THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE
Directed By: Ron Clements, Burny Mattinson, Dave Michener, & John Musker
Produced By: Burny Mattinson
Based On: Eve Titus’ & Paul Galdone’s Basil of Baker Street series
Premiered On: July 2, 1986
Distribution By: Buena Vista Distribution
The Great Mouse Detective is yet another of the… I hesitate to say “forgotten” Disney Animated Films for while it certainly can and has been a favorite amongst die-hard fans, it’s not as renown as others of its generation for good or for ill. Well, that’s not entirely true. It has oftentimes been incorrectly cited as being the first film to integrate computer-generated imagery, in this film’s case that being the gears of the clock tower Big Ben, but that honor actually goes to its predecessor, The Black Cauldron. However, The Great Mouse Detective is more commonly recognized by animation historians as being the film to truly begin the Disney Renaissance.
Seeing as I went a wee bit… alright, a heck of a lot overboard with the previous film’s plot summary, I shall only do the bare necessities for this one. That and this is essentially a dramatic mystery, where’s the fun in spoiling the villainous plot? Our story begins with a mouse toymaker’s young daughter, a miss Olivia Flaversham, witnessing the kidnapping of her father by a bat with a peg leg…
… A bat with a peg leg… There’s a pirate joke here somewhere, I’m sure of it…
Anyway, Olivia is discovered by a Doctor David Q. Dawson, a recent returner to London after a tour of duty in Afghanistan… Alright, a pause here but is anyone else but me wondering how, precisely, animals such as mice are able/capable of doing what we humans do and yet we completely and utterly fail to notice? Back to the plot, Olivia confesses that she’s trying to find a Basil of Baker Street, a renowned mouse detective across all of England. Dawson brings Olivia to Basil and together, the three mice uncover the plot of Basil’s arch-nemesis, the Napoleon of Crime himself, the wicked, the vile…
… No, wait, sorry, Professor Padraic Ratigan who so happens to be voiced by Vincent Price.
While not wanting to spoil the villainous mastermind’s plot any, I will say that this film goes back and forth with how it presents itself. One minute we’re exploring a human toystore, complete with rather creepy if not outright disturbing looking toys on a grander scale to our intrepid heroes, and the next… Well, to put it bluntly, we’re at a tavern wherein Dawson not only ends up drugged/drunk but gets up on stage to join a group of can-can dancing mice.
There times, few and far between though they might be, that I can’t help but wonder how anyone could describe such a scene aloud and not earn a raised eyebrow or twelve from his audience. Props to the storyboard team for managing it either way.
Now, the one and only remaining bit of the plot that I’ll speak of without risking spoilers for of the mystery of Ratigan’s plans, is that Basil and Dawson get captured and placed in the most elaborate death trap device I’ve ever scene in an animated film. It is, quite literally, a Rube Goldberg machine, which is best described as a device that is designed to accomplish a simple goal through a vast variety of overcomplicated means.
… Alright, has anyone ever played the game Mouse Trap? To those of you who have played this board game, if only the construction and application of said mousetrap, that is what a Rube Goldberg machine is but for those who haven’t check out this music video.
Speaking of music, The Great Mouse Detective features all of two, technically three, songs in its entirety. The choice for which fits the film best is easily that of Ratigan’s crew, and the main rat himself, singing his praises in the song, “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind.” It’s during this song and its brief but oh so disturbingly horrific interruption that we get a true gleam of Ratigan’s character and how far he’ll go to get what he wants.
As to the differences between the film and the novel series, I’m afraid that having not actually read them myself there’s not much I can say beyond the film’s plot being original in and of itself. The characters of Basil, Dawson, Ratigan, and even Basil’s housemaid are all based on the characters from the books with only an odd difference or two to distinct them. In Basil’s case for example, his violin playing in the book was so atrocious that he took to playing the flute instead while Ratigan was perhaps the most extreme difference in that he was not a rat like in the film but a mouse pretending to be one to further instill fear and respect in his goons.
Overall, I give The Great Mouse Detective five out of five stars. It’s a really great film with a lot of fun visuals and the mystery of Ratigan’s plans, while not the stuff of legends, is certainly going to keep the kids guessing up until the grand reveal and well after. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t necessarily a bad plan or even a stupid one but rather one that had me questioning whether the populace were actually mice or sheep.