Personal Overview: the Disney animated Renaissance officially started with The Little Mermaid in 1989, but I think there’s evidence that it was underway with this underrated 1986 release.
At the face of it The Great Mouse Detective is basically Sherlock Holmes with mice in the lead roles. Basil The Great Mouse Detective lives under 22B Baker Street, the home of the great fictional detective. He has an assistant, who is a doctor and has recently returned from military service in Afghanistan and he also has a very patient and somewhat motherly housekeeper, to complete it all he plays the violin…badly.
I was surprised to find out that the film was actually based on a children’s book series called Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus. The name of the mouse comes from actor Basil Rathbone, who was considered the definitive screen version of Sherlock Holmes for many years.
The story is largely what people had come to expect from Disney. A young (cute) female mouse has her father abducted by a bat and turns to Basil for help in locating him.
There were little touches however that set this apart. At one point Basil and Co are in a toy shop. One of the toys is Dumbo, if it’s not him it’s certainly based on him. The villain has a lizard as one of his many henchpeople. If I hadn’t been shotgunning the films I may not have picked up on this, but the lizard is Bert, the chimney sweep from Alice in Wonderland. Disney hadn’t done playful little call backs like this for years. I also really liked the scene where Dawson (that’s the Watson mouse’s name in this) and Basil go to a tough waterfront bar in disguise for information. Dawson, got up in a too small striped sailor’s shirt and with an eyepatch complains that he looks ridiculous which indeed he does. Basil tells him he looks fine and not to worry about it. He can talk, he’s wearing a pea coat and a flat sailor’s cap with a pencil moustache to round it out, and looks rather dashing.
There was a sense of fun about this that hadn’t been seen for a few films, it was like everyone with it was prepared to enjoy it and that translated through to the audience.
Hero/es: that’s Basil, ably assisted as the character on which he is based is, by Dawson. Toby, the basset hound that belongs to Holmes, but helps Basil willingly, is also important. Interestingly enough the mice, rats, small lizards and bats can all talk and wear clothes and act like humans, but dogs and cats don’t. Basil has an endearing humourous character trait in that he continually gets Olivia’s surname wrong.
Villain/s: I have to confess that I kind of liked Ratigan, the villain of the piece. He’s a stereotypical villain, probably based on Moriarty. He pretends to be a large mouse, but is actually a rat, however it’s not wise to remind him of this fact. He’s likely to feed anyone who makes that mistake to Felicia, an extremely overweight cat that seems to be at Ratigan’s beck and call. He was voiced with relish by veteran horror actor Vincent Price.
Cuteness Factor: it’s kind of hard to decide, because mice that act like humans, but I’d have to give it to Olivia Flaversham, the young Scottish mouse who goes to Basil for help after her father is abducted. The whole thing actually scores pretty high on the cuteometer, but never goes over the top or becomes sickening.
Animation: I’m not sure if there was a change in technology or personnel in the animation department between this and the disappointing The Black Cauldron, but The Great Mouse Detective appeared sharper and cleaner, even the backgrounds had more depth. Some of this can be attributed to Disney doing what they do best: anthropomorphic animals. The scene where Basil and Ratigan tumble down a building locked in mortal combat was so reminiscent of Reichenback Falls that I laughed out loud when I saw it.
Final Words: I can’t say much more than I have and this was a welcome return to form. Critics and audiences alike responded to The Great Mouse Detective positively and it restored the company’s faith in their animation department.