The Rescuers vs. Miss Bianca

Bernard, Bianca and Evinrude the dragonfly

With its female co-star, female villain and subliminal female nudity, Disney’s The Rescuers saw more ladies get the limelight.

Released in 1977, it was a testament to Bernard and Bianca’s prowess. Not only did the mice rescue little orphan Penny, but they also lifted Disney out of a rut by securing their first big hit since Walt’s death in 1966. This in turn spawned the first ever sequel (thanks, guys) and made an appropriate swan song for five of the original Nine Old Men. But how faithful is it to the book?

Initially, The Rescuers was to be based on Margery Sharp’s story of the same name, part of a series of nine adventures starring Miss Bianca and her loyal friend Bernard. But rescuing a Norwegian poet from the dreaded Black Castle – in a thinly-veiled Soviet Union – did not a happy family film make, and so the focus was switched to the second episode, entitled Miss Bianca, where the pair rescue a young girl from an evil duchess. I’ll be basing my comparison on the latter, but I’ll give you a shout when the first one pokes its little mousey nose in.

Although Elizabeth Taylor was snagged for the film version of The Nutmeg Tree, most of Sharp’s non-rodent work is under the radar. Eschewing emotion and romance for heroism and practicality, her style was charmingly branded as a “male perspective”, and her novels and plays span the best part of 50 years. Even though the gap between The Rescuers (1959), Miss Bianca (1962) and the film alone is more than ten years, and political correctness and women’s rights were gaining ground during this period, in some ways the original stories trump the film with their treatment of female characters. This is but one surprise in store on our rodent road trip, another being that you can’t always rescue everyone. Because the most important thing in a story with talking mice? Realism.

Main Characters

Disney version

Arabia and Africa are countries, right?

The Rescue Aid Society is a group of mice who meet in an unattended suitcase in the New York United Nations. (You decide which is less realistic.) In case their adorably stereotypical clothing didn’t do the trick, the delegates are helpfully seated by their country names, and pledge to always answer a call for help. They are bolstered by an anthem and a chairman, who employs various underlings to carry out his duties.

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One such underling is Bernard, the janitor. Although he happily joins in with said anthem and is a closet mouse agent, he is too modest to put himself forward for the job and simply shouts from the sidelines. Despite his strong sense of superstition and fear of heights, Bernard is impeccably practical and barely notices his own bravery at times. Fortunately, one particular mouse helps him to hone his skills and confidence.

Miss Bianca

Voiced by Eva Gabor, Hungarian delegate Miss Bianca is elegant, coy and completely fearless as well as entirely non-judgemental. Unless she sees you do something awful she will happily chat to you, and carries herself “like a lady” at all times, even when sauntering in late for an emergency meeting or missing a flight. Fortunately, her charms and wily ways breeze her out of many a sticky situation, and beneath the immaculate style beats a huge and tenacious heart with easily yankable strings.

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This is good news for little orphaned Penny, who by all accounts will grow up to be a badass. Only six years old, she’s nonplussed by crocodiles, potholing for diamonds and driving a vehicle with no training whatsoever – her only real fear is that she will never be adopted. On the whole she is polite to both of her captors, remembering her p’s and q’s unless Mr. Snoops earns a bit of sass, but at the same time the mastermind, Medusa, can freeze her in her tracks.

madame medusa

Madame Medusa is a pawn-shop owner and literal Cruella De Vil stand-in who also seeks a glamorous item. This time, rather than skinning innocent puppies for a fur coat, it involves kidnapping and traumatising a young girl until she finds a huge diamond called the Devil’s Eye. Aside from her ostentatious dress sense and two pet reptiles there is nothing remarkable about her – she is simply a woman who stoops to terrible lengths to gain a priceless object, making her one of Disney’s most relatable and realistic villains.

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Nero and Brutus are the aforementioned crocodiles whose skills include patrolling the swamp, hunting down errant children and playing the organ. They reward Penny’s back-chat with guffawing and Mr. Snoops’ sycophancy with aggression, but seem generally loyal to Medusa despite her chaining them up outside every night. They are at least treated better than anyone else in her posse.

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Snoops is Medusa’s bumbling assistant. Controlling a six year-old girl is too much for him, let alone two entitled crocodiles, but he is apt at playing with fireworks, shifting the blame on to other people, and missing each and every hint that Medusa will run off with the diamond the first chance she gets.

So we have an international mouse rescue ring, two mouse agents (one a former caretaker) and a feisty young girl going up against two crooks and their crocodiles. This sounds charmingly comical now, but it’s positively side-splitting when compared to the original.

Sharp version

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Image by Garth Williams.

In the first episode The Rescuers we are introduced to the Prisoners’ Aid Society, a group of everyday mice who meet in a wine casket somewhere in the Mediterranean. Surprisingly, Disney didn’t just change their name to make a catchier song – rescuing anyone is completely beyond their remit. With an anthem focusing on cheese and all its awesomeness, they limit themselves to giving prisoners a pat on the shoulder rather than busting them out, and it’s only due to some recent radicals that it’s even being considered. What’s more, the society is headed by a chairwoman, and by the second episode, it’s Miss Bianca herself who is sitting in the hot seat.

