood (1973). The Rescuers was released on June 22, 1977, to positive critical reception and became a box office success. The film was also successful throughout the world, including France and West Germany. Due to the film's success, a sequel titled The Rescuers Down Under was released in 1990, which made this film the first Disney animated film to have a sequel.


In an abandoned riverboat in Devil's Bayou, Louisiana, a young orphan named Penny drops a message in a bottle, containing a plea for help, into the river. The Rescue Aid Society, an international mouse organization inside the United Nations, finds the bottle when it washes up in New York City. The Hungarian representative, Miss Bianca, volunteers to accept the case. She chooses Bernard, a stammering janitor, as her co-agent. The two visit Morningside Orphanage, where Penny lived, and meet an old cat named Rufus. He tells them about a sketchy woman named Madame Medusa who once tried to lure Penny into her car, and may have succeeded in abducting Penny this time.

The mice travel to Medusa's pawn shop, where they discover that she and her partner, Mr. Snoops, are on a quest to find the world's largest diamond, the Devil's Eye. The mice learn that Medusa and Snoops are currently at the Devil's Bayou with Penny, whom they have indeed kidnapped and placed under the guard of two trained crocodiles, Brutus and Nero. With the help of an albatross named Orville and a dragonfly named Evinrude, the mice follow Medusa to the bayou. There, they learn that Medusa plans to force Penny to enter a small blowhole that leads down into a blocked-off pirates' cave where the Devil's Eye is located.

Bernard and Bianca find Penny and devise a plan of escape. They send Evinrude to alert the local animals, who loathe Medusa, but Evinrude is delayed when he is forced to take shelter from a cloud of bats. The following morning, Medusa and Snoops send Penny down into the cave to find the gem. Unbeknownst to Medusa, Bianca and Bernard are hiding in Penny's skirt pocket. The three soon find the Devil's Eye within a pirate skull. As Penny pries the mouth open with a sword, the mice push the gem through it, but soon the oceanic tide rises and floods the cave. The three barely manage to retrieve the diamond and escape.

Medusa betrays Snoops and hides the diamond in Penny's teddy bear, while holding Penny and Snoops at gunpoint. When she trips over a cable set as a trap by Bernard and Bianca, Medusa loses the bear and the diamond to Penny, who runs away with them. The local animals arrive at the riverboat and aid Bernard and Bianca in trapping Brutus and Nero, then set off Mr. Snoops's fireworks to create more chaos. Meanwhile, Penny and the mice commandeer Medusa's swamp-mobile, a makeshift airboat. Medusa unsuccessfully pursues them, using Brutus and Nero as water-skis. As the riverboat sinks from the fireworks' damage, Medusa crashes and is left clinging to the boat's smoke stacks. Mr. Snoops escapes on a raft and laughs at her, while the irritated Brutus and Nero turn on her and circle below.

Back in New York City, the Rescue Aid Society watch a news report of how Penny found the Devil's Eye, which has been given to the Smithsonian Institution. Penny has also been adopted. The meeting is interrupted when Evinrude arrives with a call for help, sending Bernard and Bianca on a new adventure.



In 1959, the book The Rescuers by Margery Sharp had been published to considerable success. In 1962, Sharp followed up with a sequel titled Miss Bianca. That same year, the books were optioned by Walt Disney, who began developing an animated film adaptation. In January 1963, story artist Otto Englander wrote a treatment based on the first book, centering on a Norwegian poet unfairly imprisoned in a Siberia-like stronghold known as the Black Castle. The story was revised with the location changed to Cuba, in which the mice would help the poet escape into the United States. However, as the story became overtly involved in international intrigue, Disney shelved the project as he was unhappy with the political overtones.[3] In August 1968, Englander wrote another treatment featuring Bernard and Bianca rescuing Richard the Lionheart during the Middle Ages.[4]

During the early 1970s, the project was revived as a project for the young animators, led by Don Bluth, as the studio would alternate between full-scale "A pictures" and smaller, scaled-back "B pictures" with simpler animation. The animators had selected the most recent book, Miss Bianca in the Antarctic, to adapt from. The new story involved a King penguin deceiving a captured polar bear into performing in shows aboard a schooner, causing the unsatisfied bear to place a bottle that would reach the mice.[5] This version of the story was later dropped because Fred Lucky, a storyboard artist, explained that the Arctic setting "was too stark a background for the animators."[5] Mattinson later explained, "Our problem was that the penguin wasn't formidable or evil enough for the audience to believe he would dominate the big bear. We struggled with that for a year or so. We changed the locale to somewhere in America and it was now a regular zoo and we tried to come up with something with the bear in the zoo and needing to be rescued but that didn't work either."[citation needed]

