Original Release: July 2, 1986
Runtime: 74 Minutes
Directed By: Ron Clements, Burny Mattinson, Dave Michener and John Musker
Notable Actors: Vincent Price, Barrie Ingham, Val Bettin and Susanne Pollatschek
Gather round folks and hear the tale of the great and wonderful detective of Baker Street. So cunning and smart, only he could outwit those devious enough to try and take over London. Aw yes, I’m speaking of course of Sherlock Ho…oh wait. No, scratch that. This is a story about a mouse named Basil, his cohort, Major Dawson and his nemesis, Professor Ratigan. The Great Mouse Detective was a big surprise for me. I remember a friend of ours owning this film when I was little and I’d watch it whenever I went to her house. I don’t remember most of it, but one thing definitely stuck: Basset Hounds are adorable, a fact I’ve kept with me through the years. I’m often critical of the films we watch here, being bothered by certain characters or thinking that plot points don’t quite make sense. Today, there will be none of that. The Great Mouse Detective is an excellent film and here’s why.
Based on the book series, “Basil of Baker Street,” by Eve Titus, The Great Mouse Detective is essentially Disney’s version of Sherlock Holmes and in no way attempts to hide this fact. The character is actually named after actor Basil Rathbone, who played Holmes on film and his voice, lifted from an audio play, can even be heard as that of the shadow of Holmes in one scene of the film. John Musker and Ron Clements, who worked on the film, would also go on to direct some of Disney’s biggest hits, so this was a great starting point for them.
The film itself, along with The Black Cauldron, marked the introduction of computer imagery into the Disney animated world. An entire sequence towards the end of the film was animated with computers, creating the internal workings of Big Ben as gears spin slowly and nearly crush our mouse heroes. This is all in an effort to save little Olivia Flaversham, who’s father is being held captive by the evil Ratigan. Initially, Olivia was planned to be an adult and even a love interest, but many thought that making her a child would make the film more popular and her character more sympathetic.
Everything about this film feels fun and fast, right off the bat. When Olivia’s father is kidnapped, she is discovered crying by Dawson who takes her to see Basil, hoping that he will be able to solve the case. Basil is an excellent iteration of Holmes and frequently guesses things about people just by their appearance. He also has the tendencies of Holmes to be a bit full of himself which plays out as his big character flaw. The thought that he could be bested is unthinkable and when he actually is bested, it hurts his confidence and nearly gets the whole team killed.
I know we don’t need a whole article about him, but Toby is so adorable. A super happy basset hound, acting as Basil’s ride around town, Toby is incredibly reliable and is delightfully cute while doing his best to help the team out. I think it’s interesting that all the small animals in this film talk, lizards, rats, mice, bats, but Toby and Felicia, a giant cat, cannot. Either way, watching Toby feels a lot like watching Doug from Up. You simply can’t help but love him in all his slobbery, tail waggy goodness.
The real star of the show here is Ratigan. Meant to be the mouse world version of Professor Moriarty, Sherock’s nemesis, Ratigan is just the right combination of evil doer and showman. He likes to wear fancy suits with top hats and capes, but also likes to sing about how amazing he is. Ratigan likes to come up with traps and has a massive plan to take over all of mouse London. I appreciate that he is all together evil but also quite smart. He manages to outsmart Basil and that’s pretty impressive.
The addition of a bell which allows him to call his large cat friend, Felicia, to eat mice who misbehave gives him an extra level of darkness and I actually like that we see Felicia eat a mouse who messes up early on. This gives her an added level of threatening that really plays well. Along with this is Fidget, a bat who grovels up to Ratigan but also feels fairly devious and creepy as he tries to kidnap Olivia.
The pacing of the story is some of the best I’ve seen in a Disney film. From trying to find Fidget in a toy shop, which ends up being a fun chase scene to Basil’s eventual disguise trick in order to find the rat’s hideout to the epic final sequence, there is never a dull moment or a scene that feels slow and out of place. I liked that there was always a fun action scene or a great plot twist to keep things moving along. The only little thing that doesn’t quite make sense is Basil’s final outsmarting of Ratigan by means of ringing the bell? Not sure why this is so distracting that Ratigan falls to his death, but it’s a small setback for an otherwise amazing film.
There’s not much more to say than that. The Great Mouse Detective is a really solid adventure and full of fun and heart. The film did very well at the box office, despite a lower budget and put the company at ease after the heartbreakingly bad ticket sales of The Black Cauldron. Through history, it seems that Disney often questioned the viability of the its animation studio, right before something amazing released to save the day. The Great Mouse Detective is one of those day savers, reaffirming the fact that audiences did indeed still like Disney. Thank God, because things are about to get pretty epic from this point out and as far as timelines go, someone pretty awesome is about to be born in our historical journey. That’s right, me!
Next Up: Oliver & Company
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NOTE: Obviously all the photos are courtesy of Disney Entertainment and I would never in a million years claim them as my own. That being said, all are actually taken with my phone during our viewing in order to capture the moment in a slightly different way than originally intended.
ALSO: My Fiancee has a blog too and he is talking about all the classics we are currently watching, which involves more than just Disney. Head over HERE and check it out!