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Miss Bianca, by Garth Williams

Our leading lady is a white mouse who lives in a porcelain pagoda and is the pet and companion of the ambassador’s son, meaning she has been raised in lavish surroundings with human beings. Miss Bianca finds herself roped into the Prisoners’ Aid Society thanks to her sense of duty and international travel links, and is as inseparable from decorum as her neck chain, meaning she often approaches danger aiming for negotiation rather than fight or flight.

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Bernard, by Garth Williams.

In such  situations it’s her loyal and modest friend Bernard who does the worrying for her. In The Rescuers he is a pantry worker, giving him a similar social standing to janitor among the mice, but by Miss Bianca he has been promoted to society secretary as he is always so practical and reliable. There is, however, an impulsive nature hidden under the polite and unassuming one, as he has at some point earnt the Tybalt Star, a medal for bravery in the face of cats. This impulsive nature surfaces more and more as his devotion to Miss Bianca increases.

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Image by Garth Williams.

Little orphaned Patience, on the other hand, can only dream of such devotion. She is starved of all friendship and affection, meaning she will emotionally attach herself to anything with a face, and due to being mercilessly worked in the duchess’ service looks the same age as Penny despite being two years older. So who is this despicable woman?

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Image by Garth Williams.

You wouldn’t know it from her name, but the Diamond Duchess is even more obsessed with diamonds than Medusa, decking out her entire palace with jewels in a landmark of awful, world-renowned bling. Her cruel and selfish nature is just as famous, earning her the suspicion of sorceress among the locals and immovable tyrant among the country’s leaders. Although she has all the money and possessions she wishes, the Diamond Duchess has no dreams of her own and treats everyone else like objects, making her utterly irredeemable.

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Image by Garth Williams.

Mandrake, the major-domo, is another of the duchess’ slave-driven servants. He is trapped in her employ because she is the only one with evidence of a crime that he committed, but he does find some pleasure in his job by getting trashed on bad port or emotionally abusing an eight year-old girl. He is unexpectedly swapped with an evil ranger later in the story who uses a different method of inflicting misery: bloodhounds.

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Image by Garth Williams.

Tyrant and Torment are the duchess’ dogs who are stationed in a hunting lodge in the woods. Unlike Nero and Brutus they can be engaged in conversation, but lack any sense of remorse or pity for anyone on their hit-list, whether it’s a bog-standard poacher or a helpless little girl.

Sharp gives the main characters a social upgrade, but downgrades the European Prisoners’ Aid Society from official and heroic to symbolic and ad hoc. This is unfortunate, given that our orphan is being held by a sadistic aristocrat rather than thieves after a quick buck. On the other hand, Bernard and Bianca’s characters are mostly unchanged, and in both versions it’s the female characters who take centre stage with the males playing an awkward second fiddle to them and their prophetically-named animal lackeys. The only exception is the chairman of Disney’s Rescue Aid Society, and both his reaction, and that of the Prisoners’ Aid Society to the mission, is another of the stand-out differences between the two stories.

Call For Help

Disney version

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Before the opening credits we glimpse the villains’ moderately cool hideout – a shipwrecked showboat in a swamp – and a furtive Penny dropping a message in a bottle overboard. This is in full view of Nero and Brutus, and apparently not the first time, making the crocodiles and Snoops’ guarding skills on a par with Bernard’s message extraction skills when the bottle finally arrives at Rescue Aid Society H.Q.

bernard and bianca bottle

“Silly thing. Why didn’t you just lie the bottle down?”

The letter is smeared, but there’s enough to know Penny is pleading her former orphanage to help her. Miss Bianca’s heart is skewered and she begs the society chairman to let her take the mission, but since she is just a lady, he gives her paw a fatherly pat and says he needs to send someone with her. Too dignified to give him a roundhouse kick to the face, Bianca looks upon the sea of raised arms and realises she has the pick of the litter. Strangely, she chooses Bernard, who was both vocally opposed to her going and the one she was coyly gazing at during proceedings. With some good-natured cajoling from all sides, the reluctant Bernard agrees to come along after all. Oddly, he’s not the one who needs encouragement in the original.

Sharp version

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Image by Garth Williams.

On the face of it, Miss Bianca has everything sorted. She already knows about Patience’s predicament and even has a home lined up for her in the subtly-named Happy Valley, where a farming family lost a daughter years ago and are aching for another one. What’s more, the Diamond Palace is in the exact same town as the society, making it the simplest mission ever put before them. Too bad they don’t think an eight year-old slave girl is worth saving.

Why? Firstly, she’s too boring. Fresh from the excitement of the Black Castle rescue, the Prisoners’ Aid Society were hoping for a grand adventure with swashbuckling pirates. Secondly, little girls prefer little kittens, and mice don’t like kittens. Using expert flattery to cut through the disappointment (and our general impression that mice are bastards), Miss Bianca both persuades them to help, and, as a spiffing boost of morale, convinces the oft-unsung Ladies’ Guild to take the reins on this occasion, since as one group they can scare away the duchess’ ladies in waiting and give Patience a chance to escape. Worried for his lady love as usual, Bernard disguises himself as a woman so he can come along too. Unfortunately, he is busted mere moments before the mice leave and is chided back to his secretarial post by Bianca.