In that version, the bear character was still retained, but was renamed Louie the Bear. Jazz singer Louis Prima was cast in the role and had recorded most of the dialogue and multiple songs that were composed by Floyd Huddleston.[6] The writers also expanded the role of his best friend, Gus the Lion.[7] Huddleston had stated, "It's about two animals. One is Louis Prima — he's the polar bear — and Redd Foxx is the lion ...Louis gets cornered into leaving and going to the South Pole where he can make himself a bigger star. But he gets homesick; he feels fooled. They send out little mice as 'rescuers'."[8] According to storyboard artist Vance Gerry, director Wolfgang Reitherman had stated, "'It's too complicated. I want a simple story: A little girl gets kidnapped and the mice try to get her back, period.'"[9] By November 1973, the role of Louie the Bear had been heavily scaled back and then eliminated.[7] In one version, the bear was meant to be Bernard and Bianca's connection to Penny. Gerry explained, "We developed the sequence where, while the two mice are searching for clues as to where Penny has been taken, they come across this bear who she had been friends with because the orphanage where Penny was living was near the zoo."[citation needed] In the final film, the idea was reduced to a simple scene where Bernard enters a zoo and hears a lion's roar that scares him away.

Penny struggles to free the Devil's Eye diamond from a pirate's skull; the filmmakers carefully designed every shot of the scene to raise the tension.[10]
Penny struggles to free the Devil's Eye diamond from a pirate's skull; the filmmakers carefully designed every shot of the scene to raise the tension.[10]

In Europe, while promoting the release of Robin Hood (1973), Reitherman stated: "I took Margery Sharp's books along and there was in there a mean woman in a crystal palace. When I got back I called some of the guys together and I said, 'We've got to get a villain in this thing.'"[4] The villainess and her motive to steal a diamond was adapted from the Diamond Duchess in Miss Bianca. The setting was then changed to the bayous found in the Southern United States.[11] By August 1973, the villainess was named the Grand Duchess with Phyllis Diller cast in the role.[7] A month later, conceptual artist Ken Anderson began depicting Cruella de Vil, the villainess from One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), as the main antagonist of the film.[7][12] Anderson had drawn several sketches of Cruella de Vil sporting alligator-leathered chic attire and sunglasses; one sketch depicted her wearing bell-bottom pants and platform shoes.[13] However, several staff members such as animator Ollie Johnston stated it felt wrong to attempt a sequel for the character.[14] Furthermore, Mattinson explained that Milt Kahl did not want to animate Cruella de Vil. "Milt, of course, was very strong against that, 'Oh, no no. We're gonna have a new character. I'm not gonna do Cruella'," Mattinson recalled, "Because he felt that Marc [Davis had animated] Cruella beautifully. He was not gonna go and take his character."[12]

The new version of the character was renamed Madame Medusa, and her appearance was based on Kahl's then-wife, Phyllis Bounds (who was the niece of Lillian Disney), whom he divorced in 1978.[15] This was Kahl's last film for the studio, and he wanted his final character to be his best; he was so insistent on perfecting Madame Medusa that he ended up doing almost all the animation for the character himself.[16] The kidnapped child Penny was inspired by Patience, the orphan in the novel. The alligator characters Brutus and Nero was based on the two bloodhounds, Tyrant and Torment, in the novels. For the henchman, the filmmakers adapted the character, Mandrake, into Mr. Snoops. His appearance was caricatured from John Culhane, a journalist, who had been interviewing animators at the Disney studios.[14][17] Culhane claimed he was practically tricked into posing for various reactions, and his movements were imitated on Mr. Snoops's model sheet. However, he stated, "Becoming a Disney character was beyond my wildest dreams of glory."[18]

