Thursday, August 21, 2014


RELEASE DATE: Wednesday 2nd July 1986

 Based on Eve Titus's "Basil of Baker Street" book series, The Great Mouse Detective takes a similar point of view as The Rescuers, showing us the mouse world that mimics the human world, just a lot closer to the ground. In this instance, a mouse named Basil happens to live right under the famous detective Sherlock Holmes in Victorian London, and goes on very similar (but smaller) adventures.

After the disaster of The Black Cauldron was quickly forgotten, Disney went back to where it was comfortable: family-friendly animal movies. Basil was more of a "return to form" after the two dark and moody previous films. Michael Eisner - the new boss - was not convinced that animation should continue after Cauldron, and kicked the entire animation department out of the building they had been working in since Walt's day, and put them in a cheap, run-down old building to continue their work.

The artists' fury was further enflamed when Eisner decided to change the new film's title on a whim. It was originally supposed to be named directly from the books, "Basil of Baker Street." But Eisner changed the title without any discussion. A very cheeky memo was circulated amongst the animators in response to this change.
But Eisner was boss, so "The Great Mouse Detective" stayed. (A similar event would happen when "Rapunzel" suddenly became "Tangled," but I'll save that story for another day...)
All up, the adventures of Basil and Dr. Dawson reached audiences much more than poor Taran and Eilonwy. It was a moderate success at the box office, and this convinced the new company heads that there could be a future in animation at Disney. (Lucky for that!)

The Great Mouse Detective starts with a prologue scene. A little (mouse) girl named Olivia chats with her father in his workshop as he builds toys. His voice is easily recognised as Alan "Scrooge McDuck" Young. Suddenly a mysterious peg-legged criminal breaks into the workshop and kidnaps Olivia's father while she quietly hides.

Left without a home or anyone to look after her, Olivia seeks out the famous Basil of Baker Street, the great mouse detective himself, in the hope that he can find where her father has been taken. She finds herself terribly lost, and without the aid of a friendly stranger called Doctor Dawson, she might never have found her way. Dawson accompanies her to the house of Basil - which is incidentally located directly underneath the living quarters of another very famous detective from Baker Street...

Olivia and Dawson watch in astonishment as the genius detective attempts to solve a complicated mystery involving a bullet. When he finally listens to what the little girl has to say, he realises that this case involves his arch nemesis; the criminal that always manages to escape capture: Professor Ratigan!

Ratigan is shown to be the mastermind behind Olivia's father's capture. He forces the toymaker to create "something" important, before telling his hench-bat Fidget to collect a number of odd objects. Ratigan is clearly a criminal with a plan!

Basil begins his mission to catch Ratigan red-handed. To sniff out the evidence he needs a specialist nose, so he calls on faithful old Toby, a dog that technically belongs to Sherlock Holmes.

Toby tracks Fidget down to a large toy shop. Olivia accompanies Basil and Dawson in their investigation, against the detective's better judgement.

Fidget finds the mice before they find him. He kidnaps Olivia and escapes with everything except his "shopping list."

Using superb detective skills, Basil uses Fidget's dropped paper to narrow down a location for him, while Dawson watches on with fascination.

The evidence all points to a location near the docks. Basil and Dawson disguise themselves as sailors and go to a dark and dangerous tavern. A singer called Miss Kitty Mouse entertains the crowd, and Dawson in particular finds himself very attracted to her!

When they finally get back to the investigation, they locate Fidget and follow him to Ratigan's secret lair. They then discover that the entire thing was a setup, and Ratigan was fully expecting Basil to appear. The great mouse detective is stunned and shamed, finally admitting that he has been outsmarted before sinking into a deep depression.

Ratigan takes huge delight in setting up an elaborate apparatus to kill Basil and Dawson. In true "evil villain" form, he explains how the whole thing works before leaving the prisoners alone to their fate.

Finally Ratigan's ultimate plot is revealed. He has had Olivia's father create a mechanical version of the mouse queen! Ratigan has the real queen captured and gagged, while the fake queen addresses the crowds and hands supreme power over to Ratigan. The crowd is stunned.

Just as things are looking impossible for the captives, Basil snaps out of his doldrums and uses his vast intellect to escape the trap in the nick of time, even posing for a photograph afterwards.

They quickly race to save the day, reprogramming the robot queen and exposing Ratigan as a criminal and fraud. Ratigan manages to escape, but Basil is in hot pursuit. The chase ends with a dramatic climax within the gears of Big Ben, one of the first major computer-animated sequences in a motion picture.

Ratigan is finally defeated, Olivia is reunited with her father, and Basil decides to employ Dawson as his associate detective. Suddenly a young mouse lady appears at the door, distraught and in need of assistance. With Basil and Dawson on the case, she is clearly in good paws!