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Image by Garth Williams.

Those masks are to filter out the duchess’ perfume, but if you thought of anything unsavoury, don’t worry, because Sharp completely did as well – apparently the mice find them “coquettish” and even pose for photos while wearing them. Hey, if you had 60 babies a year you might need to spice things up a bit too.

Moving swiftly on, it’s amusing that in the version with an organised escape plan and victim after-care the mission’s biggest obstacle is apathy. Conversely, the Disney mice don’t have a clue where to find Penny, let alone any escape plan or what to do with her afterwards, but are still falling over themselves to help. Otherwise, in both the book and the film the rescue is unusual in that either the Ladies’ Guild or a lone female agent end up accepting the mission, and more unusual still, it’s the 1960s book that has less of an issue with Bianca being in charge. In any case, each Bianca has a hidden agenda, either to boost the morale of a certain group or to spend time with the mouse she finds most alluring. Whether or not he puts his money where his mouth is, Bernard is concerned for Bianca’s safety, and this brings us to one of the key story themes.

Bernard and Bianca

Disney version

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With their mutual respect, politeness and inherent trust, these mice have as much romantic tension as another pair of famous investigators.

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However, due to a short lifespan this pair can’t wait seven years before getting together, and refreshingly it’s Bianca who puts the moves on Bernard. Beginning with a spray of perfume and a coy look, she then progresses to a comforting peck when flying (and possibly the naked lady) throws Bernard off balance, ending with a nonchalant snuggle as they fly under a rainbow.

bernard-and-bianca

As a pair they are a perfect match: she is elegant and confident, he is modest and chivalrous, meaning that for all Bernard’s concerns and misgivings about their journey, he throws all caution to the wind to rescue Bianca, for instance when she’s thrown overboard or they’re ambushed by crocodiles. Similarly, when Bernard frequently questions their odds of completing the mission, Bianca gives him a much-needed morale boost and general nudges of encouragement throughout their trip. Despite their differences, they never lose their temper with one another, instead doing everything they can to make the situation right for the other. Throw in a few instances of saving each other’s lives and you have the perfect recipe for romance.

Evinrude’s journeys are always traumatic.

To add the obligatory mouse joke, the only dish in the original is hard cheese.

Sharp version

Bernard and Miss Bianca

Image by Garth Williams.

While Miss Bianca shoulders the burden of leadership, life-threatening situations and keeping up appearances, Bernard supports her in public and dashes to save her despite his odds, romantic or otherwise. In contrast to the film, the mice only ever lose their temper with each other – Bernard at Miss Bianca for venturing out to the Happy Valley all by herself, and she right back at him for trying to stow away on her mission. But such passion is deceptive. I mentioned earlier that Bianca was Bernard’s lady love, but sadly this is all in his own head. Prepare for a narrative slap in the face, because social status drives a huge and impregnable wedge between them.

At the end of The Rescuers, a meek and hopeful Bernard approaches Bianca suggesting a happy but modest life with him down in the pantry, but the ambassador’s footman (human) scoops her up to take her back to the boy, and they agree that this is where she belongs. At the end of Miss Bianca, she puts the final nail in the coffin by refusing to let him keep her silver necklace that he found, the idea being that he’d otherwise carry a torch for her. She considers their backgrounds too different for their relationship to be anything more, and reiterates that he should treat her like a sister instead.

So there you have it – one of Disney’s most famous couples was never meant to be, with Bernard relegated not to the friend-zone, but the dreaded sibling-zone, all thanks to Bianca pouring water on the flames. In the film, as soon as the mice lay eyes on each other it’s obvious that something’s a-brewing, and although their evenly matched personalities and adventure strengthen the attraction anyway, Bianca does her part to help things along. The main reason Sharp’s mice remain unrequited is to keep up appearances, and this will backfire on both of them when it comes to the mission.

Mouse Trip

Disney version

Bernard & Bianca - Die Mäusepolizei 1

After braving the rain and a grumpy lion, Bernard and Bianca arrive at Penny’s orphanage. Rufus, the resident cat, admits the girl was worried about being left on the shelf, but can’t understand why she would run away, especially after his pep talk about keeping the faith. When pressed, he vaguely waves a paw towards a suspicious man and woman who were hanging around her. Their next stop? The police station, where the mice circulate Penny’s description and that of said man or woman so that the authorities have a new lead.

Nah, only joking. Instead they go to Medusa’s pawn shop, overhear a discriminating phone call between her and Snoops, and as she heads down to meet him at Devil’s Bayou, they decide to follow her via bra strap, suitcase, and then the more traditional albatross. Thanks to Bianca, Bernard learns to appreciate the joys of air travel, but any romantic fireworks are replaced with real ones, courtesy of Mr. Snoops.  Fortunately, while Orville the albatross pretty much leaves the mice to tumble to their deaths, the swamp folk catch them and perk them up with a dusting off or swig of moonshine.

