The popularity of the film almost led to a spin-off TV-series in 1989; however, when the animation department green-lit its sequel, The Rescuers Down Under (1990), the project was scrapped. The series was still made, but Bernard and Miss Bianca were replaced with Chip and Dale, and the series was called Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers (1989).
Fans of Walt Disney animation, and animation in general, have often mistakenly referred to the sometimes "sketchy" style in this film, as well as in others such as The Sword in the Stone (1963) and The AristoCats (1970) as "lazy" and budget-cut. In fact, the veteran animators working on these films, particularly Milt Kahl, strongly objected to their drawings being altered in any way and demanded that they should appear on the film's animation cels exactly as they had been drawn.
This is the very first Disney animated classic film to feature a small prologue prior to the start of the opening credits; the credits are thus attached into the storyline as they are shown over images describing the journey of Penny's bottle. Madame Medusa is also the first Disney villain to affect the flow of the story from the very start of the film.
Actor Phil Harris, who had played Baloo in Walt Disney's The Jungle Book (1967), Thomas O'Malley in The AristoCats (1970) and Little John in Robin Hood (1973), was almost brought in again for yet another comic role in this film. However, the dramatic nature of the film called for comic relief characters and humor gags to be toned down, so only the characters of Orville and Luke were left.
One of Miss Bianca's traits, as portrayed in the original novel, was her trust and affection for felines (widely known as menacing predators of mice). This element was brought onto the film in the form of Rufus the cat. Though he frightens the mice duo initially, he quickly shows he is a friend and is willing to help the mice on their quest to find Penny, with whom he shared a special friendship.
Louis Prima was set to play the deleted character Louis the Bear in an earlier script. He had recorded four songs and much of his character's dialogue for the film, but he underwent brain surgery in 1975, and never regained consciousness. This material, as well as the character he was to provide voice for, was discarded from the film; however, Ayn Robbins and Carol Connors would eventually write a new version of his proposed "Rescue Aid Society" anthem.
Considered by many of the film's producers, critics, and audiences to be the film that proved that Walt Disney Productions' animation department could survive after the death of Walt Disney. The film was the company's first major success since The Jungle Book (1967) and last until The Little Mermaid (1989). The Rescuers (1977) also out-grossed strong competition such as Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) in many European countries including France and Germany.
In the scene where Penny is seen carrying Rufus the cat off to supper, Penny grabs Rufus and uncomfortably carries him off in her arms, pushing him up with her knee as he begins to slip. Ollie Johnston, who animated this scene, explained that he did this in order to show the tender affection between Penny and Rufus, by having the cat be too fond of Penny to complain, since it would have been easier for Penny to walk away and have Rufus follow her.
Madame Medusa's pet alligators, Brutus and Nero, are based on the two bloodhounds, Tyrant and Torment, from Margery Sharp's "Miss Bianca" (1962), while Mr. Snoops is a retouched "Mandrake" from the same novel (and who would appear later in "The Turret" (1963). Mr. Snoops was also a caricature of animation historian John Culhane, who made regular visits to the studio and was nicknamed "Mr. Snoops" by the animators. In his biography, Culhane described how the animators tricked him into various acts and poses in order to obtain inspiration and live-action reference for the character.
The Carpenters were asked to do the music for the movie, with Karen Carpenter doing the songs and Richard Carpenter composing the score, but a number of scheduling conflicts forced them to reluctantly decline. Karen was reportedly very unhappy with having to turn down the offer, as she was a big fan of Disney.
In the novels, the Rescue Aid Society was known as the Mouse Prisoners' Aid Society (M.P.A.S.) and their purpose was not initially to rescue those in danger, but to accompany and amuse prisoners during their long hours in solitude inside cells.
The talking animals in this film can communicate not only with other animal species but also with human children who bother to begin conversation with them. The 1977 "Disney's Wonderful World of Reading" picture book based on the film revealed that the reason Rufus had not told of Penny's fate to another child at Morningside Orphanage was because no child or adult had bothered to ask him. It is unknown whether Rufus could have spoken to a human child without being talked to first, or if he could talk to grown-ups at all.
