The Rescuers was the first of a series of endearing children's books, despite their frankly unbelievable premise that mice engineer the rescue of distressed humans. Kids will believe anything.
Later, The Walt Disney Company paid the author a tidy royalty check ("Mice as heroes, we never could have thought of that!"), converted the story to an animated travelogue with no fidelity to the books, then pumped out a sequel. These were two of the most important Disney movies, despite being omitted from most lists of them.
The lead character is Miss Bianca, a lily-white mouse who, in the books, belongs to a diplomat's child, lives in a miniature pagoda, and travels in a diplomatic pouch. How-you-say out of touch with the common man?
Speaking of out of touch, the movie is set near the headquarters of the United Nations, an agency that imposes dues on wealthy nations (which are taken from the little guy) and gives the money to Third-World kleptocracies (where it never seems to get to the little guy) for the sole purpose of proving that the members are, well, whiter than Miss Bianca.
Moreover, we are asked to believe that, underneath the United Nations tower, there is a collection of mice called the "Rescue Aid Society" likewise contemplating good works on someone else's dime. Of course, in any actual assembly of mice, attention quickly turns toward the activity for which the species is most noted: quadrupling its population every two months. Fortunately, this theme was glossed over in favor of Parliamentary debate (under Rodent's Rules of Order).
Miss Bianca, through her connections, becomes aware of a series of attractive potential rescues, including:
- A child, who she claims is a mistreated orphan rather than a natural child whose upbringing ought not to be supervised by an international agency, nor especially taken from her parents by stealth, and
- A gaunt, emaciated prisoner, whom Miss Bianca is somehow sure was imprisoned in error, and who has the eyes of an artist.
This opening for Good Works supported by shaky facts surely led the way for several modern global warming treaties.
Miss Bianca makes her pitch to the Rescue Aid Society where, like so many society women, she sees a roomful of males and thinks, "vehicles." And they look back and think, "hood ornament," a short while after thinking that which males always think first of all.
The Society authorizes the rescue, and designates a mouse named Bernard to be her protector and foil. Bernard, who operates a septic service, is utterly guileless, for one simple reason: He cannot see the potential for death and dismemberment, nor that the facts supporting Miss Bianca's mission are incredible. This Everyman—err, Everymouse, thus becomes the first in a long line of heroes in modern fiction who would have run away like a coward if he simply had two brain cells to rub together.
Fidelity to the books
In the books, Miss Bianca planned and executed the rescues, whereas Bernard was alternately boatman, bellman, and bait. This was a subversive message in 1959, when little girls were still groomed not as heroes but "homemakers." Consequently, Disney got Bernard to grow a brain, and probably a pair of other typical organs, though again failing to explain how anyone thus endowed would have accepted the assignment.
Disney made other changes. While the books were set in a vaguely ugly terrain in an unspecified country, the movies begin in New York and are a travelogue across the United States, winding up in the attractive and cheery Louisiana bayou. Moreover, while the books more or less got to the point, the movies and their animal menagerie-a-trois are like a visit to the zoo where you have to pay attention to what's in every cage.
Neither the books nor the Disney movie pursued the theme of romance between Miss Bianca and Bernard because of the intractable class differences. Disney had not, at the time of the movie's release in 1977, learned how to make a chick flick. (For example, see Fantastic Four.) If The Rescuers were released today, Ms. Bianca by the end would have thrown away all her material possessions and hopes for the future to prove her devotion to her scruffy companion. And spent the rest of her life nagging him not to use the salad fork on the main course.