Penny, Nero and Brutus in the swamp

They’re not the only ones having a rough ride; Penny has tried to escape again and has been snatched up by Nero and Brutus. As the crocs drag her through the swamp, Bernard and Bianca chase after them with Evinrude, the fastest dragonfly around, while the swamp folk suddenly decide to get off their backsides and help by rounding up reinforcements. Water transport proves no more fun than flying; after being slopped about and running Evinrude ragged, it’s by sheer luck that the mice come upon the shipwrecked showboat and manage to sneak inside.

The journey in the original has other ways of being traumatic.

Sharp version

Image by Garth Williams

Image by Garth Williams

Bianca and the Ladies’ Guild have a shorter but ironically far less glamorous trip to the duchess’ Diamond Palace. Unfortunately the easiest and most direct route is via dust-cart, meaning they have to share the ride with piles of stinking household waste and a fluffy little kitten. Which is also dead.

Regardless of their anti-cat stance, the mice decide the decent thing to do is bury the kitten under a pile of potato peelings and use their packed lunches as a sort of after-funeral dinner. No, I’m really not joking this time.

With that trauma out of the way, they can prepare for the next one, which results in every single one of the mice, except Bianca, fleeing in abject terror from the palace throne room. It turns out that the duchess’ ladies in waiting are made entirely out of clockwork, so not only are they impervious to the fear of rodents, their unstoppable shoes threaten to squash them mercilessly underfoot.

Clockwork maids

Image by Garth Williams.

While Bianca manages to find sanctuary in Patience’s pocket, the Ladies’ Guild hot-foots it back to the rest of the Prisoners’ Aid Society and puts on a brave face, pretends it was all part of Bianca’s plan and promptly forgets about the eight year-old slave, their abandoned chairwoman and the mission. Likewise Bernard, remembering the severe finger-wagging Bianca gave him earlier, grudgingly decides to leave things be and trust that she can handle everything. Hooray for social obligation!

Both sets of heroes have a horrendous journey, but Disney’s Bernard and Bianca could at least enjoy snatches of romance and rainbows as opposed to unfiltered rubbish, dead cats and clockwork horrors. Logistics aside, these mice knew from the start that they would have to go it alone, so Orville making a quick exit isn’t entirely unexpected, and they at least pick up some allies along the way. In the original, poor Bianca loses all of her reinforcements and is utterly abandoned, and for the foreseeable future it seems, for no reason other than to avoid making everyone feel embarrassed.  On the plus side, the mice have reached their destination and can now tend to the captive. One clearly has better coping skills than the other, and it’s not the one you’d expect.

Little Girl Lost

Disney version

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Local transport doesn’t suck for if you’re Medusa, who crashes in on possibly the coolest vehicle ever, a.k.a. a swamp mobile, before throwing her temper and second grade jewels around in frustration. Why such a fuss over a little girl? She’s the only one who can fit into the cave where the diamond was hidden, and to make matters worse, the cave floods whenever the tide comes in, cutting short any search efforts. Medusa thinks all Penny needs is an adrenaline boost, and accuses Snoops of being too soft on her, promising that next time she’ll make sure the girl stays down there until she finds the gem, lung capacity be damned.

Penny is only helping on the promise they’ll take her back to the orphanage, but rather than dangle the carrot, Medusa tries to break the mule, sweetly telling her no one will ever adopt her anyway, and that her current situation is more than she deserves. This is the only thing that breaks our orphan, and she returns to her bedroom in tears.

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“Uh-oh, looks like I swallowed swamp water again.”

Thankfully, yet another Oscar-nominated song, a Bambi-family cameo and remembering Rufus’ words about faith lift her spirits again, and after saying her prayers before bed, Penny opens her eyes to see Bernard and Bianca. Her reaction? To ask why they didn’t bring anyone else with them (like the police), and figuring out the escape plan all by herself.

Will Patience cope much better? Well, let’s see what she has to contend with.

Sharp version

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Clue: it’s worse than high-pitched singing. Image by Garth Williams.

The Diamond Duchess is a hard woman to please, as evidenced by the countless ladies in waiting who have been fired, quit, had nervous breakdowns or fainted en masse. For this reason they were replaced with twelve inexhaustible clockwork versions, but the old bat also needs the sights and sounds of acute human misery to perk her up. Whenever she hears of a newly orphaned girl, she orders her kidnapped so that she has someone to scream at and beat with a cane. For his part, Mandrake dabs the orphan with emotional abuse by telling her that beggars can’t be choosers.

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“Call me ‘Marge Simpson’ again and I’ll feed you to my chair!” Image by Garth Williams.

If that wasn’t depressing enough, Patience is the latest and only whipping girl – all of her predecessors died young, sometimes in ways that leave a bad taste. For the humans, anyway.

