THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE – (1986)
Director: Roy Clements, Burny Mattison, et. al
Starring: Vincent Price, Barrie Ingham, Val Bettin
Screenplay by: Peter Young, Vance Gerry, Steve Hulett, et. al
And YET again, we return to the world of small mammals with this animated adaptation of Sherlock Holmes; The Great Mouse Detective. I, personally, have my own division of Disney movies; lighthearted but generic fare; dark but uniquely engaging fare; the music-heavy fare; the modern fare; and everything else (Treasure Planet, anyone?). This movie certainly belongs in the second category.
And YET again, I have an excruciating desire that Disney return to these underrated, oft-non talked about animated films. In a time where “dark” seems to be the mainstay Hollywood buzz word, films like this, The Rescuers, and The Brave Little Toaster may help filmmakers realize that dark doesn’t always mean ‘brooding’ and ’emo’, because, while such an atmosphere worked perfectly for Batman, it sure as shit didn’t work for Spiderman 3. And with the talk about having Superman go dark as well, I fear for the future of comic book movies.
NOSTALGIC LENS: I’m particularly excited about seeing this one, mainly because I remember so little about it, so it’ll be like watching an entirely new movie for the first time. I remember enjoying it a lot, and some bit parts stand out in my mind (a song about Ratigan; a climactic scene on a clock tower). Other than that, it’s a complete blank, which is weird, since I saw this movie SO many times while I was young.
DOES IT HOLD UP: And now I know why: THIS MOVIE IS ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL.
While I enjoyed the nostalgic wonder of some of the past films in this series, some more than others, my enjoyment stemmed from an appreciation of some value derived from them, but ultimately remained in that category of nostalgia. The Great Mouse Detective, however, is a genuinely good movie: an amazing 75 minutes of delight and spectacle, the perfect blend of animation, voice work, plot, subtlety, comedy, drama, and art. It never goes overboard in any of these aspects (which usually leaves other aspects lacking). It’s the Toy Story 2 of 1980s Disney. I’m seriously considering putting this movie in my Top 20 (maybe my Top 10) favorite movies of all-time.
Olivia Flaversham’s father, a toymaker, is kidnapped, leaving the poor girl alone in 1890s London. Luckily, she stumbles upon a veteran surgeon mouse, a Dr. Dawson, who leads her to seek the aid of one Basil of Baker Street. And when they arrive, Basil makes one hell of an introduction:
Now, I don’t know much about Sherlock Holmes, except that he’s brilliant but arrogant, and an opium addict. Maybe someone in the comments can add a little more insight. But what I do know is the energy drawn from that scene is maintained (more or less) through out the entire movie. Everything about this movie screams “FUN”. Hell, I bet you were smiling while watching that video.
I’ll admit that at first, I wasn’t feeling it too much. There are some moments early where the editing seems slightly off, and the voice work doesn’t seem to click. But that introduction puts everything that preceded it into perspective, bringing out the seemingly flat characters of Olivia and Dr. Dawson into incredible reflections of themselves. Disney films usually have “love”. Pixar films have “heart”. This movie has something neither of those other films have: personality.
Watching Basil be… well, Basil, is a delight in itself. He moves and thinks and acts with such a raw energy of passion and liveliness that you can’t help but be impressed. Although the mysteries and clues he deduces kind of leaves a bit to the imagination, the drive to which he figures them out is amazing, elevating them to visual marvel.
Contrast him with Ratigan, excellently voiced by Vincent Price, who clearly had fun with the role (and according to IMDB, voicing Ratigan was indeed his favorite role.) He savors his position as being three things: a mouse (not a rat), a criminal mastermind, and incredibly evil. It’s remarkable how the two geniuses go head to head with their mind games, always trying to one-up each other in subtle ways that really speaks to a rich amount of character development.
Subtle moments fill this movie; quiet, understated developments which I absolutely adore. Basil slowly warms up to Olivia after at first being annoyed by her; a lesser writer would have him say at some point, “I’ve really warmed up to you, Olivia,” or something else too on-the-nose. How Basil and Dr. Dawson become closer is also wonderfully managed—Dawson’s almost clumsy-like vigilance and vernacular trigger Basil’s most ingenious moments, including this perfect scene:
How great was that? Basil’s going from depressed to stark-raving insane-brilliance is hilarious, and Price’s hysterically performed song is icing on the cake. (I only wish there was video of the scene prior to this—watching Basil get caught in the trap is heart-breaking.) There does seem to be a thin line between genius and insanity, and this movie capitalizes on this in so many ways, especially when Ratigan loses his shit in the climax.
One of the things Disney does very, very well is how they define the traditional family. They love to work with single parent situations, adoptions, missing fathers/ mothers, etc. They never really pursue the explanation behind these situations; it’s an already-established fact, an element that is, quite accurately, not important to the character or the definition of the true family unit. This is evident between the relationship between Olivia and her father. Maybe Disney will do something involving a gay family unit one day. No? Not in a million years? Okay, just speculating.
If I was forced to mention something bad about the movie, I’d have to say that songs weren’t that good (distracting in a way. Heck, you’d might say they were… uh, fucking distracting) and seemed more like filler than anything else (given that the movie previous to this one, The Black Cauldron, failed at the box office, it wouldn’t surprise me if some Disney execs forced the songs in there.) Also, towards the end, it seems pretty goddamn easy for a bunch of thugs to infiltrate the Queen of Mouse-dom’s room.
Still, the movie maintains that fun energy so much that such small nit-picks go by without really affecting you. I can’t emphasize how entertaining this movie is. If you can steal one hour out your day, just go to Youtube and watch it. I bet you you’ll enjoy it.
IN A NUTSHELL: This is probably going to be the best, most enjoyable movie on this entire feature (maybe Who Framed Roger Rabbit will be beat it.) From the creepy prologue and delightful introduction to the mid-air chase sequence and down-right scary clock-tower climax, The Great Mouse Detective never falters or slips up in any noticeable way; on the contrary, it actually stands out from the other Disney movies, a film that seems rather non-Disney in it’s overall tone. In other words: this movie isn’t just a good Disney movie; it’s a GOOD movie. Period.
July 20th: Dick Tracy
July 27th: FernGully: The Last Rainforest