The further one goes into the past, the more difficult it becomes to find interesting female characters to write about, mostly because old ideas how a woman should be like influences how they are written. The house wife which suddenly becomes famous is naturally totally unhappy with her fame and decides to “go back” to her husband (and it occurs nobody that the husband is a selfish dick for not helping her out a little bit and being more understanding that she wants a career, too). The lady in trouble which is rescued by her hero. And sometimes the stubborn woman who has to learn to be more what the society expects her to be. In short, most movies about females breaking out of their “normal life” end up with them settling in the limited roles society considers appropriate for them and call that a happy end. Or they try to break out of gender roles and end up punished for it.
That doesn’t mean though that more modern adaptations are necessarily the better ones in terms of how female characters are portrayed, as Disney’s two Rescuer’s movies definitely proof. Those are certainly hard to compare. The first one is basically a classic detective story, which mostly focusses on Bernard and Bianca following clues in order to find and finally rescue Penny. The second one is an action movie, which mostly focusses on Cody’s plight, until Bernard and Bianca manage to reach him. What movie has the better approach is up to debate. But when it comes to portraying Bianca, the first one certainly has gotten it right.
The first time we see Bianca is when she arrives late to a Rescue Aid Society meeting. And from the get go it is clear: Here comes a lady! The way she marches down the aisle, followed by the looks of various male members of the assembly, immediately establishes her as the unreachable object of desire.
One thing I really appreciate about the movie is that it actually addresses social expectations. Bianca is a member of the Rescue Aid Society, yet when she asks to be send out to search for Penny, the very idea that she might go on such a mission is not exactly meet with enthusiasm. In fact, the main reason she gets the permission is partly because nobody wants admit that gender equality might not be THAT equal after all, and partly because Bernard voices concern for her safety, which in turn puts the Chairman in the position of either agreeing with their janitor or finding another solution – which is that she should take a male protector with her.
If you really think about it, the whole concept is quite comical, because male or not, whoever she will choose as protector will still be a mouse. Predictably, she picks Bernard, which is yet another break with social expectations, since she is a lady and he is just a janitor.
Now, I am normally not into the trope of the beautiful girl which is happy to be with “the looser” simply because real life doesn’t work that way. And why is it that the “looser girl” always gets a makeover which turns her magically beautiful, while with the “looser boy”, there is always the tale that his quirks are way more desirable than the ones of the big hero type? But in this case, the combination works. It mostly works, because Bernard is not exactly a “looser”. Sure, he is superstitious. Sure he is way more cautious than Bianca. And sure he is just a janitor. But just seeing him outside the door, singing the anathema of the Rescue Aid Society with much more honesty than any of the people inside, reveals his decent nature. It is somewhat understandable that Bianca would be drawn to him, who treats her with respect and concern, and not to the guys who keep staring at her like a piece of meat.
In fact, Bernard’s more cautious nature is a good match for Bianca’s more reckless one. And while the movie plays heavily on the usual gender roles (Bianca naturally only travels with a lot of luggage, and Bernard usually tells her to stay back while he marches forward), it also shows the two constantly working as a team. When Bernard nearly falls, Bianca is there to pull him up, and she has no problem to deal with rough circumstances, lady or not.
None of those elements are in the sequel.
The first movie very much told the story of Bernard AND Bianca…how he became more daring and she proved her ability to deal with the rough reality of a mission. When the second movie starts, they are a well-regarded team always taking care of the difficult cases. But the story (when it doesn’t concentrate on Cody’s plight) is very much about Bernard. About him trying to propose, while Bianca’s attention is elsewhere. And about him rescuing the day at the very end, while Bianca’s contribution is downgraded to securing a guide due to her beauty, believing in Bernard and catching a key. That is a far cry from the central role she had in the first Rescuers movie, where she was the driving force behind Penny’s rescue. If not for her, nobody would have followed the clues in the first place. If not for her, Bernard might have given up. Her ideas are important contributions to the plan which eventually defeats Medusa. In the sequel, her role is mostly reduced to being the object of Bernard’s (and Jake’s) affection.
At least though, the movie doesn’t do any real damage to her reputation. It is less that she suddenly acts notable different from the first movie (aside from paying less attention to Bernard) and more that she doesn’t really get the opportunity to do more than wielding her charm like a weapon. But what really secured her spot on my little gallery of heroines is the first movie, which provided us with a truly courageous lady.
Quote: “Why, she – she tried to kill us. That, that, that terrible woman! Oh, if I was only a ten-foot mouse, I’d show her.”
It’s really a matter of taste which one of those movies you might like better. Like I said, the first one is more a detective story, though it does have more action-oriented scenes, too. Most notable is the scene with the organ and especially the scene in the cave, which is, imho, one of the most suspenseful Disney ever created. Unlike the sequel it does have some songs, but they are all sung from the off, not by the characters. The sequel has visually more to offer – being the first movie which used the CAPS system the animation is stunning. I won’t recommend it for smaller children though, unlike the first movie which is suitable for every age, the sequel addresses a slightly older audience.