Miss Bianca is fuelled by anger at the girl’s predicament as well as at her own fear of the clockwork staff, and tries to pry useful information out of her that could lead to an escape. The fortified front door is a no-go, but apparently Mandrake once left the back door unlocked when the clockwork maker visited. Patience was too frightened to run, but odds are good that the door will be left unlocked again when the maker does his rounds. His next appointment isn’t until next year, but Miss Bianca decides to wreck his schedule by sabotaging the ladies in waiting herself. In the interim, she sings Patience to sleep and urgently hopes that Bernard will come to help her.

See what I mean about not being able to rescue everyone? For all of Miss Bianca’s research and preparation she has somehow missed a whole factory line of orphans, making Patience’s situation all the more desperate as there is no end in sight other than her own death. While the Disney version also has a young girl held against her will, it softens the child labour blow by making Snoops and Medusa unpleasant rather than threatening, and by showing that the girl is still capable of hope. She is also the only one to broach the subject of other human adults coming to help. Happily, Patience has a reason to hope now too, and both girls decide they will put up and shut up no longer now that their rescuers are here.

What A Diamond

Disney version

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Having overheard Medusa’s plan, Bernard advises them to escape that very night. But in a plot hole larger than the mouth of the cave, we suddenly cut to the next morning where Penny is lowered via bucket into the cavern, with her beloved teddy held captive by Medusa. Bernard and Bianca help her pick through pirate bones, rocks and several instances of near-death by drowning to find the Devil’s Eye lodged inside a skull.

devil's eye

Just as the waves start to high-five each other Penny and the mice are hoisted out, and predictably Medusa grabs and claims the diamond all for herself. She ushers the whole troop back to the hideout at gunpoint before stuffing Teddy with the gem and making off with her trusty shotgun. Fortunately, an exhausted Evinrude has dodged fatigue and a colony of bloodthirsty bats to call in reinforcements, consisting of a pair of muskrats, an owl, a tortoise and a rabbit  in various states of intoxication.

Instead of a drunken posse, salvation for Sharp’s Bianca comes in the form of Bernard, who has swapped his pretty dress for a full-on arsenal.

Sharp version

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Image by Garth Williams.

After several days with no news, Bernard upgrades his worried pacing to a pursuit armed with two swords, three daggers, two hatchets and half a lawnmower. To avoid looking like a rodent Leatherface he piles all of his weapons into a handcart and poses as a knife grinder, even going so far as to take lessons before he leaves. Shockingly, going the extra mile backfires, because by the time he reaches the Diamond Palace it’s completely empty.

Once again Miss Bianca’s plan has suffered a hitch; although she meticulously disabled all of the clockwork ladies the night before and the clockmaker is on his way, the duchess has thrown a strop and decided she wants to stay in her hunting lodge in the woods until they’re fixed. To give some clue as to where they are headed, Bianca throws her precious neck chain out of the carriage window.

Soon after arriving at the lodge, she leaves Patience in her new bedroom with prison-cell motif and seeks out Tyrant and Torment, hoping to convince them to help or at least let the girl escape. The bloodhounds are impeccably polite, offering her a nicely polished seat, but impeccably implacable when it comes to the duchess’ orders, so Miss Bianca soon realises it’s a lost cause. Even before noticing her “seat” is in fact the gnawed shin-bone of a human child.

Fortunately, an abundance of foresight means that Bernard finds the neck chain and ups his speed.

It’s a close call, but I’d say being eaten by dogs is worse than drowning, so it’s a good thing Sharp’s Bianca is the more determined and resourceful rescuer. Although she’s a victim of bad luck, she has given herself a safety net, which is more than the Disney pair can say. It may be due to budget rather than lazy storytelling, but there is no reason given as to why the animated mice didn’t get Penny out of the swamp that night, as they had reinforcements waiting and they could have executed the plan there and then. Still, they are about to redeem themselves by finally putting their rescue plan into action.

Escape the Rat Race

Disney version

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“We’ve got enough fuel to reach New York, right?”

As well as the swamp, the captors, and the hundreds of miles between them and the orphanage, Bernard, Bianca and Penny have two reptilian roadblocks to contend with. Nero and Brutus already welcomed the mice into the showboat with an organ recital and a clapping of jaws, but with the help of Penny’s quick thinking and Bianca’s perfume, they manage to lure and trap them inside a lift cage.

As for Medusa and Snoops, Bernard and Bianca distract them by setting off Snoops’ fireworks indoors while Penny helpfully offers to drive the swamp mobile. Our main villain doesn’t take this too well, blasting at all and sundry with her shotgun before unconventionally waterskiing after her captive and potential fortune.

I stand corrected: this is the most awesome form of transport ever.

I stand corrected: this is the most awesome form of transport ever.

Thanks to the explosions, Medusa’s recklessness and Penny’s driving, Snoops is left half naked and half blown up, and Nero and Brutus live up to their names by deciding they’ve had enough of their owner’s nonsense, cornering her on a pole and threatening to snap her up.

Will Bianca and Patience escape as spectacularly?

Sharp version

In her first stroke of luck for several days, Miss Bianca discovers that the Happy Valley isn’t too far from the lodge. That very night she and Patience make a run for it, but said luck lasts about as long as Bernard’s disguise did; the duchess suddenly wakes up demanding a foot massage, and when it’s revealed that her slave has escaped, she commands the Chief Ranger and his dogs to bring her back, dead or alive. Even Mandrake thinks this is a step too far, but as usual he just sits back and lets things happen.