Also, the writers had considered developing Bernard and Bianca into married professional detectives, though they decided that leaving the characters as unmarried novices was more romantic.[11] For the supporting characters, a pint-sized swamp mobile for the mice—a leaf powered by a dragonfly—was created. As they developed the comedic potential of displaying his exhaustion through buzzing, the dragonfly grew from an incidental into a major character.[5] Veteran sound effects artist and voice actor Jimmy MacDonald came out of retirement to provide the effects.[19] Additionally, the local swamp creatures were originally written as a dedicated home guard that drilled and marched incessantly. However, the writers rewrote them into a volunteer group of helpful little bayou creatures. Their leader, a singing bullfrog, voiced by Phil Harris, was deleted from the film.[20] A pigeon was originally proposed to serve as transportation for Bernard and Bianca until Johnston remembered a True-Life Adventures episode that featured albatrosses and their clumsy take-offs and landings. He then suggested the ungainly bird instead.[21]

On February 13, 1976, co-director John Lounsbery died of a heart attack during production. Art Stevens, an animator, was then selected as the new co-director.[22]


After the commercial success of The Aristocats (1970), then-vice president Ron Miller pledged that new animators should be hired to ensure "a continuity of quality Disney animated films for another generation." Eric Larson, one of the "Nine Old Men" animators, scouted for potential artists who were studying at art schools and colleges throughout the United States. More than 60 artists were brought into the training program.[23] Then, the selected trainees were to create a black-and-white animation test, which were reviewed at the end of the month. The process would continue for several months, in which the few finalists were first employed as in-betweeners working only on nights and weekends.[24] By 1977, more than 25 artists were hired during the training program.[25] Among those selected were Glen Keane, Ron Clements, and Andy Gaskill, all of whom would play crucial roles in the Disney Renaissance.[26] Because of this, The Rescuers was the first collaboration between the newly recruited trainees and the senior animators.[25] It would also mark the last joint effort by Milt Kahl, Ollie Johnston, and Frank Thomas, and the first Disney film Don Bluth had worked on as a directing animator, instead of as an assistant animator.[21]

Ever since One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), animation for theatrical Disney animated films had been done by xerography, which had only been able to produce black outlines. By the time The Rescuers was in production, the technology had been improved for the cel artists to use a medium-grey toner in order to create a softer-looking line.[27]


The Rescuers
Soundtrack album Vinyl LP by
ProducerArtie Butler
Walt Disney Animation Studios chronology
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
The Rescuers
The Fox and the Hound

The songwriting team of Carol Connors and Ayn Robbins first met in 1973 on a double date. Before then, Connors had co-composed and sang successful songs such as "To Know Him Is to Love Him" and "Hey Little Cobra" with the Teddy Bears. Meanwhile, Robbins worked as a personal secretary to actors George Kennedy and Eva Gabor and wrote unpublished poetry. On their first collaboration, they composed eleven songs for a Christmas show for an unproduced animated film. In spite of this, they were offered an interview from Walt Disney Productions to compose songs for The Rescuers. Describing their collaborative process, Robbins noted "...Carol plays the piano and I play the pencil."[28] During production, both women were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Gonna Fly Now" from Rocky (1976) with Bill Conti.[29]

Additionally, Connors and Robbins collaborated with composer Sammy Fain on the song, "Someone's Waiting for You". Most of the songs they had written for the film were performed by Shelby Flint.[29] Also, notably for the first time since Bambi (1942), all the most significant songs were sung as part of a narrative, as opposed to by the film's characters as in most Disney animated films.


Original songs performed in the film include:

1."The Journey"Shelby Flint 
2."Rescue Aid Society"Robie Lester, Bob Newhart, Bernard Fox & the Disney Studio Chorus 
3."Tomorrow is Another Day"Shelby Flint 
4."Someone's Waiting for You"Shelby Flint 
5."Tomorrow is Another Day (Reprise)"Shelby Flint 

Songs heard in the film but not released on the soundtrack include:


On June 19, 1977, The Rescuers premiered at the AFI Silver Theatre in Washington, D.C.[30] During the film's initial theatrical run, the film was released as a double feature with the live-action nature documentary film, A Tale of Two Critters.[31] On December 16, 1983, The Rescuers was re-released to theaters accompanied with the new Mickey Mouse featurette, Mickey's Christmas Carol, which marked the character's first theatrical appearance after a 30-year absence. In anticipation of its upcoming theatrically released sequel in 1990, The Rescuers Down Under, The Rescuers saw another successful theatrical run on March 17, 1989.


