Rescuers vs Rescuers: Sharp vs Disney

Over the weekend, I thought it would be interesting to do a comparison of Margery Sharp’s The Rescuers and Disney’s The Rescuers. This had more to do with having polished off the book on Sunday morning and spying the movie on a shelf in the afternoon but still…there was method to the hedgehog wasting time.

It was my first time through the book, beautifully illustrated by Garth Williams. Williams is best known, to me at least, for his work on the Little House books and has a very distinctive style which translates into a beautiful and whimsical set of mice.

Sharp tells a tale of Prisoner’s Aid Society, a group of mice based in the UK who offer comfort to those imprisoned. The mission in the book is the rescue of a Norwegian poet who is confined in an impossible to break into/out of prison that is beyond wastelands. And they need a mouse who speaks Norwegian.

A British diplomat’s son has a white mouse, a Miss Bianca, who travels “by Bag” to Norway and then returns to England with a Norwegian sailor mouse, Nils. The Aid Society reaches out to a pet mouse, Miss Bianca (who normally never leaves her palace), through the humble Pantrymouse Bernard. Once back in England these three friends then journey to the castle prision, live there for a month and outsmart both guards and the vicious prison cat to rescue the prisoner.

It’s a casual tale with months passing between one thing happening and another. This is more realistic but gives an impression of things moving slowly. But at the end the prisoner is rescued and headed home with a “Captain who asked no questions” and the mice head back to their very different lives: Miss Bianca to her lap of luxury, Nils back to Norway, and Bernard back to the pantry.

Cut to Disney…who read the book, liked the names and the idea of mice rescuing people and then called in someone to write a completely different story.

The Prisoner Aid Society has become the Rescue Aid Society and Miss Bianca is an active part–and she’s Hungarian (courtesy of her voice probably–Eva Gabor). Oh, and it’s set in New York. Bernard is promoted from brave pantry mouse to superstitious janitor. And now they’re off to rescue an orphan from a jewel-stealing villainess.

Coming out only 4 years after Robin Hood, one sees a very similar artistic style in many of the animal characters–particularly the turtles. Also, some of the same voices were used–though Eva Gabor and Bob Newhart pull the focus on the leading characters. Altogether this is a touching story of a rich diplomatic mouse and a more humble mouse working together to save a child. Madame Medusa is a frighteningly evil character whose passion for her alligators is only outweighed by her desire for the Devil’s Eye Diamond.

The setting in the Devil’s Bayou is simultaneously creepy and fantastic–with the alligators right at home waddling about and the other helpful animals on hand with their moonshine and rolling pins to save the day. Ending with Penny being adopted, it’s a touching tale about friends from different lifestyles coming together to help someone as well as a lovely story about adoption. And Miss Bianca and Bernard are charging off to help someone else as the film ends.

I won’t try to drag in Rescuers Down Under, mostly because I don’t have it. But it made for an interesting afternoon and I would recommend both book and film–though perhaps not together.