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The Great Mouse Detective (A Movie Review)

The Great Mouse Detective

The Great Mouse Detective


Featuring the voices of Vincent Price, Barrie Ingham, Val Bettin, Susanne Pollatschek, Candy Candido, Diana Chesney, Alan Young, Laurie Main, Melissa Manchester and Basil Rathbone.

Screenplay by Ron Clements, John Musker, Pete Young, Melvin Shaw, Matthew O’Callaghan, Bruce M. Morris, Dave Michener, Burny Mattinson, Steve Hulett and Vance Gerry.

Directed by John Musker, Ron Clements, Dave Michener and Burny Mattinson.

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.  74 minutes.  Rated G.

By 1986, the famed Disney animation studio was pretty much considered to be a dire straits.  Pricy failures like The Black Cauldron and quickly forgotten trifles like The Fox & the Hound and The Rescuers had rendered the studio somewhat obsolete.  In fact, The Great Mouse Detective was only the third animated film from the venerable studio in the 1980s.  In the meantime, former Disney animator Don Bluth had jumped ship and actually seemed to be leading the curve in popular animation after breaking free from the studio confines with his hits The Last Unicorn, The Land Before Time, An American Tale and the popular video game Dragon’s Lair.

These were pretty much deemed the dog days of Disney animation.

It would only be three years and two more features until Disney regained its stature with The Little Mermaid and started on a run of classics such as Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King.

In the last year or so, both of the films which led up to this renaissance (The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver and Company) have been re-released on video, making you realize with hindsight that while the studio hadn’t quite gotten its groove back yet, they were making strides towards regaining their classic status.

Both of those films employed a similar template – take classic British literature and play it out with animals.  The next film, Oliver & Co. played out Dicken’s Oliver Twist with cats and dogs.  This one took on Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries with mice, rats and a weird peg-legged bat.

While both fell way short of the heights that the studio would hit regularly a mere few years later, both movies have more to recommend than you may have been led to believe.

The Great Mouse Detective takes place in an alternate world of Victorian London – a little world of animals who live in the shadows of the humans.

Our hero is Basil (undoubtedly named after Holmes movie star Basil Rathbone) – a mystery-solving mouse who lives in a little mouse hole under Sherlock Holmes’ famous 221 Baker Street flat.  (In a nice touch, there is a voiceover of the famed detective taken from one of the classic 1940s films starring Rathbone.)

The Great Mouse Detective is sort of a genesis story for Basil.  He meets his co-hort, a helpful mouse named Dr. Dawson (blatantly patterned after Dr. Watson).  Basil takes on his nemesis, an evil rat named Professor Ratigan (any similarity to Professor Moriarty is, again, totally intended.)

The case involves the kidnapping of a masterful mouse toymaker.  While the mystery itself isn’t all that intriguing (what children’s mystery really is?) and a robot subplot falls flat, there are enough interesting flights of fancy to recommend The Great Mouse Detective.

This may be partially explained by the fact that The Great Mouse Detective was the directing debut of Ron Clements and John Musker, who would go on to make The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and The Princess and the Frog.  Honestly, the pair would later come to do better work, but The Great Mouse Detective is a fascinating look at the early potential of two men who are greatly responsible for putting Disney animation back on the map.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved. Posted: April 13, 2010.

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