To tie in with the film's 25th anniversary, The Rescuers debuted in the Walt Disney Classics Collection line in 2002, with three different figures featuring three of the film's characters, as well as the opening title scroll. The three figures were sculpted by Dusty Horner and they were: Brave Bianca, featuring Miss Bianca the heroine and priced at $75,[32] Bold Bernard, featuring hero Bernard, priced also at $75[33] and Evinrude Base, featuring Evinrude the dragonfly and priced at $85.[32] The title scroll featuring the film's name, The Rescuers, and from the opening song sequence, "The Journey," was priced at $30. All figures were retired in March 2005, except for the opening title scroll which was suspended in December 2012.[32]

The Rescuers was the inspiration for another Walt Disney Classics Collection figure in 2003. Ken Melton was the sculptor of Teddy Goes With Me, My Dear, a limited-edition, 8-inch sculpture featuring the evil Madame Medusa, the orphan girl Penny, her teddy bear "Teddy" and the Devil's Eye diamond. Exactly 1,977 of these sculptures were made, in reference to the film's release year, 1977. The sculpture was priced at $299 and instantly declared retired in 2003.[33]

In November 2008, a sixth sculpture inspired by the film was released. Made with pewter and resin, Cleared For Take Off introduced the character of Orville into the collection and featured Bernard and Bianca a second time. The piece, inspired by Orville's take-off scene in the film, was sculpted by Ruben Procopio.[34]

Home media

The Rescuers premiered on VHS and LaserDisc on September 18, 1992 as part of the Walt Disney Classics series. The release went into moratorium on April 30, 1993.[35] It was re-released on VHS as part of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection on January 5, 1999, but was recalled three days later and reissued on March 23, 1999 (see "Nudity scandal").

The Rescuers was released on DVD on May 20, 2003, as a standard edition, which was discontinued in November 2011.

On August 21, 2012, a 35th-anniversary edition of The Rescuers was released on Blu-ray alongside its sequel in a "2-Movie Collection".[36][37]

Nudity scandal

One of the frozen frames containing a picture of a topless woman in the window
One of the frozen frames containing a picture of a topless woman in the window

On January 8, 1999, three days after the film's second release on home video, The Walt Disney Company announced a recall of about 3.4 million copies of the videotapes because there was an objectionable image in one of the film's backgrounds.[38][39][40][41]

The image in question is a blurry image of a topless woman with breasts and nipples showing. The image appears twice in non-consecutive frames during the scene in which Miss Bianca and Bernard are flying on Orville's back through New York City. The two images could not be seen in ordinary viewing because the film runs too fast—at 24 frames per second.[42]

On January 10, 1999, two days after the recall was announced, the London newspaper The Independent reported:

A Disney spokeswoman said that the images in The Rescuers were placed in the film during post-production, but she declined to say what they were or who placed them... The company said the aim of the recall was to keep its promise to families that they can trust and rely on the Disney brand to provide the best in family entertainment.[43]

The Rescuers home video was reissued on March 23, 1999, with the inappropriate nudity edited and blocked out.


Box office

The Rescuers was successful upon its original theatrical release earning worldwide gross rentals of $48 million at the box office.[44][45] During its initial release in France, it out-grossed Star Wars (1977) receiving admissions of 7.2 million.[46] The film also became the highest-grossing film in West Germany at the time with admissions of 9.7 million.[47][48] By the end of its theatrical run, the distributor rentals amounted to $19 million in the United States and Canada while its international rentals totaled $41 million.[49]

The Rescuers was re-released in 1983 in which it grossed $21 million domestically. The film was again re-released in 1989 and grossed $21.2 million domestically. In its total lifetime domestic gross, the film has grossed $71.2 million,[50] and its total lifetime worldwide gross is $169 million.[2]

