Monthly Archives: January 2017

The Rescuers (1977)

Did my son wake you this morning? Today, we watched what he pronounced as his all-time favorite movie. He went all Spinal Tap on it. I asked him how much he enjoyed Disney’s The Rescuers on a scale of one to ten, and he replied, “If ten is my absolute favorite movie ever, then this is a ten! No! It’s an ELEVEN!” This was after the longest, loudest fit of laughter I can remember. From the bit where the albatross, Orville, gets his tailfeathers singed by a firework to the destruction of the old organ on the rotting riverboat a quarter of an hour later, he was in stitches.

He’s seen a few Disney cartoon films before, most recently Robin Hood, but he’s never loved one quite as much as this. I agree completely. You, dear reader, almost certainly enjoy Disney cartoons more than I do – I just scrolled down the list and maybe find about five tolerable – but there are two that I adore: this and 1970’s The Aristocats.

But actually, looking over Disney’s animation work, I see that The Rescuers was made at a really curious time for the company. For some weird reason, they were only releasing a new cartoon feature about once every four years. I think that they all at least looked splendid – The Rescuers in particular is blessed with some amazing painted backgrounds – but, in the sixties and seventies, these were all taking a back seat to their far superior live-action films.

And I think that this corporate malaise and disinterest in cartoons is what cost Disney their best asset at the time: Don Bluth. He was apparently the lead of four credited “animating directors,” working under three other credited as “directed by,” and, sick of the bureaucracy and wasted time, set up a rival studio with about 20% of Disney’s staff, and then spent a decade kicking the mouse’s rear at the box office. I’m also deeply disinterested in almost all of Bluth’s output, with only Secret of NIMH and Anastasia of any note, but I find the history fascinating. And I think it’s really neat that The Rescuers and Pete’s Dragon, on which Bluth also worked, both came out in 1977. Good year for for a talent like Bluth to flex his muscles. I can believe that had Disney not turned things around in ’89 with the successful Little Mermaid, they probably would have retired their feature animation unit entirely, and our popular culture would be radically different today.

The Rescuers features Eva Gabor and Bob Newhart as two employees of the International Rescue Aid Society, whose office is in a mousehole in the UN building. Gabor plays Miss Bianca, an agent from Hungary, and Newhart is Bernard, a brave-but-shy janitor who is assigned as her co-agent. Other voice work is provided by people who had some more history with Disney, like Bernard Fox and John Fiedler. Jeanette Nolan and John McIntire would come back to do voice work for Disney’s next cartoon, The Fox and the Hound.

The movie is paced brilliantly. It’s a lean 77 minutes, with songs at the appropriate moments, and the action is really funny. Madame Medusa admittedly may not be in the upper tier of Disney villains, but she’s amusingly vulgar and violent. I love the scene where she’s threatening Penny while removing her false eyelashes before bed. She’s so garish and hideous.

Sure, there’s a lot about The Rescuers that falls into standard tropes, like all the heroic animals being capable of speech and the big mean henchbeasts (here a pair of alligators called Nero and Brutus) mute and stupid, but it’s a movie which is funny when it needs to be and nail-bitingly dramatic when it’s called for. The scene where Penny and the mice find the missing diamond and only have moments to extract it before the tide comes in is just remarkably tense, a downright perfect little scene.

I think that The Rescuers came at an interesting time in animation. I don’t believe this film was shown on HBO, but I still group it, emotionally, with some other favorites that were shown on that channel in 1979-81 or so, movies like The Mouse and His Child (which I’d love to see again), The Water Babies, Dot and the Kangaroo, that Raggedy Ann movie with the blue camel, and, of course, Watership Down. I wasn’t aware of them at the time, but Galaxy Express 999 and the Lupin III film everybody knows, Castle of Cagliostro, which are both excellent, also came out during that period. It was a good time for good cartoons, I think. Maybe we’ll watch some for the blog down the line, and see whether any of them get rated as high as eleven.

