A comment on a recent post brought this film to my attention. A few weeks back I had picked up a copy cheap, but hadn’t gotten around to watching it. I remembered enjoying the film as a kid, and as a fan of all things Sherlock Holmes I decided to give it a try. Although not in the category of Disney’s best films, nor packing the celebrity punch of today’s animated flicks, The Great Mouse Detective holds up quite well.
The film begins with the abduction of an inventor (Alan Young) and the plea of his young daughter (Susanne Pollatschek) to the only mouse in London who find him, Basil of Bakerstreet (Barrie Ingham).
Based on Eve Titus’ novels this is a Disney film unlike many which came before. It relies on suspense and mystery with little of the trademark Disney touches of the time. The film includes only three songs, one performed on a record and one as part of a stage act. That just leaves a single trademark Disney musical performance where our villain, the nefarious Ratigan (Vincent Price), bursts into song.
To go with the more mysterious plot the look of the film is also darker and more subdued than any Disney picture I can think of, except perhaps The Black Cauldron. Although the animation is slightly dated, it still looks quite good. The film was one of the first Disney movies to use some computer animation and I am impressed (much more than many shows today where it often sticks out like a sore thumb) how seamlessly these pieces mesh with the rest of the film.
Holmes fans will find plenty of nods here including a cameo by Basil Rathbone, the violin, Toby, the first meeting between the detective and the trusted Dr. Dawson (Val Bettin), and a climatic end which can only have been inspired by Holmes and Moriarty’s duel at Reichenbach Falls. Add in a death trap worthy of the old Batman TV-show and a burlesque sequence and a bar fight (in a Disney film!), and you’ve got the makings of a darn good time.
Going back and looking at the The Great Mouse Detective I’m also struck by how other movies have borrowed aspects of it for their own use. Anastasia‘s Bartok is obviously inspired by Fidget, and there’s more than a little similarity to the use of Ratigan’s pet cat and that seen in The Tale of Despereaux.
Although the movie is over 20 years-old Disney hasn’t gotten around to giving it the special edition or Blu-ray treatment. The one-disc DVD, which is still available, does have a few extras worth mentioning. “The Making of The Great Mouse Detective” featurette is short but does include an interview with Vincent Price as well as a quick look at the use of computer animation in the film. There’s also a sing-a-long for one of the film’s two big numbers, “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind” performed by Price’s Ratigan, a scrapbook, various trailers, and a pair of Disney cartoons including “Clock Cleaners” which was released with the film when it originally hit theaters back in 1986.
If I was making a top ten list of Disney films it’s unlikely The Great Mouse Detective would crack the list. However, the film holds up better than many more recent Disney films, and for fans of Sherlock Holmes it’s a real treat.