After a brief pitstop at a charcoal burner’s (who seems all too eager to wash his hands of a weak and frightened orphan) Bianca and Patience reach the very farm they were looking for, but their knocks on the front door are drowned out by the approaching hounds. Since she scouted out the farm previously, Miss Bianca knows they can hide up a ladder in the dovecote, out of the dogs’ reach, but is less sure what to do about the Chief Ranger who has just appeared at the foot of the steps.

For his part, he’s unsettled by the lack of blood around the dogs’ jowls, because it means he’ll have to finish the job himself or drag the girl back to the duchess for a worse fate. Before he can ponder this too long he is accosted by frightened pigeons – expertly panicked by Miss Bianca, who can speak their language – and suddenly receives a mouse-sized knife to the throat courtesy of a daring Bernard. The combination of squawking birds and shouts of pain attracts the attention of the farmer’s eldest sons on their way back from partying. Immediately sussing out the situation, they rescue Patience before dunking the ranger in the mill pond and giving each dog a bitch-slap.

Sharp’s characters resort to a midnight flight through the woods with man-eating bloodhounds on their tail rather than playing with fireworks and alcohol, and it’s thanks to Bianca’s quick thinking and Bernard’s incredible timing that the day is saved, with the ensuing ruckus attracting the attention of their salvation. In the film, the escape plan  – thought up almost entirely by the captive – begins with a distraction and ends with a chase. Again, it’s more comical than life or death – if Medusa or Snoops got their hands on the girl they would clasp them around the diamond rather than her neck. Still, all’s well that ends well, and with our heroes home and dry in both versions, what’s next for our orphans?

Home Sweet Home

Disney version

2433441-rescuers_disneyscreencaps_com_8186

A victorious Rescue Aid Society watches the news inside the suitcase (which somehow remains unattended, even with an obvious power source and wires hanging out of it) to discover the Devil’s Eye has been sent to a museum, and more importantly, that Penny has been adopted by a loving couple. The girl brightly explains that it was Bernard and Bianca who helped her escape and gives them a wave, much to the confusion and bemusement of the reporter. There is no word of what happened to Medusa or Snoops, or any mention of kidnappers, so we must assume either the crocs finished them off or that they got away scot-free.

Moments later, Evinrude, who’s obviously a glutton for punishment, appears to deliver a message about another kidnapped child needing help. Bianca immediately volunteers them, and although Bernard initially objects, he is conquered by her winning smile and together they set off for another adventure. Because that’s the right attitude when looking for a minor held against their will.

Sharp’s Bernard and Bianca, on the other hand, receive a more material reward.

Sharp version

http://myvintagebookcollectioninblogform.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/miss-bianca-illustrated-by-garth.html

Image by Garth Williams.

With Patience tucked snugly in bed, the farmer’s wife thanks Miss Bianca for her help and offers the reward of a matchbox house and free bacon rinds every morning. Bianca diplomatically explains she already has her own digs back in the village, and that she must check on it in case her maids broke anything while spring cleaning. Instead of staying, she leaves Patience one last lullaby, which the farmer’s wife promises to pass down the family for years to come. Later on, the girl marries the eldest of the sons – with a presumed age gap of about 15 years, interesting – and Bianca and Bernard receive yet another medal for their bravery.

What happened to the Chief Ranger, Tyrant and Torment, Mandrake and the Diamond Duchess? Mandrake tries to redeem himself in a later episode called The Turret, but otherwise the duchess is presumably free to continue kidnapping orphaned girls and working them to death, or alternatively feeding them to the dogs.

Never mind that though, because both of these orphans end up with a loving new home, allowing Bernard and Bianca to nod at a job well done before washing their hands of their clients and moving on to the next. While Disney shows the villains receiving some payback for their crime, Sharp’s go almost entirely unpunished, but on the other hand, Bianca has more contact with Patience’s new family and was more involved in getting her there, compared to Penny’s incidental adoption at the end of the story. It seems Disney’s version is more concerned with the here and now – i.e. the rescue – while Sharp’s looks beyond getting the girl out of harm’s way and into the arms of a loving family. Then again, given her traumatic experience, anything less would have driven her stir crazy.

Conclusion

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhoever said a story with talking mice had to be cute?

Sharp’s Miss Bianca is loaded with glimpses of a darker reality behind the twee little rodents going about their business (and occasionally wearing bondage masks). Our orphan is held simply out of sadism and spite, and any peril in the story is most certainly life-threatening, albeit due to a tyrannical aristocrat or man-eating bloodhounds, and with a gruesome history to back it up. Death is never far away either, even on a short journey.