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Jason of Star Command – Chapters 9 and 10

The story gets a little stranger, for me, in these two chapters. For some reason, the Filmation people chose to wait quite late in the day to introduce some more solid elements from Space Academy. So in chapter 9, the cute robot Peepo joins the proceedings, and chapter 10 is given over to rescuing Lt. Matt Prentiss, from the Academy’s Red Team, from Dragos’s “time dimension” trap. We met Prentiss, played by John Berwick, in episode eleven of Academy.

This is such an odd choice. If you wanted to strengthen the ties between the two programs, why not bring back any of the six young lead characters from the earlier show, and not a one-off guest star? I suppose they couldn’t have asked Jonathan Harris back to play Gampu for a week, because James Doohan is wearing Harris’s costume. (grin)

Our son was very pleased with chapter nine, less so with the strange science of ten. Chapter nine has Peepo and W1K1 arguing with each other. This is extra-cute because Peepo was designed as the R2-D2 cash-in, but now this robot takes the C-3PO role to get all prissy and worried while the small companion babbles in beeps and bloops.

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Ultraman 1.27 – The Prince of Monsters (part two)

In part two of this adventure, Gomora destroys a 500 year-old castle, but our son assures us that it’s not a problem. “When a monster destroys your building, all you have to do is just tell a builder to build a new one. Yep. That’s all you have to do!”

Pronouncing this episode as “really cool,” he enjoyed the setup and the explosives. You know those bits in Toho monster movies where the tanks and missile launchers and that big truck with the big dish laser move into position and, in the foreground, bombard the monster with rockets and bombs? This episode is twenty-five minutes of that, enough to put any little boy in complete heaven. Being the boring old man I am, I was more interested in the awesome aerial footage of Tokyo, proving that even fifty years ago, that was one freaking gigantic city.

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Ultraman 1.26 – The Prince of Monsters (part one)

Maybe it’s just me, but growing up, it sure did seem like there were a lot more monsters sleeping in mountains than kids these days get to see. This one is called Gomora, and the Ultraman Wiki tells me that the beast, or others like it, will make many more appearances in the Ultra-series. This will start with tomorrow night’s episode, because, surprisingly, this is a two-parter! Gomora is so powerful that Ultraman cannot defeat him in the time allowed, and he has to retreat. Nothing like this has ever happened before.

Our son absolutely loved this one. He had Gomora pegged as “super dangerous” from the outset, and had some interesting advice on how to destroy it. See, in a credibility-straining moment, the Science Patrol gasses the monster to sleep and somehow tows the 9000-ton monster to Japan using three of their ships. Those things have a lot more lift than I would have thought. Anyway, instead of flying the sleeping monster to a lab in Japan, our son suggested they should drop him in the ocean. “The ocean water will make him dead because he’ll drink too much and it’s not safe to drink!”

A delightful Dr. Science moment: a paleontologist tells Arashi that Gomora’s dinosaur ancestor, Gomorasaurus, was the first living creature on our planet, one million years ago. Where did that clown get his doctorate again?

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Jason of Star Command – Chapters 7 and 8

Not a lot happens in these two chapters, but in chapter seven, we learn that Dragos has a remote planetoid staffed by a guy who claims to be Captain Kidd along with a bunch of hologram people and sound effects of dinosaurs. Is this chapter a polite tip of the hat to Sid and Marty Krofft’s Land of the Lost, which went down in cancellation the year before? The planetoid is called “Limbo of the Lost,” the holograms are of cavemen, cowboys, and pirates, suggesting they’ve all been caught in time warps, and the dinosaur sound effects clearly include the exact screeches of pterodactyls that the Kroffts had used.

Another little bit caught my attention. As Jason attacks the Death Sta– I mean, Dragonship in chapter eight, we see that the big craft’s “arms,” which end in big radar dishes, are not fixed in place and can slowly move. I’m very impressed by the miniature work in this series, and that little affectation was not necessary for the model. But it sure looks neat!

Apart from Jason talking to Kidd in an “Arrr, matey” pirate voice, our son was most impressed by the space ships firing lasers at each other. He was very excited and enjoyed this tremendously. But his biggest grin came in the preview for the next installment, because it’s revealed that the robot Peepo from Space Academy is coming to visit.