IRVYNE:  The Great Mouse Detective is well-told and entertaining throughout. It makes for a much more coherent and consistent movie than The Black Cauldron, though it is definitely more "safe" and conventional. The characters are all enjoyable to watch, but it's Professor Ratigan that steals the show. He is such a gleeful villain, drunk with his own genius and just loving being bad.
There are a few pacing issues and sometimes I feel that certain scenes linger longer than necessary. A good example of this is the tavern scene, which has an entire song-and-dance number. When I first saw this film I was intrigued by the pub singer, Miss Kitty Mouse. As a character given her own song, I was sure that she was about to become a very important character in the story. But no, she just sings her song and then disappears for the rest of the movie.
The story - which is essentially a kid-friendly version of a Sherlock Holmes mystery - has the main characters figuring out the clues one by one and taking the viewers on a ride with them, until it culminates in the spectacular showdown in Big Ben.
The Great Mouse Detective is a very dark movie, and I don't mean thematically. I mean it takes place entirely at night time.
The character animation is on-the-whole excellent. The new generation of animators were really starting to come into their own, especially a young Glen Keane, who was given the task of drawing and directing the animation on Professor Ratigan.
There's nothing particularly outstanding about the visual style, but the C.G.i. used in the Big Ben sequence is really great, and you'd never believe that they were pioneering the technology with this film. It still looks flawless, and the real winner is how well the hand-drawn characters fit and interact with the computer animated environments.
This was accomplished by making black and white printouts of every C.G.i. frame so that the animators could literally draw their characters right over the top of them. This sequence alone was worth the price of admission back in 1986, because no one had ever seen an animated sequence like this in a Disney film before!
There are a grand total of three songs in The Great Mouse Detective. Ratigan's "Aren't-I-Wonderful" song is called "The World's Greatest Criminal Mind." It's a fun song, and it looks like the animators had fun creating a big musical number.
The song at the tavern is called "Let Me Be Good To You," and while it's fine, it doesn't serve the plot at all. It's sung by a character who has nothing to do with the story.
The third song is actually only really played in the background, but it's fantastic. "Goodbye So Soon" is dripping with irony. It's the song that Ratigan wrote and recorded simply for the event of Basil's death.
The score is by Henry Mancini (who is famous for writing the music of "The Pink Panther" and "Peter Gunn") and he manages to capture that fun (but slightly edgy) adventure vibe.
The Great Mouse Detective was a real return to form for Disney. It is easily one of the best animated films that the company had produced since the death of Walt. It wasn't the same caliber of the movies that would follow a number of years later, but it's still very easy and enjoyable to watch today.
Having said that, while I do like watching it, it wouldn't be high on my list of favourites. It's good fun without being jaw-droppingly amazing.
HAKU: This was the first time I'd ever seen Basil, and I'd say it's been my favourite Disney film since Mary Poppins. The character animation is amazing. I can remember from when I was studying animation, learning about "power centres." In other words, there is a point in every character's body where their actions spring from. With Ratigan, I noticed that every action came from his chest, whereas Basil was more centred on his head.

IRVYNE: Ratigan was animated by Glen Keane, and he's quite possibly the greatest traditional animator in the world. I am constantly in awe of his work. Vincent Price really hammed up the voice as well.

HAKU: I just feel with Ratigan, they totally nailed the fine line between funny and villainous.

MALEFICENT: I do love him as a villain. He's a brilliant evil mastermind. Yes, he does go over-the-top at times and tell everybody what his plans are...

WENDY: You're not a proper villain unless you give away all of your evil secrets just before the heroes are about to die.

HAKU: And Fidget is a great evil sidekick too.

IRVYNE: He reminds me of a gremlin.

SHENZI: When you think about it, he's not that far removed from Creeper.

MALEFICENT: He's more useful than Creeper. He actually gets things done!

HAKU: In fact, Fidget gets everything right, and it's Ratigan who gets it wrong in the end.

IRVYNE: Good point. Fidget should have been the boss.

WENDY: Olivia is lovely. She's not overly cute.

MALEFICENT: I love Felicia, the cat... GIANT fat cat! It's hilarious when the camera pans up and up and up, and it takes forever to actually reach her face!

This is a very clever and entertaining film. It doesn't get boring. Not once. Even before the opening credits it's exciting and dangerous!

HAKU: It's such a common concept in procedural crime dramas, to see the crime, then have the credits, and then show how the crime is going to be solved.

MALEFICENT: That's right, just like on C.S.I.

IRVYNE: And Murder She Wrote!

MALEFICENT: Jessica Fletcher copied Basil of Baker Street!

SHENZI: Why are so many Disney movies set in London?

IRVYNE: It's an exciting place to be, I suppose.

HAKU: I think it's my favourite time period for films, Victorian London.

MALEFICENT: It's so funny how this entire story is happening right under Sherlock Holmes's nose.

IRVYNE: It's never explicitly stated - I don't think Holmes's name is ever spoken - but yeah, there he is. Having said that, if you were a kid watching this movie and you'd never even heard of Sherlock Holmes, all of that would go completely over your head, and when you grow up you'd think that Sherlock was copying Basil!

HAKU: Henry Mancini's soundtrack's great.

MALEFICENT: It's all very exciting adventure music.

HAKU: The "Goodbye So Soon" song is hilarious!

WENDY: That's just a great scene. I love how Basil out-thinks the trap. "Say cheese!"

IRVYNE: We saw a few cameos...

WENDY: Yes! We noticed that the little door that the mice come out of is just like the one in Cinderella.

And we also saw Bill the lizard from Alice in Wonderland. Oh, and Dumbo.

IRVYNE: I do like this movie, but in the grand scheme of Disney, I'm relatively indifferent to it. It's pretty entertaining and funny, and you can see that they were definitely getting their groove back, but it just wasn't quite there yet.