According to their publisher, The Rescuers (1977) helped put all nine of British author Margery Sharp's "The Rescuers" novels on the bestseller lists; not just "The Rescuers" and "Miss Bianca", on which the film is based.
The film's opening sequence was made up of paintings by Mel Shaw, combined with elaborate camera movements, to captivate the dramatic feel of the journey of Penny's bottle. The song "The Journey" is sung from the bottle's perspective, expressing the lifeless object's desperate call for help when lost at sea, rather Penny's hope of being rescued (a common misconception). This was a first for opening credits in a Walt Disney animated film, as well as the first number sung from the perspective of an inanimate object.
Madame Medusa's fiery red dress and orange hair and Penny's light blue jumper use their color to contrast the theme of good and innocence against evil. This use of color (red vs. blue) for personification was later used in other Walt Disney Company films such as Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996).
Walt Disney's early vision for the film centered on the kidnapping of a polar bear from a city zoo. It was around this time that concept artist Ken Anderson toyed with the possibility of reusing the character of Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians (1961) as the main villain, to the sheer disapproval of some. When attention was brought back to Margery Sharp's work, the Diamond Duchess from "Miss Bianca" (1962) became the primary inspiration for the character of Madame Medusa, with early sketches for her design showing similarities to Garth Williams's illustrations from the novel of the character. Milt Kahl deliberately portrayed Madame Medusa's driving similarly to that of de Vil's, as a tribute to Marc Davis's work; the backgrounds during this scene show a style particularly reminiscent of those in the 1961 film as well.
Contrary to popular belief, Walt Disney was involved in the development of the film, which began in 1962. Disney disliked the idea of a faithful adaptation of Margery Sharp's first "Miss Bianca" novel in which the protagonists set off to rescue a Norwegian poet from a gloomy prison; he instead suggested it be changed to the rescue of a polar bear named Willie from a zoo where he contended with a tyrannical penguin. Following Disney's death, Sharp's second novel was chosen as the primary source for adaptation.
The film was considered by Walt Disney's marketing department to represent the decade of the '70s in their prestigious Diamond Edition line introduced in 2009. However, in the winter of 2012, it was announced that it would instead be released as a "2-Movie Collection" commemorating its 35th Anniversary, and packaged along with its 1990 sequel.
Animators Frank Thomas and Milt Kahl disagreed about a sequence in which Brutus and Nero try to blow Miss Bianca and Bernard out of a pipe organ. Kahl felt that the alligators clowned too much, thus losing their menace. In response, and with playful spite, Thomas retaliated that he felt Kahl's own Madame Medusa loses her menace moments later when she falls off of a chair, after Mr. Snoops clumsily pushes it from beneath her feet.
Animator Ollie Johnston did an extensive observation of the albatross in order to correctly animate Orville. He had an easy time making a realistic albatross landing "funny", but for the take-off, he decided to rely on gasping as well as feet thumping noises in order to create the comic effect he wanted.
Bernard was at one point intended to wear an orange sweatshirt to complete the wheel of primary and secondary colors formed by the other five major characters (red for Madame Medusa, yellow for Mr. Snoops, blue for Penny, purple for Miss Bianca and green for Brutus and Nero), but the color was changed to red because it suited the character better; Bernard is seen sporting an orange jacket during a few scenes in the film. It must be noted that, though red is her primary color, Madame Medusa's hair is also a fiery orange.
The name of the cave where Penny must locate the Devil's Eye, the world's largest diamond, is never mentioned by a character in the movie, but according to the map that Madame Medusa is looking at, the name of the place is the "Black Bayou".
During the famous scene in which Madame Medusa is removing her make-up in front of her bedroom mirror, she is wearing a towel with hard-to-decipher words embroidered in it; the letters spell out "Hotel Ritz," the name of a series of famous luxury hotels in Paris, Madrid, London and other places. The letters can only be seen in certain shots.
The film was the last of the Disney classics to be announced for a DVD release, receiving no more publicity than the standard press release. Even so, it became a popular seller and sold much better than expected. Walt Disney Home Entertainment had understocked the DVD, and copies were high on demand.