Critical reaction

The Rescuers was said to be Disney's greatest film since Mary Poppins (1964), and seemed to signal a new golden age for Disney animation.[51] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times praised the film as "the best feature-length animated film from Disney in a decade or more—the funniest, the most inventive, the least self-conscious, the most coherent, and moving from start to finish, and probably most important of all, it is also the most touching in that unique way fantasy has of carrying vibrations of real life and real feelings."[52] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote the film "is one of the most rousing and appealing animated features ever made by the Disney studio. The last production for several members of the original feature animation unit assembled by Walt Disney in the late '30s, the film is both a triumphant swan song and gladdening act of regeneration."[53] Variety magazine wrote the film was "the best work by Disney animators in many years, restoring the craft to its former glories. In addition, it has a more adventurous approach to color and background stylization than previous Disney efforts have displayed, with a delicate pastel palette used to wide-ranging effect."[1]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that the film "doesn't belong in the same category as the great Disney cartoon features (Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, Fantasia) but it's a reminder of a kind of slickly cheerful, animated entertainment that has become all but extinct."[54] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four writing, "To see any Disney animated film these days is to compare it with Disney classics released 30 or 40 years ago. Judged against Pinocchio, for example. The Rescuers is lightweight, indeed. Its themes are forgettable. It's mostly an adventure story."[31] TV Guide gave the film three stars out of five, opining that The Rescuers "is a beautifully animated film that showed Disney still knew a lot about making quality children's fare even as their track record was weakening." They also praised the voice acting of the characters, and stated that the film is "a delight for children as well as adults who appreciate good animation and brisk storytelling."[55] Ellen MacKay of Common Sense Media gave the film four out of five stars, writing, "Great adventure, but too dark for preschoolers".[56]

In his book, The Disney Films, film historian Leonard Maltin refers to The Rescuers as "a breath of fresh air for everyone who had been concerned about the future of animation at Walt Disney's," praises its "humor and imagination and [that it is] expertly woven into a solid story structure [...] with a delightful cast of characters." Finally, he declares the film "the most satisfying animated feature to come from the studio since 101 Dalmatians." He also briefly mentions the ease with which the film surpassed other animated films of its time.[57] The film's own animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston stated on their website that The Rescuers had been their return to a film with heart and also considered it their best film without Walt Disney.[58] The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that the film received an 82% approval rating, with an average rating of 6.5/10 based on 33 reviews. The website's consensus states: "Featuring superlative animation, off-kilter characters, and affectionate voice work by Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor, The Rescuers represents a bright spot in Disney's post-golden age."[59] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 74 out of 100 based on 8 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[60]

Jack Shaheen, in his study of Hollywood portrayals and stereotypes of Arabs, noted the inclusion of delegates from Arab countries in the Rescue Aid Society.[61]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Original Song "Someone's Waiting for You"
Music by Sammy Fain;
Lyrics by Carol Connors and Ayn Robbins
Nominated [62]
National Board of Review Awards Special Citation Won [63]

In 2008, the American Film Institute nominated The Rescuers for its Top 10 Animated Films list.[64]


Bernard and Bianca made appearances as meet-and-greet characters at Walt Disney World and Disneyland in the years following the original film's release. While they currently don't make regular appearances at the American parks, both continue to appear regularly at Tokyo Disney Resort.[citation needed]

In the Disney Infinity video games, Medusa's Swamp Mobile was introduced as a vehicle in Disney Infinity 2.0.[65]

In the world builder video game Disney Magic Kingdoms, Bernard, Miss Bianca, Penny, Madame Medusa, and Orville appear as playable characters in the main storyline of the game, along with The Rescue Aid Society and Madame Medusa's Riverboat as attractions.[66][67][68]


Main article: The Rescuers Down Under

The Rescuers was the first Disney animated film to have a sequel. After three successful theatrical releases of the original film, The Rescuers Down Under was released theatrically on November 16, 1990.

The Rescuers Down Under takes place in the Australian Outback, and involves Bernard and Bianca trying to rescue a boy named Cody and a giant golden eagle called Marahute from a greedy poacher named Percival C. McLeach. Both Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor reprised their lead roles. Since Jim Jordan, who had voiced Orville, had since died, a new character, Wilbur (Orville's brother, another albatross), was created and voiced by John Candy.

See also


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  5. ^ a b c Koenig 1997, p. 154.
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  13. ^ Doty, Meriah (February 10, 2015). "Cruella de Vil's Comeback That Wasn't: See Long-Lost Sketches of Iconic Villain in 'The Rescuers' (Exclusive)". Yahoo! Movies. Retrieved February 28, 2015.
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Further reading