This is also Bianca’s story. In spite of a stream of bad luck, abandonment and various other obstacles she remains calm and collected at all times, thinks on her feet, and more than earns her position as chairwoman of the Prisoners’ Aid Society. Bernard is her faithful friend and loyal protector without being a knight in shining armour to a helpless damsel, and this is the key theme of the story – the importance of friendship and devotion. For all her lavish surroundings, the defenceless Patience is miserable and abused, and the Diamond Duchess is none too happy a character either despite having her every whim catered to. The girl only finds happiness once she has love and affection, and it’s Bernard’s devotion to Bianca that makes him risk his life to find her.

Disney’s The Rescuers also has the theme of friendship, but its main message is to never give up hope. We have Penny, who is afraid of never being adopted or rescued but ends up being both, and two mice facing staggering odds to reach and help her, all because they believe that they can achieve their respective goals. They’re also self-starters, because the girl makes varied escape attempts and thinks up most of the plan, and Bernard and Bianca boost each other’s spirits without any outside intervention. The result? Both parties receive help from others once they have helped themselves, showing you shouldn’t just sit back and wait for things to happen. And that if you fight for what you feel is right, you’ll eventually get it, unless you do something illegal (although vehicle theft apparently doesn’t count).

The film takes a mean-spirited situation and villain in a glamorous décor, pours all that unpleasantness into a swamp, and makes the crooks less threatening, the child less traumatised, and the lead mice more amorous. That’s also lead mice, as Bernard and Bianca are at level pegging in Disney’s version, either because Disney shied away from having a strong female character with no romantic interest, or wanted to reinforce the idea of friendship and togetherness, possibly both. Either way, we ended up with one of animation’s most memorable and balanced animal couples. Speaking of animals, all that’s left now is the elephant in the room: neither set of characters ever consider calling the police. At all. So the lesson here is to always take the law into your own hands.

Disney-04

Oh, sorry Bianca – and to make sure you look classy while doing it.

Sources

1) The Rescuers, 1977. Film. Directed by John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman, and Art Stevens, U.S.A. Walt Disney Pictures.

2) Sharp, Margery. A Rescuers Three in One. HarperCollins, Glasgow, 1993. ISBN: 978-0006746263

3) Sharp, Margery. Miss Bianca in the Salt Mines. William Collins Sons and Co. Ltd, Great Britain, 1966. ISBN: 978-0006713241.

4) http://myvintagebookcollectioninblogform.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/miss-bianca-illustrated-by-garth.html Accessed 20th February 2014.

5) The Independent. Forgotten Authors No. 16: Margery Sharp. 2008. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/forgotten-authors-no-16-margery-sharp-1038137.html Accessed 12th March 2014.

6) Oxford Index. Margery Sharp.

http://oxfordindex.oup.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100459736 Accessed 24th February 2014.

7) Dan. Behind the Scenes of The Rescuers. 2013. http://icanbreakaway.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/behind-scenes-of-rescuers.html

8) King, Susan. Disney’s Animated Classic ‘The Rescuers’ Marks 35th Anniversary. Los Angeles Times, 22 June 2012. http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jun/22/entertainment/la-et-mn-disney-animated-film-the-rescuers-is-35-20120621

9) Canby, Vincent. Disney’s ‘Rescuers’, Cheerful Animation. New York Times, 7 July 1977. http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9F03E2DE1F39E334BC4F53DFB166838C669EDE

10) Butler, Craig. The Rescuers. http://www.allmovie.com/movie/the-rescuers-v40980/review  Accessed 11th February 2014.

11) http://www.frankanollie.com/Film_Features.html. Accessed 11th February 2014.

12) Empire. Disney Controversies: True or False? http://www.empireonline.com/features/disney-controversies-true-or-false/6.asp Accessed 4th March 2014.

13) Britannica.com. Disney Companyhttp://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/165722/Disney-Company Accessed 6th March 2014.

14) http://www.disneystore.co.uk/the-rescuers-dvd/mp/11699/1500065/#longDesc Accessed 11th February 2014.

15) Goodreads.com. Margery Sharphttp://www.goodreads.com/author/show/43970.Margery_Sharp Accessed 12th March 2014.

14 thoughts on “The Rescuers vs. Miss Bianca

  1. I love the Miss Bianca books but have only been able to find and read the first 5 out of the 9 books written. Have you read them all?

    • Hi Ara,

      Thanks for your message. It was quite a while ago now to be honest, but I think you’ve read more than I have – I have only read Miss Bianca, The Rescuers, The Turret, and Miss Bianca in the Salt Mines. The rest are dotted about on Amazon I think. Take care!

  2. If you claimed that there’s nothing remarkable about Medusa and criticized her for stooping to terrible lengths, then why did you claim her to be one of the most realistic and relatable villains? There’s no way whatsoever that I can relate to her because of how nasty she is. Can you believe that she broke her promise on giving Penny’s teddy bear back to her by threatening to hold her at gunpoint? If I’m Penny, I’d stand up to Medusa and show her no mercy, especially since I’ve dealt with people like that villainess before.

    As for Medusa’s tyranny, how is that famous? If you ask me, tyranny’s infamous while benevolent dictatorship is famous. Picture it this way: you earn many friends if you don’t antagonize other people. But if you antagonize others, you create enemies out of them.

    I’m not pointing all this out to you to make you feel bad. Instead, I’m trying to prove a point.

