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|Kevin Krock, editor|
The Rescuers has finally made its way into the digital age, albeit several years after its sequel, The Rescuers Down Under, was released on DVD. And based on its presentation here, I am a bit puzzled as to why Disney took so long to release it. Granted, the movie is not stellar, being released during the Disney Studio's rather non-directional decade following Walt's death, but it has its good moments and is better than other movies of that vintage.
Most of you have probably watched this rather dark movie at one point or another over the last 25 years or so, but as a refresher, a brief summary may be of use before we continue.
Based on stories by Margery Sharp, the movie follows a kidnapped orphan named Penny and her would-be mouse rescuers Bernard (Bob Newhart) and his partner Miss Bianca (Eva Gabor). Penny, held captive on a dilapidated riverboat in Devil's Bayou by the rather frightening Madame Medusa, sends a desperate call for help via a message in a bottle. The bottle eventually makes its way into the hands of the Rescue Aid Society, an international group of mice dedicated to the rescue of imperiled children. Bernard and Miss Bianca are immediately dispatched to the swamps of Devil's Bayou to save Penny before Madame Medusa uses her to find and recover the source of Medusa's obsession, the lost Devil's Eye Diamond.
While this movie has its light and entertaining moments, the rather dark storyline of a kidnapped orphan used as an essentially disposable treasure-hunting tool casts a long shadow over the otherwise fun parts of the movie. It definitely tweaks your emotions and takes you for a ride, but the story ultimately feels a bit uneven and always leaves me feeling unsettled at the end. Because of this dark streak, this is probably not the most enjoyable film for young children and toddlers although it may hold the attention of older children and parents a bit better.
For the most part, the set of bonus material is typical for Disney's standard edition DVD releases. The usual set-top game and Sing Along Song features are present, and they are no more intriguing than those found on any other Disney DVD. The Water Birds True-Life Adventure featurette is an Oscar-winning documentary from the 1950s, but it is presented in poor shape. The picture is rife with scratches, dust, grain, and every other sign of age, and it looks every bit over 50 years old. Unfortunately, the benefit of having this classic available on DVD is offset by its rundown appearance.
Rounding out the bonus features are a still gallery and a Silly Symphony animated short, which is also a bit rough in its video transfer. It is not an impressive array of features by any means, but at least it is more than what you would get on videotape.
The Video, Audio and Interface
And speaking of videotape Unfortunately, the video and audio transfer on this disc is no better than the one on my old VHS copy of The Rescuers. The anamorphic widescreen transfer is very grainy, scratched, dusty, and just generally and disappointingly deteriorated. The lighter colors generally look washed out and bland, and the dark scenes lack depth and distractingly highlight the film's age-induced imperfections.
The audio, even though it is considered a Dolby Digital 5.1 transfer, is acceptable but definitely not a true 5.1 surround soundtrack. Most of the audio comes from the center speaker, but the music has been spread around the soundstage. For the most part, the audio is clear and evenly balanced, but it is not anything more than what you would get from videotape.
The interface is similar to all the other standard Disney DVD releases. The main menu has animation and audio, but most of the other menus are static. They are simple and easily navigated, but they are not anything special.
The Final Evaluation
I had high hopes for this one, but like many of the other animated features of this vintage, it gets the short end of the Disney home video stick and ends up a disappointment. Apparently the bigger budgets are reserved for either hit movies older than 30 years old or modern classics like The Lion King or Aladdin.
Unfortunately, this DVD features a disappointing video transfer, an unremarkable soundtrack, and distinctly budget-minded bonus features and interface. So if you have your old VHS copy, you may want to hold on to it a little longer or just rent this DVD when you get the urge to watch it. You will probably be happier saving your money for one of the live action special editions, if you have not already tracked them down.
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