Disney Marathon: ‘The Great Mouse Detective


Here’s a movie that I was somewhat enamoured with this movie as a child. The whole notion of a classic literary being reimagined as talking animals was rife with possibility (and I’m just connecting this with my love of Robin Hood…). I didn’t see it in its entirety until later in life due to the dumb Disney Vault nonsense. Let’s see how it holds up!

For those just joining us, this is a movie marathon with a twist. Myself (cranky 30s blogger), my son Josh (stoic 10 year old Nintendo obsessive) and my daughter Amelia (drama llama 7 year old princess) are watching Disney movies in a random order and ranking them. We hope to see interesting differences in how we organise our lists.

Film: The Great Mouse Detective

Released: 1986

Director: Ron Clements, Burny Mattinson, Dave Michener, John Musker

Cast: Barrie Ingham, Vincent Price, Val Bettin, Susanne Pollatschek, Candy Candido, Alan Young, Frank Welker

Plot: After the abduction of her father, mouse child Olivia seeks out the help of consulting rodent detective Basil. Along with new assistant Dr. Dawson, Basil must square off against crimelord Professor Ratigan.

Review: This is a movie that was given a short shift. This adaptation of the book series Basil of Baker Street (the dumbed down title famously inspired public mockery) was on the table more than a decade before production, but was considered too similar to The Rescuers to push ahead with. Eventually it was green-lit as an alternative production to The Black Cauldron animators who were unhappy with the direction that oddball film took. It was then hit with massive cuts by Eisner and Katzenberg, leaving it with less than half its projected budget.

With reduced funding, changes to production leaders and the general tone around the Disney animation offices at the time we wound up with a film that looks depressingly cheap by the companies standards. The shortcuts taken to save money are clear as day, with static background, poorly integrated animated elements and many unmoving characters hanging around the scenery glaringly obvious. If this movie had the production values to match the creative ideas at its core, it might’ve been something special.

But I did say I love this movie, and it is more than a good idea crippled by a muddled production period. What makes the movie delightful is the banter between Basil and Professor Ratigan. The titular great mouse detective is voiced by Royal Shakespeare company actor Barrie Ingham and his rival is voiced by horror legend Vincent Price. They both through themselves into their performances, both of them dripping with smarminess and beguiling charm. Every scene where they interact is brilliantly entertaining.

There’s also a number of clever set-pieces, starting with a shadowing struggle against a terrifying creature (later revealed to be a bumbling sidekick). Basil entrance is bombastically fun, Ratigan’s Rube Goldberg death trap is one of the classics and there’s a bar-room brawl packed with energy.

Unfortunately the movie does lag in places, with Ratigan’s evil scheme being poorly integrated into the story. If it had allowed for Basil and Ratigan to spend more time out-witting each other it would be more fun, instead it ends on a fairly predictable action sequence against the standard landmark building. It is pretty cool how feral Ratigan gets as he looses control of the situation though. And the early experiments integrating CGI into the animation is a historical novelty.

Although it’s never going to be considered a classic, it certainly is a little gem of a film. If you’re a fan of the modern ‘Sherlock Holmes’ interpretations you might find this is a strong predecessor to them. Along with a weirdly sexual burlesque performance by a mouse.

Best Song: The real banger is ‘The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind’. Not only is this villain song a celebration of the gentleman thief, but outlines his motives and methods.

Coolest Easter Egg: We have two cameos in this movie. Rather intentional or not, there’s a lizard on Ratigan’s crew who is identical to Bill the Lizard from Alice in Wonderland. The second is Dumbo, who appears as a toy in the toy shop sequence.

Weirdest Trivia: Recordings of Basil Rathbone, who famously played Sherlock Holmes, are used as the voice for Sherlock Holmes, who lives above Basil on Baker Street.

As mentioned before, there is a weirdly sexual cabaret number partway through the film. The scene was considered so risqué by the classification board they almost cut it entirely, with Disney arguing that it’s not questionable since it’s performed by a mouse.

Rating: SEVEN out of TEN

THE RANKING

ME

As I said, this one scores well with me for nostalgia. Basil is a great interpretation of Sherlock Holmes, who is also a favourite character. It would be challenging the top of the list if it had better production values.

Click those titles if you want to see what we said about the other movies.

  1. Zootopia
  2. Robin Hood
  3. Aladdin
  4. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  5. Wreck-It Ralph
  6. Alice in Wonderland
  7. Beauty and the Beast
  8. Moana
  9. Big Hero 6
  10. The Great Mouse Detective
  11. Frozen
  12. Tangled
  13. The Sword in the Stone
  14. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  15. Mulan
  16. Emperor’s New Groove
  17. Fantasia
  18. Ralph Breaks the Internet
  19. The Three Caballeros
  20. The Princess and the Frog
  21. Hercules
  22. Oliver & Company
  23. The Aristocats
  24. Saludos Amigos
  25. Home on the Range
  26. Bolt
  27. Dinosaur
  28. The Fox and the Hound
  29. Pocahontas
  30. A Goofy Movie
  31. Treasure Planet
  32. Chicken Little

AMELIA

It was surprising when Fidget jumped out. A couple of the jump scares this character brought to the table shook Amelia up, but ultimately she enjoyed the energy of the characters.

  1. Frozen
  2. Emperor’s New Groove
  3. Zootopia
  4. Moana
  5. The Great Mouse Detective
  6. Home on the Range
  7. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  8. Mulan
  9. Hercules
  10. Alice in Wonderland
  11. Wreck-It Ralph
  12. Tangled
  13. Bolt
  14. Pocahontas
  15. Dinosaur
  16. The Aristocats
  17. The Princess and the Frog
  18. Robin Hood
  19. Beauty and the Beast
  20. The Three Caballeros
  21. The Fox and the Hound
  22. The Sword in the Stone
  23. Saludos Amigos
  24. Oliver & Company
  25. Aladdin
  26. Treasure Planet
  27. Big Hero 6
  28. A Goofy Movie
  29. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  30. Chicken Little
  31. Fantasia

JOSHUA (who is now writing his own comments)

I mostly quite liked it. I liked it less when the cat was eating the mouse that called Ratigan a rat (not for Fidget). It might look low on my list, but like I said, I mostly quite liked it.

  1. Zootopia
  2. Big Hero 6
  3. Aladdin
  4. Emperor’s New Groove
  5. Treasure Planet
  6. Moana
  7. Ralph Breaks the Internet
  8. The Three Caballeros
  9. Saludos Amigos
  10. Wreck-It Ralph
  11. Frozen
  12. Mulan
  13. The Princess and the Frog
  14. Robin Hood
  15. Bolt
  16. The Sword in the Stone
  17. Beauty and the Beast
  18. Oliver & Company
  19. Tangled
  20. The Great Mouse Detective
  21. Home on the Range
  22. Pocahontas
  23. A Goofy Movie
  24. The Aristocats
  25. Fantasia
  26. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  27. The Fox and the Hound
  28. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  29. Dinosaur
  30. Hercules
  31. Alice in Wonderland
  32. Chicken Little