    Anyway, to prove my hatred of Medusa some more, I’m glad that Neon and Brutus turned against her just as I wish that Joanna of The Rescuers Down Under did to me actually due to my love for reptiles over mammals and other animals. But I would like it better if I saw those cold-blooded animals actually kill their former bosses. That would teach those archfiends for mistreating their underlings.

    • Hi again Mysterious One, nice to hear from you!

      I think Medusa is one of the most realistic and relatable villains precisely because there is nothing remarkable about her. By that I mean she has no supernatural powers, she doesn’t have any official powers i.e. isn’t a policewoman or anything, and didn’t suffer any huge tragedy or anything else that might have made her change from good to bad. She’s simply a woman who wants to make a quick buck and doesn’t really care how – like Frollo, just a normal human being with really warped values, although perhaps not quite as evil as the judge!

      Not sure I mentioned Medusa’s tyranny being famous – I was talking about the original villain, the Diamond Duchess. In the book she is renowned for being tyrannical, both among the officials in her country and worldwide. You can still be famous for being evil, but “infamous” is just a more negative term for it.

      I thought it was funny how she treats her crocodiles nicer than anyone, but they’re the ones who turn on her most aggressively. I like reptiles too, I think they get a bad rep (pardon the pun), and at least Joanna gets away while Mcleach gets swept over the falls, so there’s some justice I suppose. Thanks for commenting!

      • ^Thanks for your reply. By the way, I accidentally put “me” between “to” and “actually.” Instead, I meant to to put “McLeach” between those words. My mistake.

      • As much I hate Medusa, you’re right that she isn’t evil as Frollo.

      • You’re right that reptiles get a bad rep (reputation). And I can’t stand that they get clobbered by non-reptilian beings. One example is what the gorilla (which is Greek for “wild hairy person”) did to my favorite dinosaur (Greek for “terrible lizard”) and animal of all: Tyrannosaurus, which is Greek for “Tyrant Lizard.” And that traumatized me to the point where I’d go berserk whenever a mammal harms and kills a reptile.

        Anyway, thank you for liking reptiles. As for me, I do more than like them. I love them!

        As you might find out, dinosaurs/dinos are my favorites of all reptiles. But my brother, who’s the same gender as me but a few years younger than I am, seems to obsess over them. In fact, he has been doing that since childhood. And it drives me crazy! Therefore, I wish that he’d be weaned from that fanaticism of his.

      • Hi again Mysterious One,

        I (may be) about to rock your world – did you know that dinosaurs aren’t actually reptiles? They look the part, but they’re a different branch entirely. I’m a bit rusty on the exact science, but cold-blooded and warm-blooded animals have a slightly different type of bone makeup, and remarkably dinosaurs have a mixture of both types. Apologies if you already knew this! Ha ha well I can’t blame your brother, I find dinosaurs fascinating even now. It gets a bit disheartening when you ask someone in a bookshop if they have any dinosaur books and they point at stuff like “Timmy the T-Rex Comes to Tea” and so on. But there are worse things to get annoyed about I suppose! Thanks for commenting again.

  3. Sometimes, some crimes go slippin’ through the cracks
    But these two gumshoes are pickin’ up the slack
    There’s no case too big, no case too small
    When you need help just call

    The rescuers!
    When there’s danger
    Oh no, it never fails
    Once they’re involved
    Somehow whatever’s wrong gets solved

    Fresh prints, not since Watson and Mr. Holmes
    Have two minds so fine looked under every stone
    When you need some help to save the day
    They’re never far away

    The Rescuers!
    When there’s danger
    Oh no, it never fails
    Once they’re involved
    Somehow whatever’s wrong gets solved

    Grey skies, it’s trouble
    Bad guys see double
    When they’re around, the chips are never down

    The Rescuers!
    When there’s danger
    Oh no, it never fails
    They’ll take the clues
    And find the wheres and whys and whos

    Grey skies, it’s trouble
    Bad guys see double
    When they’re around, the chips are never down

    The Rescuers!
    When there’s danger
    Oh no, it never fails
    They’ll take the clues
    And find the wheres and whys and whos

  4. I have to say, one of the most interesting things about these comparisons is finding out Disney movies I never knew were based on books, well, are based on books (I is eloquent). Like this one or The Fox and the Hound. Thank you for another interesting comparison!

    Are you planning on doing a Frozen vs. The Snow Queen at some point? Unlike most originals on this site, I’ve actually read the Snow Queen, so it’d be extra interesting to see your take on it.

    • Hi Jessica,

      You’re welcome. I was also surprised that The Rescuers was based on a book, as it seemed like something Disney might have made up on the fly. My Disney fan card should be taken away as I haven’t gotten around to seeing Frozen yet, but if it’s based on the Snow Queen I’ll definitely tackle that one at some point. Thanks for stopping by to comment!

      • You’re not the only one who never thought that The Rescuers is based on a book. I never found that out until you discovered it and made it known to this world.

      • Quite! Most people I’ve spoken to have been surprised about that, mind you Disney did come up with the most famous talking mouse so it makes sense!

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