Bernard (Bob Newhart) complains several times that he hates flying. One of Newhart's comedy routines was called, "The Mrs. Grace L. Ferguson Airline (And Storm Door Company)", wherein he explains why he hates to fly.
Even though most of Walt Disney Productions' films during the early '60s and '70s were shown theatrically in the aspect ratio of 1.75:1 they were actually animated in 1.37:1. This is the first non-Scope release to be animated in another ratio (in this case, 1.66:1).
The success of the film resulted in two theatrical reissues: one in 1983, preceded by the new Mickey Mouse short film Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983), and a second one in 1989 to help promote its sequel released the following year.
The first Disney animated film to explicitly venture into a more feminist approach to character portrayals. Although their duo is balanced in terms of leadership, it is Miss Bianca who breaks tradition by asking permission to attempt a rescue, agreeing to take Bernard along to satisfy Mr. Chairman, who, in turn, acknowledges that times have changed. Two of the major female characters, Madame Medusa and Ellie Mae, both assume the dominant role over their far more passive partners (Mr. Snoops and Luke, respectively). Finally, despite her youth, Penny breaks the traditional mold of the "damsel in distress" prototype by repeatedly making an effort to rescue herself, rather than wait passively to be found and rescued.
Orville the albatross hums the US Air Force theme "Into the Wild Blue Yonder" when he first meets Bernard and Bianca at the airport. He even mentions going to the "wild blue yonder" before they board the sardine can.
The exact location of Devil's Bayou within a real-world context has long been the subject of discussion among Disney animation fans, with the state of Louisiana becoming an often-considered possibility, and the 1983 theatrical re-issue trailer mentioning the Florida Everglades. In reality, Devil's Bayou is an entirely fictional place sitting on an equally fictional island (as Mr. Snoops points out) located somewhere off the Atlantic coast. Miss Bianca and Bernard are seen flying eastbound into the Atlantic Ocean during the song "Tomorrow Is Another Day".
Veteran animator Milt Kahl stated that he enjoyed his work on the film's villain, Madame Medusa, more than that of any of his other assignments. The character's wacky, explosive nature unleashed his ability to create over-the-top, yet believable, expression and movement that the more confined personalities of previous characters (e.g. Prince Phillip in Sleeping Beauty (1959)) restrained. Kahl took inspiration from his ex-wife, whom he didn't particularly care for, as well as live-action characters from other films, to bring the wicked character to life. Interestingly, her appearance ended up in part inspiring that of another Disney villainess, Ursula from The Little Mermaid (1989).
At a time when general knowledge (and interest) regarding the history of Disney animated film-making was limited (before the Internet and DVDs with informative content became a standard), a rumor circulated that Madame Medusa was Walt Disney's favorite animated villain. Though Disney had been involved in the early stages of story development for the film in the early '60s, he had passed away a few years before Margery Sharp's Diamond Duchess character, an element of inspiration for Madame, was even considered for a loose adaptation of the second "Miss Bianca' novel. Therefore, the rumor has long been deemed false.
This is the third animated film that both Pat Buttram and George Lindsey provided voices for, as Luke the muskrat and Deadeye the rabbit, respectively. In addition, this is the third time that their characters worked together and interacted considerably with one another. The first two times had been, respectively, as Napoleon and Lafayette in The AristoCats (1970) and as the Sheriff of Nottingham and Trigger in Robin Hood (1973).
Bernard and Miss Bianca were supposed to go to a mouse supply room in the International Rescue Aid Society Headquarters which would have bins full of items needed on their journey. Once they were packed, the Rescue Aid Society would then send them off. Ken Anderson drew conceptual art of this storage room, what was inside of it, etc. This idea never made it past this stage.
While working on the film, Don Bluth noted that some of the characters did not have the whites of their eyes colored in. When he questioned the reason why, he was told that it was too expensive. Bluth and fellow animator Gary Goldman got their own equipment to test if it was true, they found that it was not too expensive. When they reported back with their discovery, the two were told to follow orders and do as they were told. Bluth referred to this as "the straw that broke the camel's back" which would eventually lead to Bluth and Goldman leaving Disney.