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Wonder Woman 1.8 – Last of the Two Dollar Bills

Steve Trevor finally asked Wonder Woman out on a date – of sorts – this week! He met her for a private tour of the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, which is actually a pretty original idea for a first date. Naturally, this happens because the bureau has been targeted by Nazi counterfeiters. There’s a deeply bizarre coda to this episode, where it’s explained that to combat any future German attempts to flood our market with phony $2 bills, they’re taking them out of circulation. In our world, they still print $2s, though they’re quite uncommon, and when they do make some, the print runs are much, much lower than $1s, by a factor of about 45 million to 8.4 billion a year.

There are some very familiar faces in this episode. There’s Barbara Anderson, who had played Eve on Ironside and Mimi, the little-seen agent in a couple of months of Mission: Impossible. Her boss, top Nazi agent Wotan, is played by James Olson, a familiar face on seventies with dozens of credits. He’s probably best remembered today as one of that gang of expendables in the Battlestar Galactica story “Gun on Ice Planet Zero.” But the most familiar thing this week is the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. The episode is filmed on the Culver City backlot that Batman had used a decade earlier. The bureau is the same facade as Gotham police headquarters!

I wasn’t sure that our son would enjoy this one, but he really did. I had to pause to explain a clue – the villains don’t recognize a menu that Wonder Woman had autographed as anything important and just left it on the counter of the cafe across from the bureau for anybody to use – but he loved a scene where Steve Trevor defuses a bomb (or “took out the clock and made the dynamite not explode”) and also when Wonder Woman hurled her tiara at the villain’s raft, puncturing it and preventing his escape by sea.

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Ultraman 1.25 – The Mystery Comet Typhoon

The giant monster wrestling in this episode was really fun this time, and our son got into it. “Get up and use your super ray, Ultraman!” our son urged. “Use it right now!”

The situation was convoluted, but really quite fun. So a comet was passing by earth, and emitting rays that could set off any partially-deactivated nuclear bombs. One couldn’t be found, and Ito figured that a monster had swallowed it. So the team heads off to the northern mountains where they first run into a big Yeti monster called Gigass, and then a winged alien monster called Dorako flies in from the comet for a wrestling match. This wakes up a dormant Red King – we first met one of those back in episode eight – leaving Ito to conclude that it swallowed the bomb, and lament that they have to deal with three monsters now.

Dorako gets finished off by the other two, though there would be plenty more where it came from. Dorakos turn into pretty common recurring villains in the Ultra-series. The Science Patrol bombs Gigass into atoms with a disintegration bomb, and Ultraman fights Red King, having a much tougher time than he had against the one back on the island of monsters. But our son’s pleas were answered, and our hero eventually uses one of his “super rays” and slices the Red King into three sections (!!!) and flies the chunk with the H-bomb in it out into space.

I decided against including a photo of all three beasts as I certainly should have, because the director steadfastly refused to show all three monsters clearly onscreen at the same time as he certainly should have. A cursory look around has not turned up a publicity photo of all three together, either. So I picked a photo of Hiroko Sakurai in front of three of her co-stars; she’s much prettier than the monsters.

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Jason of Star Command – Chapters 5 and 6

More thrilling escapes and daring rescues in the next two chapters of Jason of Star Command, though our son is most taken by the cute robot W1K1 and was happiest when it was rescued from the enemy’s tractor beam. Funny how Dragos has technology that lets him and his drone ships locate a tiny robot in the void of space, but apparently the escape pods of the Starfire ship, into which they bundle Rosanne Katon to get her to safety, are “too small” for his sensors.

This is the episode in which Jason, Nicole, and Allegra are attacked by a big six-legged insectoid monster. Early last year, the Space: 1970 blog presented some pretty terrific behind the scenes photos of the model. It’s a really nice bit of stop-motion work, and of course our son just loved it. It gave him a brief startle and then he watched with glee as Jason escaped from it and drove it off.

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