The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

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The only thing more substantial than Basil's detective skills was his MASSIVE ego.
The only thing more substantial than Basil’s detective skills was his MASSIVE ego.

Twitter Plot Summary: An anthropomorphic version of Sherlock Holmes in the form of a mouse called Basil.

Five Point Summary:

1. Basil and Dawson? Right.
2. Ratigan, delightfully evil.
3. Fidget is awesome. Creepy, but awesome.
4. Cat VS Dog.
5. How will this all end? Erm, isn’t it obvious?

Based on the series of books Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus, The Great Mouse Detective transports and transmorphs the stories of Sherlock Holmes into traditional Disney territory, albeit with Holmes, Watson et al going about their lives as normal in the human world whilst Basil, a mouse inspired to follow Holmes’ influence, and erstwhile ex-military sidekick Dawson try and solve a mystery involving a kidnapped toymaker, his occasionally irritating daughter, and and the evil machinations of Basil’s most notable enemy.

The script zings with fun dialogue and the voice cast are clearly enjoying themselves in this romp across what is almost but not quite alongside the best that Conan Doyle ever gave us. Vincent Price in particular seems like he’s having a ball as the big bad Professor Ratigan, a sinister rat-equivalent Professor Moriarty who smokes like a chimney – try getting that one past the focus groups these days. Not that he takes very well to being called a rat, such a faux pas might result in a less than pleasant encounter with the cat whom Ratigan has under his thrall.

Ratigan’s bat sidekick Fidget is one of the main reasons for The Great Mouse Detective being as enjoyable as it is. His croaky voice is instantly recognisable, his personality managing to find a strange balance between loveable and horrifyingly scary. On the opposite end of the scale is the loveable dog Toby, who provides balance on the scales of good and evil. It’s inevitable that Toby will face off against Ratigan’s cat, isn’t it?

For those aware of Disney’s back catalogue of animated classics, there are several points where they have clearly borrowed some frames of animation and visual flourishes from those earlier films. A scene from Lady and the Tramp in particular has almost been lifted frame for frame and added to The Great Mouse Detective, although this time there isn’t a Scotty dog trailing behind the action.

Ratigan and his bell. It's not to call room service.
Ratigan and his bell. It’s not to call room service.

The Great Mouse Detective had quite a prompt turnaround time, assisted through its subtle use of computer generated animation. The cogs inside Big Ben are all CGI, not that you would notice this unless looking for it specifically. Therein lies the beauty of the traditional animation style – it’s easy to slip something like that in with barely a raised eyebrow from the audience, but it adds an amazing amount of fidelity and variation that traditional hand animation simply can’t replicate.

It’s clear that Disney’s struggles in the 1980s were a result of the rise in popularity of the likes of Don Bluth’s animated movies that held a darker edge, and a departure from the formula that had proved so successful for them in the past led to diminishing returns and a critical bashing. Basil the Great Mouse Detective marks the start of Disney’s return to ascendance before they fully regained their mojo in The Little Mermaid, but that’s not to say it’s not good. Far from it in fact – it’s an enjoyable romp through Victorian England that’s not afraid to occasionally reference slightly darker themes and, let’s face it, the realities of everyday existence.

Score: 3/5

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