In one scene, Bernard, Miss Bianca, and Penny are in the cave trying to retrieve the Devil's Eye out of the skull of a dead man. Ken Anderson's Multiple Choice Layouts displayed Miss Bianca taking pictures of the skull and Bernard inside the cave.
Performer Nancy Adams, who had previously appeared in Robin Hood (1973) singing "Love", recorded a demo for Sammy Fain's "Someone's Waiting for You", which was not used in the final film. The recording is believed to have been lost.
CASTLE THUNDER: Heard over the Buena Vista opening logo (on the 35th Anniversary Blu-ray and DVD versions; the thunderclap is heard over the 1985 Walt Disney Pictures opening logo on the 2003 DVD version), and then again at the first sight of the old riverboat. All other times lightning flashes in the movie, it is silent except for music.
Orville, the pilot/aviator, shares a name with one of the Wright Brothers, a Father of Modern Aviation. In The Rescuers Down Under (1990), his brother was introduced and revealed to have the same name as the other Wright brother, Wilbur.
When Ayn Robbins and Carol Connors were finally assigned to write the songs for the film, in place of several other songwriters who had been considered, they wrote three entirely original songs. Two of these were featured in the film: the opening song "The Journey" and "Tomorrow Is Another Day". The third was entitled "Just Might Be Tomorrow" (which continued the 'tomorrow' theme of the second). Director Wolfgang Reitherman liked this new song, but he couldn't bring himself to part with Sammy Fain's "The Need to Be Loved", so he asked Robbins and Connors to instead write new lyrics for its, as he described it, haunting melody. The new song became the Oscar-nominated "Someone's Waiting for You".
The first of the Disney classics to improve the Xerography process considerably. While its xeroxed predecessors had a much sketchier look and used a black toner, this movie used a medium-gray toner for a softer-looking "line" (the cel artists added some color inks, too, but Xerography handled most of the inking). The Rescuers was also the first one where purple outlines (for Miss Bianca) was used (color-xerography). Later, other colors were developed.
The song "Someone's Waiting for You" composed by Sammy Fain was originally entitled "The Need to Be Loved" and featured lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. The new songwriting team for the film, made up of Ayn Robbins and Carol Connors re-wrote Fain's song in its entirety; however, for the final film version, the re-written opening stanza ("Every child has many wishes / that they wish when they're alone. / Faith can work just like magic / nothing changes when you're grown.") was cut. It is unknown whether the featured vocalist, Shelby Flint, ever recorded this missing stanza. Two demo recordings using Webster's proposed lyrics exist, one featuring his own voice and a second featuring Jennifer Paz. Both were released as part of a digital collection entitled "The Lost Chords: The Rescuers," which featured some of the other eliminated songs from the film.
The film was originally released in 3 Channel Stereo much like Fantasia (1940) in 1940, but due to major problems with sound equipment, the film was released in some parts of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico in monophonic sound. However, when Dolby Stereo dominated almost all sound film production in the '80s, the film was released in stereo once again in 1983. The film was still screened in mono sound in some theaters in the Midwest who were unwilling to equip with Dolby Stereo, but in all home video releases it is in true stereo sound.
The film has often been released accompanied by an animated short starring animals, usually mice (such as Mickey Mouse), for its theatrical and home video releases. The original theatrical release in 1977 featured A Tale of Two Critters (1977) and Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983) for the 1983 theatrical reissue. The 1999 home video release as part of the Masterpiece Collection included a Mickey Mouse Works (1999) cartoon entitled "Pluto Gets the Paper". The 2003 DVD and 2012 Blu-ray releases featured the Silly Symphony Three Blind Mouseketeers (1936). Although no animated shorts accompanied the original 1992 VHS release, it did include a trailer for The Great Mouse Detective (1986), Disney's next film featuring mice in the lead roles.
Early in story development, Bernard and Bianca were supposed to be rescuing a poet much older than Penny from a gloomy prison. This idea was scrapped since the directors decided that it was just not working.
The last film participation for animator-director John Lounsbery. He died nearly a year and a half before the film's release. His co-directorial duties were eventually passed on to animator Art Stevens.